What the Heavenly Bodies Exhibit at the MET Means to Me

Fashion and Catholic Imagination are two large parts of my identity. As someone who is continuously exploring their Catholic faith, has an undying love for fine art and is always looking for ways to experiment with fashion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heavenly Bodies exhibit was one that I knew I had to witness.

The Heavenly Bodies Exhibit hosted by the Met’s Costume Institute is on display until Oct. 8th, 2018 and has been on display since May 10th, 2018. Despite the collection’s short exposition, it has had a huge impact not only on myself, but also on the millions of visitors to the MET.

If “Heavenly Bodies” doesn’t ring a bell, you may be familiar with the pageantry of the 2018 Met Gala, where you had the chance to see some of your favorite celebrities dress in biblical-inspired vestments. This event takes place every year to raise money for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, which hosts an exhibition with new themes and pieces every year. This year they gave curator Andrew Bolton the chance to communicate the relationship between Catholicism and fashion. Some of the most noted looks at the gala included Rihanna’s bedazzled miter inspired headpiece, Ariana Grande’s stylized display of Michelangelo’s "Creation of Man," and Jared Leto’s surprisingly Christ-like appearance.

Rihanna at the 2018 MET Gala

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Ariana Grande at the 2018 MET Gala

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Jared Leto at the 2018 MET Gala

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As visitors wander the medieval galleries of the MET, taking in the high ceilings and the intricate curation of artwork, there is a sense of awe that falls upon the whole gallery. With custom orchestration flowing throughout the arrangement of Catholic-influenced imagery, it is impossible to walk away from the experience uninspired. It is hard to understand without visiting that there is something enigmatic about the juxtaposition of haute couture displayed next to papal accessories and depictions of the Madonna and Child.

Personally, attending this exhibition was very important, as I was practically raised in the parish center of a Roman Catholic church, and I now happen to attend a Franciscan college. How could I have known in 7th grade that the heavyweight altar server alb I sported at every Saturday evening during mass would inspire designers like Cristobal Balenciaga to engineer iconic ensembles, ones fit for prophets?

All jokes aside, there is an apparent religious influence in my life, and art has always been something I value. Upon first visiting the MET, I immediately fell in love with everything about the museum, especially its collection of medieval and Roman art. The Heavenly Bodies exhibit showcases many pieces from these collections and places them alongside designer ensembles inspired by the wardrobes of clergymen and women and other biblical icons, for example, choirs of angels, altar servers and the Madonna herself.

Pictured below is one of my favorite pieces curated into the show, designed by John Galliano for Dior in 2005. This angelic gown is reminiscent of a wedding dress with its train at the back of the gown, but the costumes’ profound wings capture the look of God’s 7 Archangels. This piece is intricate from head to toe and has a heavenly glow that not only catches the eye of the visitor, but also draws them closer to look at the magnificent detail woven into the piece. 

Image courtesy of Kiera Mitru

There is a clear nun-like influence in these ensembles taken straight from a catwalk. When observing this section of the exhibit, I was under the impression that these were different conventual uniforms but I was mistaken. This attire once walked the fashion week runway, and the designers of such scared visions intended for this to be viewed as their mark on society's conception of what is "chic". With these pieces, Andrew Bolton communicates his observation that the high church inspires high fashion.

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Once again, I thought that these pieces had once been worn by members of religious authority but these are more designer creations that appeared on the fashion week runway at some point in time. This imitation of clerical dress proves that Catholicism's mark on fashion didn't start or end with Madonna. 

Seeing fine art and Catholicism celebrated together in my favorite place was divine -- no pun intended. Standing among the work of my fellow Catholic visionaries encouraged me to marry my passions and find new ways to incorporate religion into my creative outlets, as well as work creativity into my practices of religion. From the pageantry of the 2018 MET Gala to its highlight of the pageantry of papacy itself, the Heavenly Bodies exhibit will always be one of the most influential collections of fashion and artwork.