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Religion (and Christianity in particular) has always had a touch-and-go and interesting (although incongruous) relationship with fashion. From delicate silver and gold cross necklaces to screen printed Virgin Mary motifs, what began as an expression of faith somehow morphed into a way for some music artists to flaunt their fortunes, and has now been appropriated by the highest tier of fashion.
The fascination with Christian iconography is nothing new, as religion’s relationship with the monarchy lends itself to the opulence and wealth that the fashion community so terribly desires. Crowns, sceptres and, yes, the crucifix, have all been spun into fashion-forward designs by independent designers and luxury houses the world over. Iconic frescos and murals such as Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel have been translated to textiles and used to pattern garments as prints or wovens. When these otherwise austere symbols are placed into a fashion context, especially in more avant-garde designs, it certainly warrants a double-take from an audience. Cherubs have never been cheekier.
Some designers are more subtle in their nod to the church. Jean Paul Gaultier added large bronze headpieces to models for his Spring/Summer 2007 Couture collection. Only upon further investigation could you see their resemblance to the large, solid halos so often present in stained glass renditions of religious figures. And yet other designers are bold, brash and overt about their heavenly inspiration. Some of John Galliano’s work at Christian Dior (hi, Fall/Winter 2000 Haute Couture) is the most obvious purveyor of this look.
Dolce & Gabbana is known for infusing religious iconography into many of their designs for both men and women. Their Fall/Winter 2013 offering, in celebration of elegant Sicilian menswear, featured knits that boasted colorful, albeit muted motifs. These ranged from Renaissance-style floral arrangements to actual tiled portraits of the Madonna. Up-and-coming designer Giuseppe Morabito used baroque Italy as the main inspiration for his premiere collection for Spring/Summer 2013, culminating in a “dialogue between the sense of aesthetic belonging to the contemporary clothes and the decorative style linked to the works of master artists.”
Riccardo Tisci, over at Givenchy has made old new again through graphic prints. Following the rampant commercial success of his Rottweiler-themed collection, he decided to take religious iconography in a decidedly darker direction (which is soooo Riccardo Tisci of him). The gloomier renditions of classics such as the Madonna paint (no pun intended) the figures in a different light.
The societal implication of fashion’s relationship with religion has not been overlooked. Designer Francesco De Molfetta created a sculpture titled “Lourdes Vuitton”, for which he adorned the Virgin Mary in a Louis Vuitton patterned garment in order to “denounce a society based on the cult of appearance through the use of a brand that represents the search for ephemeral happiness.”
As far as fashion and religion go, the melting-together of the two will always lead to controversy, but the pairing remains just compelling enough to keep it on the runway season after season.