On a summer's Sunday morning, what else could be more fitting for some than going to Church? In our case, a party of three (with two of us being Jewish) decided to go to the Church of fashion: The Heavenly Bodies Exhibit at The Met.
Hyped up from all the Met Gala videos of star studded guests strutted through the galleries and donning designs by many of the designers prominently displayed in this religious retrospective, Annie, Rebecca, and I put on our Sunday best and embarked on our religious experience.
When you walk in, one of the first things you'll notice are the purposeful shadows and spots of light. The whole presentation has not only been carefully curated for content, but for ambiance as well. The music on loop in the background mesmerizes you. It perfectly matches the sense of drama mirrored in the costumes and staging of the exhibit. Luckily, Annie got in trouble for Shazaming the soundtrack so you don't have to. Find a similar tune here, and I strongly recommend playing it while you continue this read.
The exhibit was split in two spots at The Met (not to mention offsite displays as well): the Anna Wintour Costume Institute & the Medieval and Byzantine Art Galleries. The former featured relics and items from the Vatican in the costume institute underground in order to set the historical tone of the more theatrical display aboveground. And, aboveground, fantasy melted into fact as garments by Versace to Alexander McQueen were interspersed with art from The Met's permanent collection of Medieval and Byzantine Art.
This split of displays was a helpful, visual delineation - if not a good excuse to cross the entirety of The MET in between - prompting Annie to point out the juxtaposition of, "old garments in a modern space and modern garments in an old space." And a modern space indeed. The first few dresses were floated atop stands in parallel hallways that led into the main gallery space. The mannequins looked like they were strutting on a runway in heaven as we had to crane our necks and catch glimpses in between spotlights to see them in all their glory.
In between these two hallways were the brightest gems of the exhibit: three Versace tops encrusted with jovially colored jewels, presented against exposed bricks and encased relics.
"The seminal collection includes jackets and halter tops with Byzantine icons embroidered entirely in crystals, creating an immediate visual link to the luminous tesserae of the mosaics. Here, they are paired with Byzantine icons from The Met collection." (Versace Wall text)
Gliding onto the main gallery, you can't help but start to feel a bewitching quality consume you. All the mannequins stand eyes closed, draped in ornate and opulent fabrics. They're positioned either in flanks, in silos, or watching you from above. Everywhere you turn there's a new garment beckoning you with it's rich colors or even richer jewels. And each time you lean in close to inspect the details, you're sucked into another world of fashion.
Each designer showcased in this exhibit is or was Catholic, and are all brought together here by their sartorial storytelling abilities. Piecing together garments that manifest "the Catholic imagination" as stated by sociologist Andrew Greeley - the theoretical backbone to the exhibit. Each cluster of costumes represents a short story (like The Habit) and crescendos into an overall narrative of how fashion stems from function and evolves into fantasy.