Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” Exhibition

Vogue | Steff Yotka

The new Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” opens on Thursday, May 10. Curated by Andrew Bolton, the show will be the museum’s largest in terms of square footage, winding from the Anna Wintour Costume Center through the museum’s Medieval galleries and into the circular Robert Lehman Wing, with another group of installations annexed in the Cloisters. Through a partnership with the Vatican, the show marks the first time certain papal vestments have ever been on display outside of Vatican City; they will be presented in a separate space from the contemporary fashions. But not only is Bolton’s latest show impressive in terms of scale and scope, it’s also remarkable for how it tackles what he calls the “underlying nervousness” in discussing the relationship between religion, art, and clothing.

On the surface, “Heavenly Bodies” breaks down the visual traditions of Catholicism to connect the holy with the haute. Catholic iconography has long inspired designers, from Coco Chanel to Gianni Versace to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. So have religious silhouettes, as evidenced by Pierpaolo Piccioli’s recent habit-like dresses for Valentino and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s monastic white wedding gown from 1967. Catholicism, of course, has nearly 2,000 years of symbols to rely on, and so its influence looms large on fashion…read more

Image: House of Dior (French, founded 1947). John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar 1960). Evening Ensemble, Autumn/Winter 2005–6 Haute Couture. White silk tulle, embroidered white silk, and metal thread. Photographed by Corey Tenold