A number of topics are eternally controversial. Politics and religion are two which come to the fore, with religion being the most touchy. I was raised as a Catholic and its precepts are still ingrained in me. A primary tenet of Catholicism is that God embodies love and beauty. Humans by nature seek out beauty and love by whatever means.
Fashion, a subject less controversial, has been and continues to be analyzed ad infinitum. There are several salient commonalities between religion and fashion. Designers and those who create fashion, adorn us with beauty which can elevate us to a spiritual level. The clerical garb or vestments worn by the clergy pay tribute and respect to God’s love through the painstakingly beautiful embellishments and detailed craftsmanship.
It was only a matter of time before these two subjects would intersect and be identified as historically and culturally worthy of a grand museum exhibit.
This year, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC organized its most ambition fashion exhibit to date. “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” lays forth the inextricable link and inspiration that fashion has drawn from the traditions and visual iconography of Catholicism. Couture and ready-to-wear fashion from the 19th and 20th centuries are displayed and seamlessly juxtaposed with religious art in the Byzantine and Medieval galleries. The culmination of a true religious experience is found downstairs in the Anna Wintour Costume Institute where you will find over 40 vestments, priceless tiaras, mantles, cloaks, capes and more on loan from the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Sacristy, on view for the first time. The exhibit concludes in the Met Cloisters in Upper Manhattan.
I learned about this exhibit almost a year ago. This wouldn’t merely be a fashion exhibit-meets-religious experience, but a “fashion pilgrimage”, since it takes visitors from the main Met location all the way to the Cloisters, a peaceful, spiritually zen-like place, which I had not visited since I was a teen.
I had to look up more information on the Cloisters’ website to see how to get there and where to park. In the Accessibility section I read “Caregivers of visitors with disabilities will be admitted for free. These tickets may be obtained at a Museum ticket counter.” CAREGIVER + FREE had a nice ring to it. I had never read that before. Immediately I laughed and all these ideas were swirling in my head how my friend, Jamie, would play a “caregiver” role. We would go to the exhibit, she would dress as a nurse so that she’d qualify for free admission. But typical mint-green ill fitting scrubs wouldn’t cut it for this kind of field trip. After exchanging ideas, we planned our outfits accordingly for our visit to The Met Costume Exhibit:
HERE’S HOW YOU DRESS LIKE A FASHIONABLE “CARE-GIVER/NURSE.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST. My fashion nurse not only helps me get around, she dispenses fashion advice, cures fashion ills and mends broken seams without handing out narcotics. What should a fashion nurse wear? Let’s start with BLACK, head to toe –a New Yorker’s obligatory color choice . A nurse’s hat with bespoke veiling, matching lipstick red stethoscope, tailored denim cape, Comme des Garçons tote replete with snacks, napkins, gum, Purell, safety pins and an emergency sewing kit. Add sensible Wolford stockings and fabulous bejeweled faux fur embellished thick gumsole sneakers. (Perfect for chasing wheelchair cripples who have ADD and dart off at a moment’s notice.) Top it off with matching red cat eye sunnies, the silhouette du jour. You didn’t expect me to drag someone along to a fashion exhibit looking like a schlub did you?
A more detailed analysis and review of this monumental exhibit will be posted at a later date. Please stay tuned.
This show has left me with chills for days. I continue to process all the splendor I took in viewing fashion, artistry and art so profoundly beautiful and detailed that I can only attribute such beauty to a greater power. This exhibit sapped me of energy and when I returned home, I slept 9 hours and still felt drained. Does that sound dramatic? It isn’t because some of you who have experienced this will understand. Art can do that-it can simultaneously uplift and exhaust one’s senses.
I strongly urge you to visit “Heavenly Bodies.” The exhibit ends October 8th, 2018
I LEAVE YOU with one of my favorite non-clothing items from the exhibit.
This is a German ivory and silver rosary dated from 1500. The beads juxtapose the images of life and death. (Hum, how uplifting.) The inscription on one of the beads reads: “Remember death/This is what you will be.” The boxwood bead opens to reveal Death appearing unannounced at a meal beneath an image of the Last Judgment. The Latin inscription reads, “Stay awake, for you do not know at which hour your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42.)
So uh, that explains my preoccupation with death since teen hood. I bumped into a hilarious Catholic artist friend 2 weeks ago who asked me whether I would like to attend her “green funeral party seminar.” She said the seminar will explore how to be buried using “green” methods, which avoid using formaldehyde and all the other toxic sludge morticians pump into a corpse. Of course I said I will attend her seminar. This is a topic for a future blog post.
Ah Catholics. Who ever said we are humorless?
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