Tiaras but few tantrums at New York 'Heavenly Bodies'

Tiaras but few tantrums at New York 'Heavenly Bodies'
PHOTO: AFP

Think embroidered papal mantles inspiring a John Galliano masterpiece for Dior, Joan of Arc armour refashioned as sexualized corsetry by Jean Paul Gaultier or the monk habit re-styled as eveningwear by Valentino.

There are plenty of tiaras, but few tantrums at New York's hottest museum ticket this spring, "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic imagination" which is after all, causing little backlash from religious conservatives.

Opening on Thursday, it is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's largest exhibition, exploring how legendary couture houses have been inspired by church imagery, clerical dress and belief during the 20th and 21st centuries.

But if some worried it might ruffle feathers, even in ultra-liberal New York where Catholics are the dominant faith group, the Vatican has given its stamp of approval, lending 40 ecclesiastical objects from the Sistine Chapel sacristy.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, himself attended the Met Gala "Oscars of the East" to inaugurate the exhibition, mingling with celebrities flashing their flesh in outre outfits to a "Sunday Best" theme.

"You may be asking 'What's the church doing here?" he told the press event. "It's because the Church and the Catholic imagination, the theme of this exhibit, are all about three things: truth, goodness and beauty."

MET's Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic imagination

The exhibition spans 25 galleries at the museum's Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue headquarters and Cloisters outpost, perched atop a northern Manhattan hill, and will be open through October 8.

"It's based on the concept and experience of the pilgrimage," says Andrew Bolton, curator in charge at the Met's Costume Institute. "In a way, it's a dialogue between art and fashion," he told AFP.

The gowns are displayed in the museum's Byzantine and Medieval galleries, and the monastic environs of the Cloisters, rooting the frocks in their cultural reference points and emphasizing the mantra that fashion is, after all, art.

'Provocation, nostalgia'

"Many of the designers are no longer practicing, but never less the idea of Catholicism has had a big impact on their imagination," Bolton told AFP.

"Sometimes it's provocation, sometimes it's adulation, other times it's just nostalgia for a time in their childhood."

There are the virginal, contemplative wedding dresses by Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior, beaded, crucifix-studded jackets by Gianni Versace mimicking mosaics, angel-wing flamboyance from Alexander McQueen and an Yves Saint Laurent silk brocade ensemble made to clothe a statue of the Virgin in a Paris church.

Yet it is the objects from the Vatican that dazzle -- hand-embroidered mantles that look every bit couture and papal mitres studded in jewels so bling that they would be beloved by a fashion-obsessed celebrity today.

For example, the tiara given by Queen Isabella II of Spain to Pius IV in the 19th century -- cloth of silver embroidered with gold metal thread, is studded with 19,000 precious stones, most of them diamonds.

It took years and multiple trips to Rome to negotiate the loan, according to The New York Times. Many have never before left the Vatican and belong to more than 15 papacies -- the earliest a mantel worn by Benedict XIV, pope from 1740-58, and the latest a pair of red shoes worn by John Paul II.

They are also housed separately from the frocks, confined to the Anna Wintour Costume Center, named after the Vogue legend who has turned the Met Gala into the hottest party of the year and raised millions for the Institute.

"Although some might regard fashion as a frivolous pursuit far removed from the sanctity of religion, most of the vestments worn by the secular clergy and religious orders... have their origins in secular dress," Bolton has written.

Still it's worth noting that the grandeur on display could not be further removed from the simplicity and austerity projected by current Pope Francis.

"This is not a procedure where the pope gets involved, or has to give his OK," The New York Times quoted Vatican spokesman Greg Burke as saying.

Angels, crosses and papal gear fill Met Gala 2018 red carpet

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    Singer Katy Perry wowed in enormous, feathered white wings resembling an archangel over a Versace gold mini-dress paired with thigh-high gold boots.

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    Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk turned heads when he made his Met Ball debut with rumoured new girlfriend, Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes.

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    According to The New York Post, a source said that they met around a month ago online, of course, through a joke Musk had planned to tweet but discovered Grimes had already made, dealing with the complications of artificial intelligence.

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    Amber Heard

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    Pop singer Rihanna, one of the co-hosts of the evening, dressed like a pope, sporting a head-turning, jewel-encrusted miter with matching mini-dress with a priestly-style cape designed by Maison Margiela.

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    Model Bella Hadid opted for the darker side of the religious-inspired theme, wearing a Chrome Hearts black latex and leather outfit with long black gloves, and a black gold-embroidered veil trailing to the floor.

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    Madonna, a key religious provocateur early in her pop career, turned demure in a black, long-sleeved gown, with a huge gold crown, and a full face veil.

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    Kim Kardashian, appearing without husband Kanye West, kept it simple in a curve-hugging, gold metallic floor length dress with plunging neckline by Versace.

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    Actress Olivia Munn went for a Crusades-inspired figure-hugging gold chain-mail dress from high street retailer H&M

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    "Sex and the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker opted for a gold Dolce & Gabbana gown embroidered with sacred hearts and a towering nativity scene headpiece.

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    Headpieces, often halo-style, were in abundance, favoured by the likes of British singer Rita Ora, actress Anne Hathaway

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    Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

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    and rapper Cardi B, as were trains flowing for yards down the long Met Museum steps.

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    Jennifer Lopez chose a Balmain dress, split to the hip, with a large cross across the breast and a black feathered train.

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    Ariana Grande arrived in a Vera Wang gown that's screen-printed with images from Michaelangelo's iconic fresco, The Last Judgement, which adorns the sanctuary wall of the Sistine Chapel. She topped it off with a billowy gold veil bow.

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    “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman was among the few men going avant-garde in an ivory cape with gold beaded crosses, an embellished suit, and gold colored shoes.

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    Nicki Minaj

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    Kate Bosworth

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    Blake Lively

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    Lily Collins

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    Emilia Clarke

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    Priyanka Chopra

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    Alessandro Michele, Lana del Rey, and Jared Leto

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    Diane Kruger

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    Irina Shayk

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    Cara Delevingne

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    Deepika Padukone

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    Amal and George Clooney

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    Rita Ora

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    Ming Xi

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