Jean Genet originally wrote his play Elle to attack the Church, but the play also touched upon many modern obsessions including celebrity and the power of the image. At a certain point in the play, for example, the Pope wonders if, when a man kneels at his foot, he venerates the foot or if it's the act of kneeling that is significant.
Considering the grand way everything was staged for the Met Gala on Monday that launched "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination", the latest Costume Institute exhibition at the Met Museum (officially opening tomorrow), you seriously wonder if the event will genuinely explore religion, fashion, art and beauty or if it will just venerate the pomp and circumstance surrounding religion. This question comes to mind when you consider some curatorial choices and wonder why certain pieces were not included, such as the iconic and architectural chasuble designed by Nanni Strada in 2005.
The Italian designer reunites in her career the fashion and religious aspects since she mainy worked in the fashion and textile industries, but a while back created one of the most futuristic liturgical garment ever designed (mentioned in a previous post a few years ago, but worth re-exploring), that was exhibited at the Diocesan Museum in Milan in 2016.
Nanni Strada moved from Medieval liturgical robes for her chasuble, adding a twist in the traditional garment, employing advanced techniques to make it, while also consulting with representatives from the Italian Episcopal Conference during her researches.
Chasuble comes from the Latin "casula", meaning "a little hut", diminutive of "casa", "house": it was supposed to be a sort of protective shed since, not having their own houses, monks would live in these garments and wear them to pray, sleep and travel. The chasuble was therefore a symbol of protection.
At the end of the '60s new trends started arriving for what regarded liturgical vestments and brocades, heavy embroideries and laces were left behind; the planeta was also abandoned in favour of a combo of chasuble and stole.
Strada's design is the first example of modular chasuble: the garment features indeed one outer layer in white silk and an underlayer in different colours - gold, green, violet and red - shades directly linked with the liturgy (violet indicates for example the act of waiting and it is donned during Lent).
The outer garment is covered with laser cuts and, while more arty people may think this is a reference to Lucio Fontana's famous slashes, they actually have an architectural inspiration. The vertical slashes are indeed linked to the decorative motifs on the façades of Gothic buildings. There is also a secret behind them: even though they look similar and were designed with a computer, they are actually slightly different when it comes to dimensions as they were manually altered. This allowed the designer to create imperceptible variations.
There is a long textile research behind this piece, it is indeed not incorrect to state that Strada is a textile obsessive (she loves spending time in factories and playing around with the possibilities of altering a textile through machines). In this case she used the fabrics as a metaphor, transforming the vestment into a garment of light thanks to the light-reflecting metal textiles. The internal laminated surfaces give off a special shine to the textile and symbolically hint at the soul shining through the body of the wearer, while the soft round shape also evokes a spiritual dimension.
Strada's chasuble - originally showcased at Koinè, an International exhibition for church furnishings and religious objects held in Verona, Italy, in April 2005 - is sadly not included in the Met Museum exhibition (while there is always a limit to the amount of pieces you can include in an event, quite often in the case of fashion exhibitions more famous houses who are also sponsors are favoured over others). Yet Strada remains among the few designers who perfected in her career the process of hybridisation between fashion and liturgical garments while using technology to create an innovative poetical language.
Her chasuble may show there is a design future (and maybe even a university course) for religious vestments: the wardrobe of the Church could definitely be revamped by liturgical experts in collaboration with textile manufacturers, artists, designers and technology experts as well. Just bear in mind that the Catholic Church trend at the moment is geared towards humbler vestments that guarantee movement, functionality and practicality and that therefore feature a limited amount of decorations (which means that Alessandro Michele, Lana Del Rey and Jared Leto definitely overdid things on Monday evening at the Met Gala...).