Pope Francis didn’t walk the red carpet at last night’s gala (though Rihanna, in custom John Galliano for Maison Margiela, was a more-than-adequate stand-in). But the Church was well represented, with His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, New York’s Archbishop, speaking at the preview. “In the Catholic imagination, truth, goodness, and the beauty of God is reflected all over the place, even in fashion,” he said during the opening remarks. His speech read like a sermon, but surely, that was the point.
As you enter the show, you’re confronted by fantastical sartorial specimens—both contemporary and unearthed from the most hallowed depths of fashion history—set against religious tapestries, artifacts, and artworks. The resulting dialogue is meant to create various stories (one room in the Cloisters, for instance, has been transformed into the Garden of Eden; another showcases looks by Craig Green, who frequently pulls inspiration from religious garb and workwear, alongside tapestries depicting the Crusades). In fact, storytelling plays a central role in the exhibition concept. Bolton was fascinated not only by the way in which the Church uses storytelling and metaphor, but by how those modes of thinking have been ingrained in our subconscious. “Once I’d finished the curation, I did research into finding out the religious backgrounds of the designers. Unsurprisingly, about 90 percent were Catholic,” Bolton told Fashion Unfiltered. “But what did surprise me was the fact that the designers we had in the show often approached the design process in very similar ways—creating a collection based on a cast of characters and a very strong narrative. I found that compelling because…growing up Catholic has made them see the world in a very specific way, and as a curator, you’re always interested in finding out what drives an artist’s creative impulses. I never thought it would be religion, and initially, designers like Pier Paolo [Piccoli of Valentino] and Jean Paul [Gaultier] said, ‘No, no, no, religion has nothing to do with it.’ And then, they would slowly send me emails saying, ‘Yes, you’re absolutely right, it really has influenced how I see the world and also how I approach my work.’ It’s the idea of storytelling and metaphor that’s inherent to the Catholic education.”