Getting dressed for the Kingdom Hall in a southern Jehovah’s Witnesses’ household was a very serious regime as a kid. It was a lasting impression of the family to outside church goers, it also maintained order in the congregation. Religious fashion, visually profiles your status and how seriously you take your beliefs.
The exhibit brought back memories of watching my grandmother, mother and aunts of the local religious congregations with various beliefs interpret what was appropriate in the eyes of God, what was enforced by their religious superiors, but also how they were viewed in the eyes of their peers in the community.
Although the teaching and practices of Christianity and Catholicism have their differences --- equally there are similarities in the rituals, imagery and religious objects for many centuries.
The Costume Institute’s Spring 2018 exhibition –- At The Met Fifth Avenue features a dialogue between fashion and medieval art from The Met collection to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.
When entering the Byzantine, you’re greeted by a calming but monstrous symphony of music. A chivalrous female warrior strapped in birch plywood wings with ivory leather detailing from Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1999 collection in the corridor standing strong.
After granted access, a whimsical angelic fairy in a white silk tulle embroidered wedding gown designed by John Galliano for House of Dior guides you through every corner of the Byzantine and medieval galleries displaying over150 fashion ensembles from the early twentieth century to the present.
Rare haute couture built in lavish materials and headdresses reserved for bishops and the supreme high priests were resurrected by the members of The Metropolitan Museum Conservation and Installation team, depicting the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination."
Throughout many decades, couture designers have created garments inspired by the most prevalent figure in religion, The Virgin Mary or the Queen of Heaven and traditionally close their show with a bride. Christian Lacroix wedding ensemble interpretation of the “Virgin Bride” in ivory silk satin with embroidered polychrome organdy flowers and a gold silk brocade ensemble by Yves Saint Laurent created for the statue of "The Virgin" in the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Compassion in Paris.
Women of Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs are known to wear dresses or skirts that are below the knee, blouses or tops with no visible cleavage and covered shoulders. If an elder in hierarchy of congregation is not present to conduct prayer, a women of the anointed is required to wear a clothe over her head while praying. In similar beliefs such as Seven-Day Adventist, women must have their heads covered at all times.
As you walk down the Medieval Sculpture Hall, thoughtfully curated by Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at The Costume Institute; displays “holy ordering” in the Catholic Church. Essential fashion ensembles of clothing and accessories that compose a female religious dressing by Jean Paul Gaultier and House of Moschino. Wool veils by Dolce and Gabbana, cashmere broadcloths by Thom Browne and in the very center a red taffeta Valentino choir dress worn by cardinals for special or solemn liturgical occasions.
Intricate hand-crafted embellishments strategically placed on garments from Italian couture designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Lacroix and a Gianni Versace revisit to his 1992 autumn/winter collection by his sister and this year's Met Gala co-host, Donatella Versace; displayed in protective capsules throughout the medieval galleries.
Take a stroll around the Robert Lehman Wing to a colorful pastel story of silk gowns from Rodarte’s 2011 Pitti Couture Collection guarded by two 1930’s Lanvin angels. This exhibit is a must see! Experience the pioneers in fashion interpreting their religious belief systems into amazing works of art.
As a creative designer, the beautifully illustrated pages of Christian story books from my childhood and the imagination of Catholic imagery studies in college art history play a influential role in some of my work and will continue to eternally influence my design aesthetic. OBEA's "Silent Night" -- An experimental, mixed media project, released in the winter of 2016 by cinematographer Adolphus Amissah, gave me the opportunity to blend various religious cultural references to create costumes that ultimately depicted a unique interpretation of "The Virgin Mary" and the hardships of being born Black in America.
Performed by the remarkable Kimberly Marable [shown below] - Written and Directed by Stephen Earley Jordan II. - Music Production by Marlon Saunders.
Every garment has a story to tell and the joy of fashion is that you can create it, wear it and relate to it.
[All photos in article were taken by O'Neal Wyche during press preview. A special thank you to Engie Hassan of #EngieStyle]