Heavenly Bodies at the Met
“There are distinct parallels between a fashion show and a church procession,” explains Andrew Bolton, head curator of The Met’s Anna Wintour Costume Center in New York. He is discussing Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, an exhibition exploring the costumes, art and architecture of the Roman Catholic Church, and their impact on high fashion. Forty papal vestments and accessories, dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries, have been loaned by the Sistine Chapel. “Several of the pieces have never been seen outside the Vatican,” says Bolton.
Conceived as a kind of pilgrimage, the show begins with silhouettes influenced by Byzantine art and architecture. Among them are collections created by Gianni Versace in the 1990s, “inspired by the glittering micro-mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna,” according to Bolton. Designs from Cristóbal Balenciaga to Jean-Paul Gaultier feature in displays that evoke the dress of different Catholic orders, saints and angels, as well as the cult of the Virgin Mary.
“Balenciaga was raised Catholic, as were most of the designers who are featured in the exhibition,” says Bolton. “On the surface, this influence is conveyed through explicit Catholic imagery and symbolism. On a deeper level, it is conveyed through their reliance on storytelling, specifically the trope of metaphor.”
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10 May–8 October.
Azzedine Alaïa at the Design Museum
Tunisia-born Azzedine Alaïa’s sexy and attention-grabbing early creations in lace and studded leather made him a fashion-world favourite in the early 1980s. Conceived and curated with the designer before his death in late 2017, this career-length tribute at London’s Design Museum features more than 60 of his garments.
“Alaïa had strong friendships with practitioners working in other creative disciplines, especially designers,” explains curator Gemma Curtin. “So we were inspired to present his work against a backdrop of newly commissioned screens by designers such as Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec and Tatiana Trouvé, and to enjoy the visual conversations of these placements.”
Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier, Design Museum, London, 10 May–7 October.
The Beauty of Nature at the Victoria & Albert Museum
The complexity of fashion’s relationship with the natural world is explored at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in an exhibition drawing on five decades of costume history. The beauty of nature has furnished endless inspiration, from floral embroidery to the decorative use of fur, feathers, shells and butterfly wings.
In recent decades, the extent to which fashion contributes to global pollution has become evident, but might the natural world itself hold the key to new, less damaging solutions? Fashioned from Nature looks at the potential of new materials such as leather derived from grape waste and fibre from the citrus industry. “Technological innovation forms a thread in the exhibition narrative,” explains curator Edwina Ehrman, “from the development of spun-glass fibre as an alternative to silk in the 19th century to contemporary research into biofabricated fibres.”
Fashioned from Nature, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 21 April–27 January 2019.