The mystery of faith according to fashion

Although practicing Catholics are to all intents and purposes an endangered species, the fascination exercised by ecclesiastical icons on the imagination of designers has not lost its vital force. L’Catholic iconography is everywhere: from rosaries, to the effigies of the Madonna, to the ex-votos of flaming hearts that form the basis of the stylistic identity of D&G and which for years have defined Italianness in the eyes of the world, with the monastic aesthetics of Demna Gvasalia in the FW21 campaign with Justin Bieber in cassock, passing through the most recent trinity slogans signed Praying and the papesse of Mowalola. Whether the Holy Spirit manifests itself in an austere way, recalling the unadorned imagery of the Franciscan friars with simple and mournful lines, or whether it materializes in a riot of Byzantine-inspired opulence, fashion has repeatedly drawn from the sacred dimension to create something very profane.

Jean Paul Gaultier SS2007

Jean Paul Gaultier SS2007

Jean Paul Gaultier SS2007

Jean Paul Gaultier SS2007

Jean Paul Gaultier SS2007

First, there are those designers who are (or have been) actually Catholic – Elsa Schiaparelli, John Galliano, Riccardo Tisci, Christian Lacroix, Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Norman Norell or Thom Browne – and then there are those who simply I drew inspiration from the mystery of faith, without taking part in it personally. In 1996, Set at Christ Church in Spitalfields, London, the collection titled “Dante” from Alexander McQueen it featured a cross-shaped catwalk, an organ as a soundtrack and models dressed in black lace veils and masks with a crucifix applique. One of the models wore McQueen’s version of the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ, an echo of the 1938 collection by Elsa Schiaparelli entitled “Pagan” and from which Tiffanny probably drew inspiration for the custom made tiara intended for Kendrick Lamar. For the SS07 Couture of Gaultier instead, every woman on the parade was the embodiment of holiness: halos, faces painted like plaster statues, dresses inspired by devotional art. What looked like monastic hoods were actually trailing stoles or lace commonly used to decorate shrines transformed into tight-fitting robes. For Versace Couture FW97, on the other hand, a particular atmosphere transformed inspiration into premonition, the show did not go down in history only because the garments were embellished with crosses, but also because it took place only a week before the death of Gianni Versace.

The church itself as a physical place was the lighting for the settings of several catwalks that tried to reproduce scenarios of devotion, including AW13 of Thom Browne where the smell of incense and a walkway set up with wooden benches and kneelers and the runaways of Gucci at the Westminster Cloisters and Arles Cemetery. Not to mention all those archbishops, cardinals, including pontiffs, who despite a role that would impose the abstention from a certain type of interest in material goods, willy-nilly have become true icons of style, including Benedict XVI and his red velvet shoes, symbolic according to him of martyrdom in the liturgical sense but which were said to be of Prada. It was 1999 when Galliano showed a Catholic priest, who appeared on the catwalk with a particularly threatening appearance, probably the result of some childhood trauma of the designer. In 1939 Elsa Schiaparelli thought of decorating a dress with crossed keys (coat of arms of the Holy See), since then fashion has established a continuous dialogue with Catholicism made up of symbols, ideas and suggestions, which received its formal ennobling on the occasion of the Met Gala of 2018 themed Heavenly Bodiesin which celebrities and stylists have explored and celebrated the theme (Zendaya as Giovanna D’Arco, Alessandro Michele protagonist of a triptych with Jared Leto and Lana Del Rey, Rihanna in the role of Papessa).

The ancestral link that binds clothing to religion could be reduced to a simple assumption: the fashion capitals, Paris and Milan, are historically Catholic. In the 50s Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, Spanish by origin, he inspired France with his garments that originated from the Catholic iconography with which he grew up: from the red drapes of the papal robes to the opulent velvets of the Senta Sede. Since the beginning of time, human beings have questioned their existence, their nature, the meaning of things, without however finding an answer that goes beyond ‘faith’, the act of entrusting themselves to a superior and supposed entity. of whose existence there is no objective certainty. Since the first century, man has made up for the mystery that grips him by building a value and symbolic system that still today, despite being often controversial and anachronistic, influences our lives, from politics to society, passing through the wardrobe: the Church is the first brand never created by man, perhaps with a little help from above.

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