On the one hand, the collection is a sincere tribute to the “Catholic imagination” in its capacity as a fount of inspiration for designers such as Galliano and Versace, both of whom feature in the exhibition in the section that explores the impact of Byzantine mosaic on fashion. This element of the exhibition bespeaks the ongoing significance of the ornate, gilded facet of Catholicism; in many instances, contemporary fashion has appropriated the trappings of surplus and splendor that are endemic to Catholic ritualism, and which bespeak God’s boundless power. Another element explores the converse, the creative influence of the severe, self-effacing uniforms associated with monastic orders, and which actor/director Greta Gerwig’s conventual The Row gown in some ways exemplified.
On the other hand, though, there is something decidedly subversive about Bolton’s tour de force, in spite of the fact that the exhibition has clearly been endorsed by the Vatican. By placing religious paraphernalia in the superficial, materialistic context of the fashion industry, the curators have effectively destabilized their sacrosanctity.
Like Rihanna’s daring Margiela ensemble, the exhibition subtly invites spectators to critique the seemingly inviolable theatricality of Catholic ritualism, to which costume has always been integral, and which paradoxically translates divine omnipotence into the earthly language of scintillating opulence. Accordingly, one is compelled not only to consider religious vestments as the progenitors of couture, but also to construe items of couture in terms of religious vestments, in an age in which we worship acquisition and idealize wealth.
WATCH | Moments from the red carpet at the 2018 Met Gala: