heavenly bodies 0.1 / MET Gala 2018

Guo Pei Couture — Spring 2017

Sat with matcha latte and laptop in Greenwich Village, I’m contemplating the imminent arrival of 2018’s MET Gala happening next week — that first Monday in May.

Said to be the most important event in the fashion calendar, and carefully officiated by American Vogue’s Anna Wintour, the Museum’s annual fundraiser materialises some of the most infamous red carpet moments that continue to fuel artistic intrigue, as well as playful scrutiny across the cultural spectrum. In light of this year’s somewhat sacred theme and title of the MET’s forthcoming fashion exhibition; ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’, we are again, unlikely to be disappointed by the offering.

In the past, there have understandably been mismatched judgments about how this all comes together; superficial trends and luxury adornments don’t sit with the conservative traditions of the ecclesiastical church, some might say. Yet, there is a season for everything and it feels like the time is right for this particular ensemble to be revealed. Indeed, it has been deemed a worthy exploration by Andrew Bolton, Costume Institute’s Curator in Chief and brain behind the major collection of garments on display at the renowned Met Museum on 5th Avenue and in MET Cloisters from next Thursday.

But what lies behind the threads of this year’s intriguing concept exploring faith and fashion? Indeed, how do garments of holiness and haute couture combine amidst the current Western climate that grows more and more disillusioned by religious institutions and dogmatic beliefs?

Guo Pei couture — Spring 2017

Perhaps it’s apt to start ‘in the beginning’ with the Old Testament narrative of Genesis, where Adam was said to be clothed in the garden by the divine — and nowadays perhaps controversially — using animal skins. Then there are the priestly references, to robes made for Aaron and his brother in Exodus, commissioned meticulously using specific fabrics, yarns and colours, arguably early glimpses of bespoke tailoring. Jump further on, and we encounter the narrative of the transfiguration, where Jesus’ clothes appeared to become white light during a meeting on a mountaintop. Here the fabric itself becomes the central source of transformation and implies the ultimate makeover witnessed by the disciples; so-called followers of the day.

The aesthetic, theological and cosmological dimensions that occur during these accounts are tangibly human, as much as they are deeply mysterious. They give visions of apparent heavenly realties that many artists have unpicked and continue to do so amongst the plethora of stimulus used for stirring creative ideas. For amongst the everyday reality of clothing and being clothed in these instances, there are multiple features and symbols that have been used as inspiration. Indeed, the link between fashion and spiritual experience & practice has been an ongoing dialogue over centuries, and one that continues to tell multiple stories.

Guo Pei couture — Spring 2017

Take Guo Pei (above) for instance and her SS17 couture collection, that embodies an dramatic A-line formality and features heavily embroidered garments with jeweled crosses — not dissimilar to priest’s processional attire and ‘accessories’ in church when delivering the sacraments.

Or Dolce & Gabbana’s RTW, AW13 collection of long sleeved dresses, that drew inspiration from iconography, often found in the architecture and windows of religious buildings across the world. (below)

Dolce & Gabbana’s RTW — AW13

Then there was Versace’s Fall 1997 collection that also dipped into exploring imagery of the crucifix, albeit slightly more understated — shown here on Naomi Campbell and rumored to be one of the outfits featured in the upcoming exhibition itself.

Versace - Fall 1997

With a nod towards the Pope’s garb, Chanel’s pre fall 2015 collection also took on religious undertones with cream skirt and cape ensemble, adorned with monastic style belt:

Chanel - pre fall 2015

Finally one of Scotland’s finest fashion designers Christopher Kane showed this deconstructed approach to the classic white T, dispersing religious imagery amongst the looks in his recent RTW Spring 2017 collection…

Christopher Kane — RTW Spring 2017

So perhaps divine nature is not so removed from the threads and fabrics of the catwalk after all. Humanity’s embodiment and interaction with the divine has been something of a creative communion and there are countless examples where fashion meets faith with great imagination and effect. No doubt we shall see this glorious outworking in New York next week, as multiple celebrities, including the event’s hosts: Amal Clooney, Donatella Versace and Rihanna, take to the red carpet aisles in trinity-like fashion. Indeed, as Christian Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky wrote in his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: ‘the glory is the revelation the manifestation, the reflection — the garment of his inner perfection’!

For more fashion x faith click here.

The exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination is on display at The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters from May 10 — October 8, 2018.

Jennifer Sturrock is a designer, educator and writer within the realms of research, public engagement and creative facilitation. Working in a diverse range of environments, her background in fashion & textile design led to programme design, development & communication within the arts. Founder of blancc_space, she now specialises in design process, creative direction, editorial content, presentation, workshop facilitation and brand experience.

Jennifer has a First Class honours in Fashion Design & Textiles from London College of Fashion and a Masters in Theology & the Arts; ‘The Idea of Beauty’ from Kings College London. She has partnered with various learning institutions and worked in both private and public sectors, most recently with the Victoria & Albert Museum and University of the Arts London. Currently based in London, Jennifer regularly travels to Scotland, as well as internationally for research and continued creative collaboration. For more writing see here.

weaving waves, words and matter //@jensturrock www.jennifersturrock.com