Catholic taste: What will the Kar­dashi­ans do?

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This week, the Cos­tume In­sti­tute of New York’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art an­nounced that 2018’s fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tion will tackle re­li­gion. More specif­i­cally, Catholi­cism. Its ti­tle? Heav­enly Bod­ies: Fash­ion and the Catholic Imag­i­na­tion.

This is not just in­trigu­ing but bold. It’s one thing for An­drew Bolton, the mu­seum’s sea­soned cu­ra­tor, to steer the theme in a learned, en­rich­ing di­rec­tion (and en­list the help of Car­di­nal Ti­mothy M Dolan, Arch­bishop of New York, to en­sure that none of the 50 or so ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal gar­ments upsets Catholics).

But what’s to stop guests at May’s lav­ish and doc­u­mented Met Gala – the fash­ion Os­cars which tra­di­tion­ally kick off the ex­hi­bi­tions – from go­ing wildly, kitsch-ly, not to say of­fen­sively, off-mes­sage?

While Anna Win­tour, the Met Gala’s pre-em­i­nent host, fa­mously likes to vet the out­fits of her most VIP guests be­fore­hand, she surely won’t have time to pre­view all 600.

The ex­hi­bi­tion it­self could be one of the in­sti­tute’s best and most thought­pro­vok­ing. Catholi­cism has in­spired many de­sign­ers, par­tic­u­larly the Ital­ians, which might be ex­pected, but in un­pre­dictable ways. Gianni Ver­sace liked to say that the pros­ti­tutes as well as the nuns who con­gre­gate around cathe­drals were an early in­flu­ence that stoked his tal­ent for ex­tremes. Ar­mani claims that prim

Church ladies were a for­ma­tive force on his min­i­mal­ist taste. Mean­while, Dolce and Gab­bana have con­sis­tently mined the ex­u­ber­ant mo­saics, stained glass and fil­i­gree cru­ci­fixes of Italy’s lav­ish churches and cathe­drals for three decades, ap­ply­ing all man­ner of re­li­gious iconog­ra­phy onto mini dresses and corsets or turn­ing it into jew­ellery. Un­der the cre­ative di­rec­tor­ship of Maria Grazia Chi­uri and Pier­paolo Pic­ci­oli, Valentino prac­ti­cally owned that archetype of beauty that has come to be as­so­ci­ated with the re­nais­sance that flour­ished in 16th­cen­tury Italy, much of it funded, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, by the Catholic Church. Gen­er­ally it’s Je­sus and Mary at their most film starry that Mi­lan’s de­sign­ers find ap­peal­ing. But Jean Paul Gaultier typ­i­cally ex­plored a

darker side with bondage clad sado­masochist nuns in the Eight­ies. Catholi­cism of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one then.

Go­ing back fur­ther, Ba­len­ci­aga’s pro­foundly Span­ish early work – black or red, rig­or­ously sim­ple, se­vere – also took note of the re­strained but dev­as­tat­ing drama of the re­li­gious sis­ters. Nuns, if they did but re­alise it, have been ma­jor fash­ion in­flu­ences, ri­valled only by the Queen. I even flirted with tak­ing or­ders. I was five and had just seen my first glimpse of Jil Sander-es­que pared-back chic cour­tesy of Mother Su­pe­rior in The Sound of Mu­sic.

Pre­sum­ably there will be much more in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Pa­pal pur­ples, cheru­bic drapes, Madonna (Cic­cone) videos, and it will be a sight to be­hold. With any luck, we may even see some of the stu­pen­dously wide-brimmed leather hats that gave all that gore a run for its money in the BBC’S re­cent Gun­pow­der.

But still, what about that gala? For all the in­sti­tute’s suc­cess (at­ten­dees for the most pop­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tions reg­u­larly top 780,00), the gala has by far the big­gest reach. What’s to stop Bey­oncé or Kim Kar­dashian turn­ing up in full Mother-of-christ re­galia, or Kanye big­ging up his per­se­cu­tion com­plex with some stig­mata tat­toos and a #metoo hash­tag? Per­haps Anna should get Car­di­nal Dolan to have a quiet word.

Holy in­spi­ra­tion: Dolce and Gab­bana, far left; Car­di­nal Fer­nando Niño de Gue­vara, left; Ba­len­ci­aga 1954 evening coat, above

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