Henri Matisse – Chasuble (vestement). Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. A gift for Dominican nun, Sister Jacques-Marie, who nursed him to health.


It might not be a well known fact, but throughout history, fashion and the Catholic religion have been inexorably intertwined,  resulting in some of the most innovative creations in the history of fashion.

Thierry Mugler. 1984 – 85. Ivory silk taffeta and gold painted feathers.

Thom Browne Wedding Ensemble 2018.


According to sociologist Father Andrew Greeley, ‘Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues, and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures.’

The majority of the designers in Heavenly Bodies were raised in the Roman Catholic tradition and while many no longer practice their religion and their relationships to it vary considerably, most acknowledge its significant influence over their imaginations.

‘Madonna Rides Again’. Philip Treacy’s straw hat take on the wimple.

On the surface this influence is apparent in the use of explicit Christian symbolism such as the cross and the crown of thorns: on a deeper level, it expresses itself through the designer’s reliance on narrative or storytelling, and specifically on the trope of metaphor.

Yves Saint Laurent. Statuary vestment for the Virgin Of El Rocio 1985. Gold silk brocade,metal Chantilly lace,crystals and pearls.

The clothes, many elaborately beaded and encrusted with stones, with exquisite embroidery and lace, are displayed in the Medieval Galleries at the Met and shown alongside the museum’s great collection of tapestries, alter pieces, and large scale Gothic sculptures as well as paintings by such masters as El Greco. It is fascinating to see how contemporary designers have been influenced and inspired by the richness of the fabrics – the embroidery and colours – deep reds, pinks, and purples.

For TheEye, one of the highlights of the exhibition is a video showing a scene from Federico Fellini’s film Roma (1972), of an ecclesiastical fashion show. A satirical presentation of carnivalesque styles that reflect the ‘holy ordering’ of the Roman Catholic Church with ‘clergy’ gallivanting around a runway on roller skates and bicycles looking mad as hatters. Apparently it had a huge influence on designer’s imaginations and having watched it, TheEye appreciates why…can’t wait to get the film and watch it at home. Hilarious and visually stunning.

Christian Lacroix ‘Gold-Gotha’ Ensemble.1988-19989

Soutanes were worn as daily dress for secular clergy dating back to the 12th Century and hold a particular fascination for designers such as Raf Simons, John Galliano (for Christian Dior), Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen. They adapt perfectly to contemporary and elegant minimalist designs.

House of Moschino 2014.

Balenciaga 2017.

There is a separate exhibit in the newly named (or in the spirt of this show – baptised) Anna Wintour Galleries (no photography permitted – Anna rules). A great pity as the lavish papal garments including footwear and jewellery are breathtaking in opulence and (dare one use the word?) bling.

The role of dress in the Catholic Church is made much of in this part of the exhibition and pictures of Pope Benedict XVI as a religious-fashion icon, riding in the ‘Popemobile‘ with red Prada loafers under his cassock and Gucci  shades, featured in an article, ‘The Pope Wears Prada’ in the November 2005 issue of Newsweek Magazine.

The Met Cloisters in Northern Manhattan is a magical place which has been in existence since 1938. Because of the inconvenience of its location, it’s not high on most tourist’s must see list. A great shame.

The glorious grounds of The Cloisters.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s in New York with its rarified environment, displays of Medieval Art, and stunning stained glass windows.

TheEye hasn’t visited The Cloisters for years and Heavenly Bodies was the perfect opportunity to return.

It’s a tranquil and spiritual place, with gardens evoking the Middle Ages. Orchards, enclosed meadows, fountains, medieval apothecary and vegetable gardens.

The most exquisite dress (in TheEye’s opinion) in the exhibition. Dolce & Gabbana. Gold silk and metal macrame lace, grosgrain-covered whalebone, gold silk tulle with gold lurex. To die for!

This incredible exhibition was three years in the making, but what an achievement. So many loans from so many (notoriously difficult) couture houses around the world. But most amazing are the loans from The Vatican, without doubt a first.

Heavenly Bodies ends on October 9th.

If you are fortunate to be visiting New York before then, and haven’t yet seen this, make a speedy bee-line to the Met.

It’s a unique opportunity to see wonderful clothes, artefacts and to step inside a world normally shrouded in mystery and allure.


  1. Marvellous pictures, such an original exhibition, thank you for showing them.

  2. My favourite is Thom Browne’s wedding ensemble, looks like she is floating on a cloud! Your photos and descriptions make me feel like I am there, but I’m sitting in my armchair.

  3. A really wonderful description of an obviously fabulous visit. Made me want to be on the next flight to NY

  4. Any whispers when you were there about this exhibition touring?? You know the way the Alexander Mc Queen eventually made it to the V&A??

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