In multiple previous posts on this site we have analysed the connections between fashion and Catholic religion. The trend actually continues: at the latest Haute Couture shows in Paris designer Guo Pei presented a collection that was heavily influenced by the Abbey of Saint Gall, a Roman Catholic religious complex located in the city of St. Gallen (many of the fabrics for this collection were made there) in Switzerland.
Despite the use of a wide range of techniques and of refined embroideries, prints, embellishments, bejewelled elements, and fine textiles, processes and materials that meant it took the designer two years to make the dramatic pieces included in the collection, the runway looked like a Baroque pageant featuring the costumes for a rather bizarre film.
A model in a gray silk gown with trailing sleeves and a crown on her head opened the show. The religious inspiration was then translated into architectural influences in the gowns featuring prints of the church murals from St. Gall, in the lampshade skirts that seemed anchored to metallic crinoline with mini-pulleys and in the corsets replicating the arches of the abbey.
Bejewelled crosses made an appearance on the bustier of a dress or on the crotch of a pair of trousers, and the show closed with several rich designs: a gold dress incorporating a chasuble-like garment was followed by a white domed dress with a matching headpiece that looked like a crossover between ecclesiastical headgear and the Sorelle Fontana's Middle Ages inspired wedding dresses from the '70s (that were copied by D&G in their A/W 14 collection). Rather than representing a glorious finale, Carmen Dell'Orefice closing the runway in a scarlet gown looked like a glammed up cardinal ready to star in a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Leaving aside the possibility of offending believers, Guo Pei's collection was a perfect exercise in all things you shouldn't do, it was indeed overcomplicated and risible.
So how can you take inspiration from Catholicism without falling into such cringing mystically Baroque mistakes?
After the Spanish Civil War, the photographer focused on a new theme - religious habits - publishing an intriguing volume entitled España Mística (1943).
The photographs included featured the white silhouettes of monks in their minimalist robes: Echagüe played with volumes and geometry to create balanced compositions that spoke of traditions and devotion.
Balenciaga first started looking for inspiration in the iconography of the Spanish popular costume and then moved little by little onto religious iconography. In 1968 he designed a bright orange cocktail dress characterised by an absolute purity of lines.
The design reflected his preference for smooth, minimalist silhouettes and included a feature that called to mind the robes of Ortiz Echagüe's monks - the interplay between overlapping planes. Though moving from a traditional and religious pattern Balenciaga elaborated a futuristic and high fashion design, proving that, to stand the test of time, you don't need heavily embellished, gargantuan and dramatic garments.