art review: ‘Heavenly Bodies’ Brings the Fabric of Faith to the Met

Once there was a man who wore the finest silks in Italy, but traded them all for sackcloth. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant, and in his youth he gamboled about Umbria in colorful, dandyish outfits. But when he had his calling he stripped off his fine clothes, pledged his body to God, and spent the rest of his life in a mendicant’s robe. He was Saint Francis of Assisi, and when the archbishop of Buenos Aires was proclaimed pope in 2013, he gave himself a new name, in honor of a man unembroidered.

I wonder what both Francises, saint and pontiff, might make of “Heavenly Bodies,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s colossal, hotly debated and richly anointed exhibition on the interweaving of fashion and Roman Catholicism. Years in the making, it includes exceptional loans of vestments from the Vatican — some of which have never before left Rome — and more than 150 ensembles of secular clothing from the last century. Here is papal regalia of unsurpassed intricacy, but also space-age brides, monastic couture, angels in gold lamé, and a choir up in the balcony dressed in head-to-toe Balenciaga.

For the 55 designers exhibited here, Catholicism is both a public spectacle and a private conviction, in which beauty has the force of truth and faith is experienced and articulated through the body. Sacrilegious? Heavens, no: The show is deeply respectful of the world’s largest Christian denomination, even reverential. But it takes communion at Fellini’s church rather than Francis’s — a surreal congregation whose parishioners express their devotion through enchanted excess.

“Heavenly Bodies” is the largest exhibition ever offered by the Met’s Costume Institute and was organized by its curator, Andrew Bolton. It runs from its dedicated downstairs hall to the Byzantine and medieval galleries and into the Lehman Wing; it then continues at the Cloisters, the museum’s serene home for religious art in Upper Manhattan. Most of the designers here were or are Catholics, including historical figures like Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent, and active designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Catholic Europe dominates; the United States is represented by Thom Browne (Mr. Bolton’s partner) and Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte; but designers from Latin America, the pope’s old stamping ground, are dismayingly absent.

After Mr. Bolton’s rigorous left-brain exercises of the last two years — the excellent, tech-minded “Manus × Machina” in 2016 and the body-questioning retrospective of Rei Kawakubo last year — this show is a return, for better and worse, to the high spectacle of “China: Through the Looking Glass.” It goes heavy on the Catholic drama, with mannequins posed as angels and novitiates, and there’s music throughout. (Playing in the medieval sculpture hall is an intolerable loop of staccato string accompaniment, drawn from a film soundtrack by Michael Nyman, that will make you wish the Costume Institute would take a Cistercian vow of silence.) It also places the clothing amid the Met’s superb collection of Byzantine and medieval art — ivories, tapestries, reliquaries. This intermarriage of religious art and secular fashion feels refreshing in places, silly in some; either way, it’s an event.

“Heavenly Bodies” is, to use a formula Catholics will find familiar, both one show and three. You can begin your approach to this trinity of fashion with the showcase of holy vestments in the basement galleries, or you can start upstairs with the grand secular displays inspired by Catholic hierarchy and ceremony (the weakest third). Then conclude at the most contemplative, and strongest, third — the gowns evoking orders and sacraments at the Cloisters.


upstairs

An Ecclesiastical Pageant

The exhibition’s presentation of secular clothing begins on either side of the Met’s central staircase, in the hallways devoted to Byzantine art. Five evening dresses from a recent collection of Dolce & Gabbana feature hand-sewn paillettes that cohere into icons of Mary and the saints, based on the mosaics of a Sicilian church. More inspired are Gianni Versace’s diaphanous dresses of gold and silver mesh, a signature material that the designer garlanded with crosses. He presented them for fall 1997: a season he never saw, as he was murdered that summer in Miami.

Versace drew inspiration from the Met’s 1997 blockbuster, “The Glory of Byzantium,” and these clingy sheaths set the stage for an encounter between religious art and clothes for the (rich and thin) laity.

In a gallery shaped like a Byzantine apse stands a Gothic haute couture gown by Jean Paul Gaultier — technically stunning but too gaudy to love — that incorporates holographic images of saints and aluminum panels decorated with eyes or hearts, like the ones ex-votos believers place in shrines. A mask of leather straps and cruciform plastic beads by the Belgian duo A.F. Vandevorst offers a rare dose of fetishism, though it is not half as fierce as the Met’s rosary from 16th-century Germany in the same case, composed of ivory beads half-face, half-skull.

Up here the restraint shown by the designers in the Vatican presentation gives way to ostentatious spectacle. Spotlights fall on a low-cut gown of red silk, designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino this year, flashing more skin than any cardinal would allow. The hall’s Spanish iron choir screen frames an eye-popping haute couture ensemble by John Galliano for Dior in 2000-1, with a beaded headpiece shaped like a bishop’s mitre. The back is embroidered with a crucifix and the inscription “Dieu est mon maître”: God is my master. (A male model wore this gown in Mr. Galliano’s presentation, though it was designed for clients of either gender.)

Yet those who feared that this exhibition might edge into blasphemy will be relieved to hear that it takes few liberties. Quite the contrary: Mr. Bolton, a Catholic, treats the faith so earnestly that he re-sacralizes the medieval art on display. His approach to the “Catholic imagination” treats the visual splendor of the church as more than just a poor man’s bible, but as a manifestation of God that inheres in all beauty, including fashion. Holy vestments serve in the transubstantiation of wine and bread into blood and body, and in a similar way these secular garments also turn the Met’s medieval collection back into objects of worship.

Anyway, if these designers are sometimes rule breakers, they are not apostates. In fact two gowns here, one by Saint Laurent and the other by Riccardo Tisci, are not for humans at all; they were designed as costumes for statues of the Madonna.

This decision to mimic, rather than analyze, the splendors of the church is highly uncommon for a museum, and bracing in places. One can see why Cardinal Dolan and other ecclesiastical figures have been pleased. The downside is that “Heavenly Bodies” pushes so hard on the senses here that you are forced to leave your art historical tools in the nave. How were these ensembles made? Whom did they influence? Those are questions for tomorrow; for now, let us pray to saints Cristóbal, Jean Paul and Raf.

Such a carnal approach to Catholicism also comes at the cost of critical engagement with the ironies of fashion — above all, with ironies of gender. It seems, almost always, that the transference of the “Catholic imagination” from sacred clothing to secular has to pass through a woman’s body. There is almost no men’s wear in this exhibition; one rare entry is a wool coat by Mr. Simons, inspired by a priest’s soutane. The angels clad in Lanvin and Rodarte inhabiting the final gallery are all women, too. This display may merit a thousand praying-hands emoji on Instagram this summer, but you might ask whether these designers have merely perpetuated the gender discordance of the church in a more colorful key.


downstairs

Apostolic Elegance

The diplomatic and liturgical coup of “Heavenly Bodies” is in the Anna Wintour Costume Center, which features nearly four dozen articles of clothing and other regalia of recent popes, lent from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy. The church obliged the Met to keep the religious garments separate from the fashion objects, and they wanted a clean display, as the vestments are still in use. The architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro delivered with a design of extreme restraint. Chasubles, mantles and tiaras appear in pristine cases, and entire walls are left white.

A glorious cope, or outer cloak, painstakingly made between 1845 and 1861 and worn by Pius IX, is laid flat like a grand, wearable semicircular tapestry; in its central gold shield is a dynamic nativity scene in embroidered silks of blue, pink and melon. A vision of Adam and Eve’s expulsion sits beneath.

Pius IX seems to have been a bit of a clothes hound, and of the many accessories in a smaller gallery — mitres, crosiers, rings, and a pectoral cross of gold and amethysts that would suit Cher — the most opulent are Pius’s three tiaras, festooned with rubies and sapphires. A German-made tiara here is ringed by three crowns comprising 19,000 stones, mostly diamonds.

These are awe-inspiring, though you need not be Martin Luther to look askance at their opulence. In the show’s catalog, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi writes that while “beauty and art have been the inseparable sisters of faith and Christian liturgy for centuries,” Catholics ought to recall Jesus’s warning, in the Woes of the Pharisees, not to make a show of your dress. No pope has worn a tiara since the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s — unless you count Jude Law as the chain-smoking, archconservative “Young Pope,” who sported one for his terrifying investiture speech.


the cloisters

Monastic Solitude

Where the clothing at Fifth Avenue draws on Catholicism’s rigid hierarchy and public rites, the Cloisters showcases fashion reflecting the quieter side of faith. It’s here you’ll find, in the reconstructed Spanish chapel, the show’s most famous ensemble: Balenciaga’s 1967 wedding gown, made of silk the color of ice milk and topped with an architectonic hood in place of a veil. Erroneously known as the “one-seam wedding dress,” this extraordinary garment appears to have been immaculately conceived rather than sewn. Here, too, the scenography is hardly subtle; the Balenciaga bride faces the apse as if in prayer, and speakers twitter “Ave Maria.”

But in general Mr. Bolton’s choreographed rendezvous between contemporary clothing and holy art of the past are more rewarding in the Cloisters’ tight confines, where one-to-one encounters come more easily. Precisely arced straw hats by the experimental milliner Philip Treacy appear as a mathematician’s response to the wimples of “The Flying Nun,” and sit in front of Netherlandish reliquary busts of female saints. A long black dress from 1999 by Olivier Theyskens, its bodice incised with a cruciform gap, stands between painted limestone statues of Saints Margaret and Petronilla. Near the garden is an extraordinary couture dress by Ms. Chiuri and Mr. Piccioli for Valentino; its metal-thread embroidery translates Cranach’s Adam and Eve, and its flora and fauna, into splendiferous ornament.

Mr. Bolton has made the unexpected and rewarding decision to place more than a dozen ensembles outdoors, in colonnades that ring the central cloister. Most outfits draw on monastic dress, including Mr. Piccioli’s elegant hooded dress of brown cashmere and Mr. Owens’ notorious (and rather stupid) sportswear robes cut out at the crotch. And there are older pieces, including an evening dress made in 1969 by the French designer known as Madame Grès, whose beige pleats are cinched by a brown knotted belt. Its inspiration is unmistakable: the habit of Zurbarán’s painting of St. Francis of Assisi, the rough brown cloth evoked through Madame Grès’s pilling angora wool.

His namesake gave a speech this September that is worth keeping in mind when you see “Heavenly Bodies,” in which he insisted that what is holy resides not in beauty alone. “I ask for the Church and for you the grace to find the Lord Jesus in the hungry brother, the thirsty, the stranger,” Pope Francis pleaded. And to find it, too, in “the one stripped of clothing and dignity.”


“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” Through Oct. 8 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.

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What Is the Met Gala, and Who Gets to Go?

Officially, it’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, a black-tie extravaganza held the first Monday in May to raise money for the Costume Institute (a.k.a. the fashion department).

Unofficially, the night’s festivities have been called many things, including “the party of the year,” “the Oscars of the East Coast” (mostly because of the star quotient and the elaborate red carpet, where guests pose on the grand entrance stairs to the museum) and, somewhat pointedly, “an A.T.M. for the Met,” the last by the publicist Paul Wilmot.

The party signals the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual blockbuster show, and it is known for its celebrity and fashion hosts. This year the exhibition is “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and the hosts are Anna Wintour (the magical manipulative Wizard of Oz for this particular event), Rihanna (who has a starring role in the coming Met Gala heist movie, “Ocean’s 8”), Donatella Versace (because her brother Gianni had a thing about Catholic iconography) and Amal Clooney (because … well, who doesn’t want to stand in a receiving line with Amal Clooney?).

Stephen A. Schwarzman, a founder of Blackstone, and his wife, Christine, are honorary chairs. They are the first people to name-sponsor a fashion exhibition since 1997. That’s a big deal. It’s also big money.

Speaking of Money, How Much Does the Gala Cost?

Tickets this year are $30,000 apiece, and tables are about $275,000. The party and exhibition are sponsored. All of the money from ticket sales goes to the Costume Institute, which it needs because it is the only one of the Met’s curatorial departments that has to fund itself, fashion having been an iffy proposition as an art form when the Costume Institute was established.

Last year, just over $12 million was raised. Of course, not everyone pays for a ticket. A brand will often invite celebrities to sit at its table, and Ms. Wintour also often invites up-and-coming designers who may not be able to afford a ticket and scatters them around the event. This makes them really excited and makes them feel like they owe her. If they didn’t already.

Why Would Anyone Pay That Much for a Party?

Ms. Wintour, the editor of American Vogue and the artistic director of Condé Nast, took over as chairwoman of the gala in 1999. Since then, she has been instrumental in transforming a local philanthropic event into the ultimate global celebrity/power cocktail: Take a jigger of famous names from fashion, add film, politics and business, and mix.

It has become the gold standard of parties; that by which other benefits are measured. It’s such a heady combo that President Trump proposed to his wife, Melania, during the gala in 2004. (In case you are wondering: No, they are not expected this year.). It is among the hardest party tickets of the year to get — and thus, intensely coveted.

But Wait: Isn’t the Current Pope All About Poverty and Inclusion? How Does That Work?

If the Vatican doesn’t see a problem with it — and it has given a seal of approval, lending approximately 50 pieces from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy — then should you? The reasoning seems to be: Anything that celebrates Catholicism and opens it up to a broader audience is a good thing, and these exhibitions are that.

Both major Costume Institute shows in 2015 and 2016 drew the magic over-700,000 number of visitors, which makes them among the most-visited Met shows. Still, the show’s curator, Andrew Bolton, was careful to separate the church’s clothes from the designer clothes. The sacred pieces will be exhibited by themselves in the Anna Wintour Costume Center and the profane will reside in a separate space.

How Many People Get to Go to the Party?

Last year, about 550. But that was a more intimate event for a more intimate show, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” which was devoted to the cultlike Japanese designer who once said her goal with one collection was “not to make clothes.”

By contrast, “Heavenly Bodies” will be the biggest exhibition the Costume Institute has produced — about 58,600 square feet, stretching over three galleries: the Anna Wintour Costume Center and the medieval rooms in the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Cloisters in far northern Manhattan — and odds are the gala will be equally ambitious.

So If I Can Afford a Ticket, Can I Go?

Dream on. Unlike other cultural fund-raisers, like the New York City Ballet gala or the Frick Collection Young Fellows Ball, the Met gala is invitation only, and there is a waiting list. Qualifications for inclusion have to do with buzz and achievement (and beauty), a.k.a. the gospel according to Anna, more than money. Ms. Wintour has final say over every invitation and attendee, which means that even if a company buys a table, it cannot choose everyone who sits at its table: It must clear the guest with her and Vogue and pray for approval.

O.K., You’re Saying I Can’t Go. So Why Should I Care?

It’s reality TV at its most glamorous. See Tom and Gisele being much more perfect than any normal couple could hope to be! Check out Chelsea Clinton kissing Diane von Furstenberg! Watch Tom Ford try not to step on Sarah Jessica Parker’s train! Judge whether you approve of the outfits! (For the best view, tune in to our red carpet slide show, produced in real time as soon as the hosts make their entrance around 6 p.m.)

Speaking of Outfits, Do Attendees Have to Dress in Theme?

It isn’t stated that attendees have to dress like the exhibition, but it is encouraged. This can sometimes backfire. In 2015, the exhibition was “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and it created some politically incorrect moments when celebrities and the designers who dressed them got their Asian references muddled. (Lady Gaga, for example, wore a Balenciaga kimono-like look, which seemed to actually lean toward the Japanese; ditto Georgia May Jagger in Gucci.)

In 2016, the show was “Manus ex Machina,” which meant almost the entire Jenner-Kardashian clan was in sparkling Balmain motherboards. And last year, for the Kawakubo exhibition, Helen Lasichanh, wife of Pharrell Williams, gamely entered into the spirit of the evening in a red Comme des Garçons jumpsuit that flattened and haloed the body, but had no armholes. The whole eating thing was a little complicated.

This year’s dress code is “Sunday Best,” which is a witty way to acknowledge the church while remaining open-ended enough to allow guests to just choose really great party dresses. Ms. Wintour tends to always go with Chanel, though Rihanna loves a theme: In 2015, she modeled a golden cape by the Chinese designer Guo Pei to “China Through the Looking Glass” that inspired a thousand sunny-side up memes, and last year opted for chintz boa constrictor ruffles in straight-from-the-runway Comme.

So we could see a lot of very severe priestlike robing, or bejeweled crosses — or angelic iconography. Hopefully not too much of it. If Madonna attends (and really, how could a brand resist that invite), Heaven only knows what she will choose.

What About Celebrities?

If celebrities are invited to the gala by a brand, it is an unspoken rule that they have to wear clothes from that brand. This encourages said brands to get the best stars, because they can act as something of an advertisement for a house. It is also why, whenever designers are photographed on the red carpet, their dates are almost always famous people. In 2017, for example, Stella McCartney brought Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts.

If I were reading the tea leaves, and given that Ms. Versace pretty much broke the internet last year when she recreated a supermodel tableau in her spring show with Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Claudia Schiffer and Helena Christensen, I might put money on some of the above making an appearance in their gold goddess Versace chain mail. (Well, it has to do with worship.)

In the past, Beyoncé was famous for making the final entrance, but she skipped last year’s gala because she was pregnant with twins. Whether she makes a return this year will be the question of the evening.

What Happens When Guests Get Inside?

It’s a secret! For the last three years, posting on social media has been banned after the red carpet. What I can tell you is this: There is a receiving line inside with the hosts, and guests have to file by and air kiss them. Then guests tour the exhibition (or at least, the part in the Met) on their way to the cocktail party, so they are theoretically forced to experience some culture.

After cocktails, they are called in to dinner, and there is always some form of entertainment. (Last year, it was Katy Perry.) This is good, because as the red carpet part of the evening has become a giant marketing event — Vogue even does a special stand-alone issue — the fact that the main part of the event is private allows guests to relax and have fun.

Or so they tell me.

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How the Met Got Into the Vatican’s Vestments

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Georg Gänswein said yes to the dress.

The dashing former right-hand man to Benedict XVI, the fashion-plate pope, he is now prefect of the papal household under the more austere Pope Francis. In May 2017, Archbishop Gänswein sat in his stately Apostolic Palace office as Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showed him a look book of couture masterpieces that Mr. Bolton felt matched with certain Vatican treasures.

Archbishop Gänswein, in a soutane with purple sash, indifferently flipped pages of designer frocks until he lingered on a luxurious Madame Grès dress inspired by a Franciscan habit.

“They all love that,” Mr. Bolton said of the dress.

The archbishop gradually became enthusiastic as he and Mr. Bolton discussed the role of beauty in the church and Mr. Bolton explained his vision for the project that would explore the way the Catholic church had served as an inspiration to designers through the centuries. Then things really started rolling.

Mr. Bolton received authorization from senior Vatican officials to borrow the vestments. He was also granted full access to the Sistine Chapel Sacristy and became so close with its custodian priests in his 10 trips to Rome that they entrusted him with the hidden chamber’s keys and opened secret doors, behind which elderly nuns ironed the pope’s white vestments.

The show that would ultimately become “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” the biggest exhibit the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum has ever held, opening May 10, was on the verge of becoming a reality.

It was the culmination of years of negotiations, two stalled visits to Rome, and walking the tightrope between Anna Wintour, the powerful editor of Vogue and a Met trustee, and the many powers in the Vatican.

Navigating the Vatican Maze

While the Vatican may be enthusiastic about “Heavenly Bodies” now, it took years for it to warm to an exhibit that Mr. Bolton first envisioned as including many religious traditions. Dealing with one church proved to be enough.

In June 2016, a colleague of Mr. Bolton’s in the Met’s European paintings department put him in touch with Arnold Nesselrath, a Vatican museum curator. Mr. Nesselrath arranged for Mr. Bolton to visit the Sistine Chapel Sacristy, a chamber of rooms within rooms containing a hive of numbered wooden doors and drawers bearing embossed strips and containing shawls and stoles, papal tiaras, papal rings and pectoral crosses.

Mr. Bolton tried to explain the concept of the exhibition to the keeper of the sacristy, a quiet Slovakian priest named Pavel Benedik.

“He wasn’t quite sure what the request was,” Mr. Bolton said of Father Benedik. “He was confused.”

To expedite the process, Mr. Nesselrath suggested that on his next visit, Mr. Bolton meet with Barbara Jatta, now the director of the Vatican museum. For that trip, Mr. Bolton brought along Ms. Wintour. Ms. Jatta arranged several tours for them, including another trip to the Sacristy, where this time Father Benedik’s assistant, Antonio, showed them around.

Ms. Jatta asked how many items the Met intended to borrow, and Mr. Bolton responded: about eight. Ms. Wintour said he needed to ask for at least twice that, prompting a skeptical laugh from Ms. Jatta. (The Met eventually got more than 40.) Ms. Jatta then informed the curator that the lending of the pieces was, anyway, out of her hands.

“These vestments don’t belong to the Vatican Museum,” she said, according to Mr. Bolton. “They belong to the Sistine Chapel Sacristy.”

Ms. Wintour was less than pleased.

“She turned around to me and said, ‘This isn’t your finest moment, Andrew,’” Mr. Bolton recalled.

So he came back. Again and again.

On one of those visits, a priest gave Mr. Bolton and Hamish Bowles, a writer for Vogue, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Vatican. The priest opened the door to a room where eight nuns, including a shrunken nonagenarian on a step, ironed the pope’s white vestments.

Mr. Bolton learned that the popes all had their own styles and that “there is personality behind” all of the separate tiaras and vestments. He himself often gravitated toward the ornate vestments of Pope Pius IX.

“He was quite the dandy,” Mr. Bolton said.

And Father Benedik warmed to him. Nevertheless, the priest lacked the power to authorize a loan and suggested that Mr. Bolton talk to Archbishop Gänswein.

“He’s like a movie star, it’s like meeting George Clooney,” Mr. Bolton said of the archbishop, often called “Gorgeous George.” Archbishop Gänswein, apparently on board, told Mr. Bolton to send an official request to Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal master of liturgical celebrations and the keeper of the sacristy.

The Met’s head of exhibitions, Quincy Houghton, did just that, and Monsignor Marini’s office asked for approval — a “nihil obstat” in Vatican parlance — from the first section of the Secretariat of State, which is responsible for general church affairs.

“This is not a procedure where the pope gets involved, or has to give his O.K.,” said the Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.

When permission was granted, Mr. Bolton returned for many more trips and, with Father Benedik, refined the list of objects to borrow, including a papal tiara with 19,000 precious stones, including 18,000 diamonds. (It will fly to New York with its own bodyguard.) During one 10-day stretch of 12-hour days inside the Sacristy with Katarina Jedd, who scanned the objects for the catalog, the custodians entrusted Mr. Bolton with the keys to the Sacristy.

After the Loans, More Risks

With the loans secured, Mr. Bolton asked David Tracy, a highly regarded Catholic writer — Mr. Bolton called him “the J.D. Salinger of the theological world” — to contribute an essay to the catalog to lend it intellectual heft.

It took a year before he agreed. Then Mr. Bolton tackled the New York side of the equation, trying to ensure he wasn’t accidentally touching any third rails.

He asked Emily Rafferty, a former president of the Met with connections to New York’s Catholic community, for a hand. She suggested Mr. Bolton work with James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large for America Magazine, who was appointed last year by Pope Francis as a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.

Father Martin said that one day, after embarrassingly spilling hummus on his pants earlier, he went to a Met conference room to review the storyboards the curators had pinned to the walls with thumbtacks. He was impressed by what he described as the “real attention to Catholic sensibilities” behind the pairings.

Asked by Mr. Bolton and colleagues if he thought the presentation would prompt any blowback, Father Martin said there may be some complaints about “celebrity culture being grafted onto the church,” but that he thought it would be minor. “They will see something beautiful, and that’s part of the Catholic imagination,” he said.

It was also Father Martin who, reviewing the gift catalog, noticed that one necklace was described as adorned with a “winged man,” and told the Met: “It’s O.K. to say ‘angel.’”

He also suggested asking Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the de facto minister of culture for the Vatican and an erudite former prefect of the Biblioteca-Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, to contribute to the exhibit catalog. Cardinal Ravasi had gotten to know many of the great designers during his time in the fashion capital, including Miuccia Prada, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Giorgio Armani.

Crossing the Fashion Gap

In February, the Met delegation, including Mr. Bolton and Ms. Wintour, traveled to Rome to officially announce the exhibit alongside Cardinal Ravasi, who not only participated in the news conference, but also rubbed shoulders with Donatella Versace. She told him she thought his crimson vestments were beautiful.

He said he replied: “The purple is even better.”

Still, in a church where Pope Francis’s dressing down has made dressing up out of style, questions remain about how a lush exhibit and its related gala, organized by Ms. Wintour, squares with the pope’s desire for a less ostentatious, poorer church.

“Francis with his simple clothes expresses another concept. It’s not combative with the others,” said Cardinal Ravasi, who said he considered fashion a critical cultural language and the lent vestments expressions of the church’s power, beauty and splendor through the centuries.

The cardinal said fashion had biblical origins (“It was God who dressed us. God was the tailor in Genesis”) and that he saw a common thread between the dress code for a gala and the otherworldliness of ecclesiastical vestments. Both of them signified, he said, a distinction from the mundane and quotidian.

As for those who consider the accessorizing of papal vestments with modern fashion a blasphemous exploitation, Cardinal Ravasi said it at least shows those Christian symbols still touch a nerve.

“They aren’t using the symbols of the Roman Empire,” he said with a chuckle.

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What to Wear to the Met Gala? Maybe Falguni Shane Peacock

MUMBAI — On a recent afternoon in her second-floor office here, as women in vibrant silk saris and billowy cotton kurtas went about their business on the street below, the designer Falguni Peacock bent over her desk, appraising an illustration she recently did of Taylor Swift. In it, Ms. Swift wears a large gold hoop in one nostril, and a string of pearls swept up her cheek, connecting it to her ear: a style popular in India since the 16th century, though not in American pop music … yet?

“We’ve dressed everyone,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyone” meaning the grandes dames of Top 40: Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna. In March, she designed a gold gown for Beyoncé with a bodice that seemed painted on and a train like a scrunchie. “Now, we have to dress Selena Gomez and we have to dress Taylor Swift.” For the latter Ms. Peacock’s company is creating two beaded bodysuits with tassels at the bottom, a specialty perhaps surprising for those who associate this country with modest if colorful formal wear.

“Earlier, India was known as a place where all the designers would do jodhpurs, they would send fabric here to get their beading and crystal work done,” said Ms. Peacock. “But India has gone to another level. We can make what a designer in Paris would make.”

Sabyasachi Mukherjee, a designer from Calcutta, recently collaborated with Christian Louboutin on a collection of sari-draped, hand-embroidered heels, and wants to dress Meryl Streep. Anita Dongre, a favorite of Bollywood actresses and the Duchess of Cambridge, made a play for the high-end closets of New York when she opened a store in SoHo last year. But Ms. Peacock and her business partner husband, Shane Peacock — yes, it’s their legal surname, a vestige of Mr. Peacock’s British grandfather — are the rebel punks of India’s high-fashion scene, eschewing traditions like block printing for marabou feathers and peddling catsuits rather than kurtas.

From “American Idol” to E!

“They’ve always been one of our first calls,” said Rob Zangardi, stylist to Ms. Lopez, Ms. Stefani, and other famous women. He and his styling partner, Mariel Haenn, discovered the line in a Los Angeles showroom a decade ago. Falguni Shane Peacock designed his favorite outfit of Ms. Lopez’s many, a white fringed mini dress in which she shimmied on “American Idol” in 2011. “They do glam rock, that perfect mix of glamour and music, which very hard to find,” Mr. Zangardi said. “It usually either goes very Vegas showgirl or, for lack of a better term, old Gaga, a shoulder pad-y future. But they have that perfect balance.”

The company’s red carpet credentials are also growing. The singer Rita Ora wore a mesh, peplum gown embroidered with graffiti to the February premiere of “Fifty Shades Freed,” and later that month, the actress Susan Kelechi Watson wore a sheer lavender shift speckled with stars and plumage to the premiere of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Paris Hilton sheathed herself in one of the line’s more risqué dresses, a gray swirl of beads with a plunging neckline, for an Oscar viewing party in Hollywood.

“Everyone was coming up to me asking, ‘Where’d you get that? It’s so gorgeous,’” Ms. Hilton said. She first discovered the line at a 2012 fashion show in Goa, India. “Every time I wear something of theirs, that’s how it is. Their dresses cause a lot of attention.”

They might also be right for a moment when actresses are increasingly resisting being objectified, either by men or corporate entities. (As the Western world reeled from sexual-harassment revelations last fall, Falguni Shane Peacock printed a run of women’s T-shirts that read “Fearless. Strong. Powerful.”)

“We’re not stuck on, ‘it has to be Gucci or Prada.’” Mr. Zangardi said. “Best dress wins. We want to use new, exciting designers that not everybody else is using.”

While the line may be unfamiliar to couch critics, the E! host Giuliana Rancic wore a nude Falguni Shane Peacock gown with gothic black beading to the 2013 Costume Institute Gala, which feted the exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” That could describe Mr. and Mrs. Peacock’s working environs. Their design studio is a hive of activity, with the constant din of ringing and buzzing phones, darting assistants, and trays of steaming chai being whisked through the halls, en route to 175 employees who require it to bead and sew. Even more heated arguments happen in the founders’ shared office, where they sit in matching high-back chairs.

“Sometimes, I’ll make a dress full-length, and after two hours I’ll walk in, and the dress is short,” said Mr. Peacock. “We’ll have a fight: ‘short is better, long is better.’”

“We’ll both walk out, the piece will be lying there,” said Ms. Peacock.

“Maybe after three months, we’ll pick up the piece and say, ‘Let’s do it short,’” said Mr. Peacock. “Or she’ll send the piece to a celebrity, they’ll wear it, and she’ll say, ‘See, I told you short was better.’”

The Cerulean-Blue Goatee

When Falguni, 41, first met Shane, 44, he was her boss. She had recently graduated from art school, and Shane hired her to paint illustrations of a line he was working on with another woman. (Shane started designing as a child in Bangalore, going with his grandmother to the tailor to oversee the making of the short dresses she favored. “When she’d wear them, everyone would tell her she looked very pretty,” he said. “But maybe that’s a general thing you tell grannies.”)

Their workday would bleed into the wee hours, and for eight months, Shane drove Falguni back to her parents’ home in Mumbai. “One day, her mum popped the question,” he recalled. “‘You all are roaming around, coming so late, I don’t know what society will say. Do you have any intention of getting married?’ I was like, oy.”

Shane thought they’d start with a date. Getting Falguni to agree to coffee took months. “She was very conservative,” Shane said, and partial to wearing salwar kameez, a long sleeved, loose fitting top and pants set. “I would ask, ‘Do you have a pair of jeans?’ She would look at me like I was telling her a bad word.”

These days, Ms. Peacock favors lace bomber jackets, skinny jeans and high heels. Her husband, who was in a rock band when they met, dyes his goatee cerulean blue. They married in 2001 and started their clothing line the following year, seeking to stretch Bollywood’s sartorial boundaries. They were told their necklines were too low and feathers didn’t work, but when Priyanka Chopra starred in their 2006 ad campaign, they took off, getting a slot in London Fashion Week and crossing over to New York Fashion Week in 2011, courting wealthy clientele while they bejeweled bodysuits for Fergie and Shakira. Their New York run came to an abrupt end in 2015, when Mr. Peacock, as he puts it, “fell into a major depression,” for causes unknown.

“There were times where I wouldn’t leave the room for one week,” he said. “I didn’t come to work for one year.”

“It was torture,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyday, to see an empty chair next to me, I was heartbroken.”

Visits to temples, churches and soothsayers helped lift the fog, along with some behavior modification. Mr. Peacock used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day; now he won’t touch alcohol, tea, coffee or even carbonated beverages. “Ninety five percent of my intake is raw,” he said, over lunch at an Italian bistro near Falguni Shane Peacock’s headquarters, where he cheated with a piece of broiled salmon.

They hope to return to New York’s runways in September. “If you don’t show at fashion week, something is missing,” Mr. Peacock said. “It’s like eating food without salt.” In the meantime, there are bodysuits to bedazzle, frocks to festoon, bridal clients to cater to — they design about 100 couture wedding outfits per year — and an athleisure line to popularize.

Then there’s their 16-year-old daughter, Nian, recently returned from boarding school and contemplating where to go to college. But “if we make her something, she doesn’t want it,” Mr. Peacock said. “She’s more of an H&M and Zara kind of girl.”

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What to Wear to the Met Gala? Maybe Falguni Shane Peacock

MUMBAI — On a recent afternoon in her second-floor office here, as women in vibrant silk saris and billowy cotton kurtas went about their business on the street below, the designer Falguni Peacock bent over her desk, appraising an illustration she recently did of Taylor Swift. In it, Ms. Swift wears a large gold hoop in one nostril, and a string of pearls swept up her cheek, connecting it to her ear: a style popular in India since the 16th century, though not in American pop music … yet?

“We’ve dressed everyone,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyone” meaning the grandes dames of Top 40: Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna. In March, she designed a gold gown for Beyoncé with a bodice that seemed painted on and a train like a scrunchie. “Now, we have to dress Selena Gomez and we have to dress Taylor Swift.” For the latter Ms. Peacock’s company is creating two beaded bodysuits with tassels at the bottom, a specialty perhaps surprising for those who associate this country with modest if colorful formal wear.

“Earlier, India was known as a place where all the designers would do jodhpurs, they would send fabric here to get their beading and crystal work done,” said Ms. Peacock. “But India has gone to another level. We can make what a designer in Paris would make.”

Sabyasachi Mukherjee, a designer from Calcutta, recently collaborated with Christian Louboutin on a collection of sari-draped, hand-embroidered heels, and wants to dress Meryl Streep. Anita Dongre, a favorite of Bollywood actresses and the Duchess of Cambridge, made a play for the high-end closets of New York when she opened a store in SoHo last year. But Ms. Peacock and her business partner husband, Shane Peacock — yes, it’s their legal surname, a vestige of Mr. Peacock’s British grandfather — are the rebel punks of India’s high-fashion scene, eschewing traditions like block printing for marabou feathers and peddling catsuits rather than kurtas.

From “American Idol” to E!

“They’ve always been one of our first calls,” said Rob Zangardi, stylist to Ms. Lopez, Ms. Stefani, and other famous women. He and his styling partner, Mariel Haenn, discovered the line in a Los Angeles showroom a decade ago. Falguni Shane Peacock designed his favorite outfit of Ms. Lopez’s many, a white fringed mini dress in which she shimmied on “American Idol” in 2011. “They do glam rock, that perfect mix of glamour and music, which very hard to find,” Mr. Zangardi said. “It usually either goes very Vegas showgirl or, for lack of a better term, old Gaga, a shoulder pad-y future. But they have that perfect balance.”

The company’s red carpet credentials are also growing. The singer Rita Ora wore a mesh, peplum gown embroidered with graffiti to the February premiere of “Fifty Shades Freed,” and later that month, the actress Susan Kelechi Watson wore a sheer lavender shift speckled with stars and plumage to the premiere of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Paris Hilton sheathed herself in one of the line’s more risqué dresses, a gray swirl of beads with a plunging neckline, for an Oscar viewing party in Hollywood.

“Everyone was coming up to me asking, ‘Where’d you get that? It’s so gorgeous,’” Ms. Hilton said. She first discovered the line at a 2012 fashion show in Goa, India. “Every time I wear something of theirs, that’s how it is. Their dresses cause a lot of attention.”

They might also be right for a moment when actresses are increasingly resisting being objectified, either by men or corporate entities. (As the Western world reeled from sexual-harassment revelations last fall, Falguni Shane Peacock printed a run of women’s T-shirts that read “Fearless. Strong. Powerful.”)

“We’re not stuck on, ‘it has to be Gucci or Prada.’” Mr. Zangardi said. “Best dress wins. We want to use new, exciting designers that not everybody else is using.”

While the line may be unfamiliar to couch critics, the E! host Giuliana Rancic wore a nude Falguni Shane Peacock gown with gothic black beading to the 2013 Costume Institute Gala, which feted the exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” That could describe Mr. and Mrs. Peacock’s working environs. Their design studio is a hive of activity, with the constant din of ringing and buzzing phones, darting assistants, and trays of steaming chai being whisked through the halls, en route to 175 employees who require it to bead and sew. Even more heated arguments happen in the founders’ shared office, where they sit in matching high-back chairs.

“Sometimes, I’ll make a dress full-length, and after two hours I’ll walk in, and the dress is short,” said Mr. Peacock. “We’ll have a fight: ‘short is better, long is better.’”

“We’ll both walk out, the piece will be lying there,” said Ms. Peacock.

“Maybe after three months, we’ll pick up the piece and say, ‘Let’s do it short,’” said Mr. Peacock. “Or she’ll send the piece to a celebrity, they’ll wear it, and she’ll say, ‘See, I told you short was better.’”

The Cerulean-Blue Goatee

When Falguni, 41, first met Shane, 44, he was her boss. She had recently graduated from art school, and Shane hired her to paint illustrations of a line he was working on with another woman. (Shane started designing as a child in Bangalore, going with his grandmother to the tailor to oversee the making of the short dresses she favored. “When she’d wear them, everyone would tell her she looked very pretty,” he said. “But maybe that’s a general thing you tell grannies.”)

Their workday would bleed into the wee hours, and for eight months, Shane drove Falguni back to her parents’ home in Mumbai. “One day, her mum popped the question,” he recalled. “‘You all are roaming around, coming so late, I don’t know what society will say. Do you have any intention of getting married?’ I was like, oy.”

Shane thought they’d start with a date. Getting Falguni to agree to coffee took months. “She was very conservative,” Shane said, and partial to wearing salwar kameez, a long sleeved, loose fitting top and pants set. “I would ask, ‘Do you have a pair of jeans?’ She would look at me like I was telling her a bad word.”

These days, Ms. Peacock favors lace bomber jackets, skinny jeans and high heels. Her husband, who was in a rock band when they met, dyes his goatee cerulean blue. They married in 2001 and started their clothing line the following year, seeking to stretch Bollywood’s sartorial boundaries. They were told their necklines were too low and feathers didn’t work, but when Priyanka Chopra starred in their 2006 ad campaign, they took off, getting a slot in London Fashion Week and crossing over to New York Fashion Week in 2011, courting wealthy clientele while they bejeweled bodysuits for Fergie and Shakira. Their New York run came to an abrupt end in 2015, when Mr. Peacock, as he puts it, “fell into a major depression,” for causes unknown.

“There were times where I wouldn’t leave the room for one week,” he said. “I didn’t come to work for one year.”

“It was torture,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyday, to see an empty chair next to me, I was heartbroken.”

Visits to temples, churches and soothsayers helped lift the fog, along with some behavior modification. Mr. Peacock used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day; now he won’t touch alcohol, tea, coffee or even carbonated beverages. “Ninety five percent of my intake is raw,” he said, over lunch at an Italian bistro near Falguni Shane Peacock’s headquarters, where he cheated with a piece of broiled salmon.

They hope to return to New York’s runways in September. “If you don’t show at fashion week, something is missing,” Mr. Peacock said. “It’s like eating food without salt.” In the meantime, there are bodysuits to bedazzle, frocks to festoon, bridal clients to cater to — they design about 100 couture wedding outfits per year — and an athleisure line to popularize.

Then there’s their 16-year-old daughter, Nian, recently returned from boarding school and contemplating where to go to college. But “if we make her something, she doesn’t want it,” Mr. Peacock said. “She’s more of an H&M and Zara kind of girl.”

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Stephen Posen Knows How to Fashion a Line. So Does His Son.

For the artist Stephen Posen, the 1960s were promising indeed. He was a kid from St. Louis who went to Yale and impressed people with his painting ability, coming of age alongside schoolmates who were future art stars: Richard Serra, Chuck Close and Brice Marden.

By the early 1970s, his trompe l’oeil paintings of fabric-covered still lifes were being featured at Documenta and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The New York Times critic John Canaday, citing two meticulously executed canvases that depicted cloth-covered photographs, compared him to Vermeer, in a rave.

But around 1980, with the art world encouraging him to keep zigging, Mr. Posen zagged, taking a hard turn away from the virtuoso draughtsmanship that had made his name. These may have been wanderings on “side roads,” as Mr. Posen put it, or there could have been a much deeper ambivalence about his own work. “I pulled away from being packaged,” said Mr. Posen, now 78, seated in his SoHo home and work space. And that was the same year that his son, Zac Posen, the fashion designer, was born.

“I closed the door to the studio,” he said. His road less traveled was “lonely at times,” in his words. He was content to make art largely to please himself and a few die-hard collectors while he raised two children with his wife, Susan.

This week, Mr. Posen is getting the most exposure he’s had in decades — a show at Vito Schnabel’s gallery in New York, to be followed by one in July in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The works in “Stephen Posen, Threads: Paintings from the 1960s and ’70s,” on view from May 1 to June 23, represent the style that got him noticed in the first place.

In the New York show, the oil “Untitled” (1970) shows a stack of four boxes covered by colorful fabric, each fold lovingly rendered by Mr. Posen, who, as a young student in Italy, studied the pre-Renaissance painter Giotto, a master of rendering robes. In St. Moritz, the irregularly shaped “Clean Clothes” (1969) depicts bagged-up dry cleaning, painted on plexiglass with real metal hangers on top.

Zac Posen frankly acknowledges the influence of those shapes on his career designing clothing. “I grew up with the remnants of the mock-ups for these paintings,” he said by phone in Japan. “These textiles were play-tools for me.”

The younger Mr. Posen — who has his own lines, and is the creative director of women’s wear for Brooks Brothers — is a staunch supporter of his father’s work, a passion that led directly to the current shows.

The dealer Vito Schnabel, a childhood friend and the son of the painter Julian Schnabel, had noticed three Stephen Posen works in the home Zac shares with his partner, Christopher Niquet, and asked if there were more of those. There were more: dozens tucked away in the artist’s two studios.

Agnes Gund, the president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, is also an owner of his work. She said she admires the fact that he didn’t “get stuck in one medium.

“It’s a very artistic family,” Ms. Gund added. “Each has related to each other, and played off each other.”

That was on display in last year’s documentary “House of Z,” which chronicled the rise, fall and return of the younger Mr. Posen. He and his older sister, Alexandra — an artist who has been involved in his fashion business, as has their mother — grew up in an environment that fostered creativity.

“Their first cloth was Play-Doh,” said their father. “They learned to think with a line. Zac used it to a very specific place.”

Father and son stay in frequent touch about their work, though the elder Mr. Posen said that, as a dad, probably “my criticism stings more than his does.”

“But we’re not Tiepolo father and son,” he added, using an 18th-century Venetian painting analogy to talk about artistic rivalries (Mr. Posen is an erudite sort who named his dog Beaux-Arts). “We have great respect for each other and our respective crafts.”

Seriousness was also a hallmark of the elder Mr. Posen from the beginning. “Serious, but with a smile,” said the painter Brice Marden, a good friend at Yale who has fallen out of touch over the decades.

And that may explain why Mr. Posen evinced little interest in fame and fortune. In the 1970s, he was told, by the noted Pop Art dealer Ivan Karp and others, “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” he recalled. “Every time I strayed, Ivan would give me an elbow.”

Mr. Posen’s style gelled in the art world’s consciousness because of how it blended the color and everyday subjects of Pop with realism. For the works in the current show, he would usually create what he called a “vertical still life” involving cloth and other materials, draw the construction in pencil and then paint the scene on shaped particle board. The results had an affinity with geometric abstraction that gave it another layer of appeal.

But in Mr. Posen’s mind, he was on a philosophical quest. “I was proposing to find out what a line is,” he said. “The basis of it was drawing.” And so when the style of his artworks changed, it made sense to the artist but left others puzzled.

In the following decades, Mr. Posen has turned to making more abstract paintings as well as taking photographs and exhibiting them as juxtaposed pairs.

“Stephen puts elements out there and defies them to work together,” said the photographer Larry Fink, a friend.

One piece in the St. Moritz show, “Fragments from cut out” (1968), resembles two striped pieces of cloth. Mr. Posen used his foot to wreck the original work so that he wouldn’t have to move it when he changed studios.

“I destroyed a lot of them,” Mr. Posen said, with methods that included “breaking them with a hammer.” But he also kept the leftovers: “I thought, ‘I painted this pretty well, I’m going to save these pieces.’”

His son called it “punk” to change styles so often, but noted that he wanted more recognition for his father.

“I remember very clearly when he stopped showing,” the younger Mr. Posen said. “I did not see the work out there in the world as much as I would like.”

In the end, perhaps the crucial lessons transmitted from father to son were not only about love of pure form, but also that worldly success is a choice.

“I’ve built my career around the idea that repetition is reputation,” the younger Mr. Posen said, which he acknowledged was something of a reaction to his father’s path. “Fashion is a business,” he added.

The elder Mr. Posen said he had no regrets.

“What gives me the greatest pleasure is being alone in the studio, day to day,” he said, “doing the best work I can.”

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Judith Leiber, 97, Dies; Turned Handbags Into Objets d’Art

Stella Blum, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 1983, once said that describing Judith Leiber as an accessory designer was “a little like calling Louis Comfort Tiffany a designer of lighting fixtures.”

Her handbags were often on view in museums and are in the permanent collections of a number of them, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago Historical Society. Ms. Leiber nevertheless demurred when Andy Warhol described her bags as works of art. “Truthfully, I don’t consider them art,” she said. “I’m an artisan.”

Although she designed luxurious handbags with discreet clasps and frames for daytime, she was best known for her imaginative and eye-catching evening creations, among them colorfully beaded bags in animal, flower, fruit and egg shapes, and bags shaped like boxes and shells with variations on antique Asian motifs.

Photo

Geometric jet and rhinestone boxes. Clockwise from left: octagon box, 1986; clover shaped box, 1989; oblong box with onyx and rhinestone trim, 1985; oval box with jet and rhinestone, 1992; oblong box with jet, rhinestone and pearl decorations, 1973. Credit John Bigelow Taylor

Her classically shaped metal evening bags were built of cardboard and sent to Italy, where they were stamped in brass. The animal forms and more complex shapes began as sculptured wax models and were also sent to Italy to be copied in metal. Feet and ears were cast separately and soldered on; other parts and touches, like the head of a horse or the bow on a cat, were stamped in two halves and joined seamlessly.

The gold plating was done after the bags were returned to America. So was the encrusting of the bag in rhinestones and other beads.

A number of Ms. Leiber’s clients amassed scores, and in several cases hundreds, of her designs, despite price tags that reached well into four figures for each bag.

At major charity events, it was common for a woman who had left her Leiber evening bag on the table while she danced to find on her return that other guests had gathered around her table to admire it. Occasionally a bag would disappear, returned only when admirers had finished passing it around.

Photo

A frog minaudiere, from 1979, was in Ms. Leiber’s personal collection. Credit Corcoran Gallery, via Associated Press

“Sensuous and tactile, they ask to be picked up,” said Dorothy Twining Globus, a former director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Design.

Most of Ms. Leiber’s evening bags, particularly the glittering metal creations, were designed to hold a bare minimum of necessities. She allowed that lipstick, a handkerchief and a $100 bill might possibly fit. A $100 bill? Not small change, she admitted, but not unreasonable for a Leiber bag owner. As for carrying such necessities as eyeglasses, keys and a few other odds and ends, she would ask, “What’s an escort for?”

Ms. Leiber created five collections a year, in all about 100 designs. She said she was inspired by paintings, museum pieces, artifacts and nature. One of her most popular bags was shaped like a snail; another, an example of the commonplace made uncommon, was fashioned from an antique quilt and enhanced with bits of colored glitter.

The women who carried Leiber bags included first ladies, queens and princesses, and celebrities like Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Diana Ross and Joan Sutherland. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a bag during a visit to California, and Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the Soviet leader, received one from Barbara Bush.

Photo

«Lightning» egg with drop-in chain, 1971. Credit John Bigelow Taylor

Mrs. Bush carried a Leiber design at her husband’s inaugural ceremony. She also had one of the Leiber metal bags shaped, with slight variation, to resemble Millie, her springer spaniel. It was later duplicated and sold for $2,500. Other first ladies were customers as well: Nancy Reagan ordered white satin Leiber bags for both her husband’s inaugural balls, and Hillary Clinton had a bag modeled after Socks, the family cat.

But even the first ladies couldn’t compete in patriotism with a Texan who was invited to one of the Clinton inaugurations and ordered a bag beaded with the stars and stripes on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.

Many of Ms. Leiber’s customers used the bags for aesthetic purposes as well as practical ones. Some displayed them in a vitrine or étagère, and one Los Angeles matron invited her friends, their Leiber bags and their husbands to a dinner party. When they arrived, she took all their bags and lined them up on a mirror, flanked with votive candles, running down the center of the dining table. It was a table decoration not soon forgotten.

Ms. Leiber maintained that a story of a husband who had given his wife 14 Leiber bags in seven years and wanted them back as part of a divorce settlement was not apocryphal. “I could retire on your Leiber bag collection,” he reportedly said. The wife kept the bags.

Photo

The Leibers’ wedding engagement portrait from 1946. Credit The Leiber Museum

Ms. Leiber was born Judith Marianne Peto in Budapest on Jan. 11, 1921. Her parents, Emil and Helen Peto, hoped that she would become a chemist and repeat the success of a relative who had developed a complexion cream. In 1939, she was sent to England to pursue scientific studies, but World War II intervened and her theoretical cosmetics empire vanished.

Photo

“Hitler put me in the handbag business,” Ms. Leiber said.

Back in Budapest, Ms. Leiber, who was Jewish, enrolled in an artisan guild, which still accepted Jews, although fascism was on the ascent in Hungary. Her training began with sweeping the floors and cooking the glue. By the time she had completed her guild training, first as an apprentice and finally as a master, the war was raging.

She knew all the stages of handbag manufacture, but there was no place to use this knowledge because Jews were being sent to concentration camps. She and other family members escaped that fate when they were pressed into service sewing army uniforms. She also began a small handbag business at home, using whatever materials she could find, and after the war sold some to American soldiers stationed in Hungary.

Mr. Leiber was an Army Signal Corps sergeant in postwar Budapest when he and Ms. Leiber met. He was working as a radio operator maintaining contact between Vienna and Budapest. They married in 1946 and the next year left for New York, Mr. Leiber’s hometown.

Photo

Pop art-inspired box, onyx lock, drop-in chain, 1990. Credit John Bigelow Taylor

With her training, Ms. Leiber had no difficulty finding work in her adopted country. She became part of what she called “strudel assembly lines” at a number of handbag manufacturers until 1963, when her husband decided that they should open their own business.

They began in a small loft. “I knew from the beginning what I was going to do,” Ms. Leiber said. “I was going to make the best.” She designed and supervised the manufacture of her bags, and Mr. Leiber looked after the business end.

Ms. Leiber’s sister, Eva Ecker, died in 2015. No immediate family members survive.

Photo

A Tutankhamen-inspired monkey handbag, 1989. Credit Corcoran Gallery, via Associated Press

In time, Ms. Leiber’s designs were rarely sold from handbag departments. They were generally featured in specially created Leiber sections and boutiques in major department and specialty stores, both in this country and abroad.

Ms. Leiber received most of the fashion industry’s major prizes. She was given a Coty Fashion Award in 1973 and the Neiman Marcus Winged Statue for Excellence in Design in 1980. She was voted accessories designer of the year in 1994 by the Council of Fashion Designers.

The Leibers sold their business in 1993, for a reported $16 million, to Time Products, a British firm in the watch distribution business. Ms. Leiber remained the firm’s designer until 1997.

Photo

Judith and Gerson Leiber in November 2016 in Mr. Leiber’s studio in East Hampton, N.Y. Credit Lindsay Morris for The New York Times

In recent years, retrospective exhibitions in New York have showcased the talents of both Leibers. (Some of Mr. Leiber’s work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) In 2016 the Flomenhaft Gallery in Manhattan presented “The Artist & the Artisan,” and in 2017 the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook put on “Brilliant Partners: Judith Leiber’s Handbags & the Art of Gerson Leiber.” Also in 2017, the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan gave Ms. Leiber a one-woman show, “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story.”

Throughout her career, Ms. Leiber was often asked if she ever carried handbags other than her own. She had a standard reply.

“I either carry my own or a paper bag,” she would say, “and I won’t carry a paper bag, so you figure it out.”

Photo

Blue satin tote with rhinestone ring handles, 1975; and black suede frame bag with tubular rhinestone handle, 1993. Credit John Bigelow Taylor Continue reading the main story

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Ashley Longshore Is Fashion’s Latest Art Darling

Defining ‘Ambitcheous’

Conventional dealers may well look askance at her work, some dismissing it as tasteless or garish. “It is art that certainly could polarize,” Mr. Bamberger acknowledged. But these days, he said, “when you buy a work of art, you buy into the person, the whole package, and Instagram is where the whole package plays out.”

It doesn’t hurt, either, that Ms. Longshore is relentlessly upbeat, “The word ‘don’t’ doesn’t enter her vocabulary,” Mr. Bamberger said.

It wasn’t always so. In Montgomery, Ala., where she grew up, “I was this weird kid who got picked on because I had a big voice and a loud personality,” Ms. Longshore recalled. But her mother had dreams for her, imagining Ashley at cotillion, fanning out her party dress and batting her eyes at the eligible boys.

“I was raised by the garden club, and my underwear had a monogram on it until I started my period,” Ms. Longshore said. “It would’ve been easier,” she writes in her memoir, “to dress pretty, fawn over those big-eared boys and learn my dance steps, but I couldn’t do it.”

She eventually decamped for Montana, where she taught herself to paint, and later New Orleans, a city she loves for its rawness. She peddled her earliest paintings — masturbating couples and the ribald like, to local galleries, and was mostly met with rejection. At night she sobbed, “crying snot bubbles,” she said. “I was let down by just being disrespected.”

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Things Editors Like: 6 Things T Editors Like Right Now

Functional Art, in the Nude

The British ceramic artist Jude Jelfs — who creates curvaceous porcelain vases with what she describes as “flying boobs” and earthenware jugs with wide-open legs — has always been intrigued by the human figure. During a trip to Florence as a teenager, she had an “aesthetic revelation” when she saw Sandro Botticelli’s masterful representations of fleshy goddesses at the Uffizi Gallery. Over the years, the works of Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore have also influenced her nude-form vessels; her postural pitcher “Aphrodite” brings to mind Henri Matisse’s 1952 paper cutout “Blue Nude II.” But Jelfs’s work is equally informed by her sense of humor: “When I’m walking down the street,” she says, “I can’t help smiling at the thought that everyone is naked under their clothes.”

Jelfs studied sculpture and painting at Gloucestershire College in England, but after meeting her husband in 1972, she pivoted from fine art to functional wares. “It was love at first sight, both with clay and the potter I married,” she says. Jelfs had crafted wheel-thrown ceramics for years but, inspired by the way pots are anthropomorphized — the “shoulder” of a vase, the “foot” of a bowl — she started hand-building figurative vessels. “Over time, I returned to my fine art roots,” Jelfs says. She and her husband John still share a studio, The Cotswold Pottery, in the idyllic Gloucestershire village of Bourton-on-the-Water. There, she begins each idiosyncratic piece with a life drawing, which she converts into a paper pattern for cutting shapes from flat slabs of clay. “It’s very much like dressmaking,” Jelfs says — an amusing comparison, considering none of her figures are dressed. cotswoldpottery.co.uk — ZIO BARITAUX


Elegant, Minimalist Workout Wear

Is there anything left to say about the garments often referred to as yoga pants, which have dominated the active wear landscape for over a decade and even inspired an incendiary think piece or two? Fashion-blogger-turned-marketing-guru Kristin Hildebrand, who a year and a half ago left her position as creative concept director of Nike, thought so. “The existing approach to ‘athleisure,’ with all the prints, heather grays and heavy stitching, made me feel lazy, which I didn’t appreciate,” she says. This week, she’s launching Wone, her independently owned, five-piece line of matte-black performance basics that are both more luxurious (prices range from $150 for a bra to $320 for leggings) and more streamlined than anything else on the market. “As a designer, you’re never handed a brief that says ‘make this as simple as possible,’” says Hildebrand. With Wone, by contrast, the focus is on the high-end fabrics — ultra-lightweight, four-way stretch pieces — and finishing. “We use elasticized thread and a French seam, which in this space is just unheard-of,” says Hildebrand, who in her free time alternates between boxing and meditation; in 2013, she founded the Portland, Ore., meditation studio Hush. “I don’t like the idea of forcing anything, which is so prevalent in the Western world,” she says. “I prefer the Chinese principle of wu wei, which is the act of non-doing. I try to apply it to the brand, too — there should be a sense of ease.” wearwone.com — KATE GUADAGNINO


Conversation-Starting Dinner Plates

The first collection of plates from the Paris-based brand Cristaseya makes an unusually expressive statement at the dinner table. Hand-painted with soot-black renderings of feet, butts, flexing torsos and more, the limited-edition run of 650 one-of-a-kind pieces is a wry riposte to the dainty decorations of classic tableware.

Working counter to the constraints of the traditional fashion calendar, Cristaseya periodically releases seasonless editions of versatile, loose-silhouette garments along with collections of whimsical, small-run design objects. For this latest project, Cristina Casini, the founder of Cristaseya, and her husband Andrea Spotorno, who oversees the design arm of the brand, turned to Jean-Philippe Sanfourche, a friend, architect and artist who created a series of eccentrically illustrated carafes for a previous Cristaseya release. He applied his dark, scrawling designs with laser-cut stencils, aerographs, stamps and brushes to white-varnished plates produced by the family-run Solimene ceramic workshop in the southern Italian town of Vietri. “Our projects always begin with these kind of artisans — the ones still holding on to some kind of special technique,” says Spotorno.

The collection launched officially during this week’s Salone del Mobile in Milan — where the plates are being put to work at the locally beloved Trattoria Torre di Pisa for five nights of dinner service. “We just wanted to feed people,” says Spotorno, who looks forward to diners discovering the plates’ inky images. “When you get your pile of pasta, you have no idea what’s underneath,” he says. “You have to eat to find out.” Available through April 27 at cristaseya.co — LAURA RYSMAN


Chloë Sevigny’s Perfect Red Lipstick

La Bouche Rouge, the environmentally conscious French lipstick brand whose previous collaborators have included the model Anja Rubik, will debut its newest shade — created with the actress Chloë Sevigny — on April 27, at Barneys New York. Sevigny, who is often seen with a red lip and otherwise bare face, designed a matte, reddish-orange lipstick that can be worn lightly as a subtle stain, or more generously applied as a velvety vermilion (in a pinch, it also makes a lovely cheek color). The shade comes in one of the brand’s signature black leather cases, made by an artisanal family-owned tannery in Alsace, in northeast France. The reusable cases can be refilled with any of La Bouche Rouge’s 12 shades of lipstick or four sheer balms — all of which are free of allergens, paraffin and perfume — significantly diminishing plastic waste and giving the lipsticks a luxurious feel. laboucherougeparis.com — CAITLIN KELLY


Glasses Made in Flint — From Recycled Water Bottles

One of the many consequences of the yearslong water crisis in Flint, Mich., has been the heaps of plastic waste — in particular, the single-use water bottles distributed by the state for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. “This meant 150 to 200 bottles per day, per person, in a city of about 100,000,” says the designer and Parsons professor Jack Burns. He first heard of the plastic water bottle surplus from his frequent collaborator, the designer and Michigan native Ali Rose VanOverbeke. In early 2016, while volunteering with the American Red Cross in Flint, VanOverbeke texted Burns about doing something new with all of that plastic. She learned that a few big companies collected the bottles, and they were then moved from Flint for processing, and the recycled material was sold out of the state. She also started to speak to the community members about their needs. “Everyone was telling us: jobs,” she says. “So we knew that we weren’t going to design an NGO or a charity. We needed to actually create a business that could scale and create jobs in diverse fields of interest, in Flint.”

This fall, Burns and VanOverbeke will officially launch Genusee (a play on “Genesee,” the county that encompasses Flint), an eyewear collection designed from recycled plastic water bottles. They settled on glasses because they are a fashion item that doubles as a medical device — and a product that could repurpose the manufacturing skill-set of Flint residents who formerly worked in the automotive industry. The duo spent 15 months researching and prototyping designs, funded by a series of microgrants, including the inaugural Elaine Gold Launch Pad program, in partnership with the CFDA and the Accessories Council. Michigan’s recent announcement that it will stop providing free bottled water (a decision criticized by city officials) doesn’t change Burns and VanOverbeke’s plans. “On average, without a water crisis happening, the U.S. uses 1,500 water bottles every second,” she says, adding that there’s no shortage of material. “Our long-term goal has always been that by proving this business model works in Flint that it can be replicated elsewhere.” Genusee glasses are currently available for preorder through a crowdfunding campaign. — HILARY MOSS

Gucci’s Haunting New Book

During his tenure at Gucci, Alessandro Michele has infused the brand with wild colors and prints, brought baby dragons to the runway — and collaborated with unexpected photographers to produce limited-edition books centered on his collections. The first, “Epiphany,” distributed with the publisher IDEA, came in 2016, a collaboration with the skate photographer Ari Marcopoulos. Last year’s “Gucci: Hortus Sanitatis” saw the pre-fall 2017 collection interpreted by Derek Ridgers, famous for capturing London’s punk scene. Now comes “Disturbia,” by Peter Schlesinger — known for his society pictures of London, New York and Paris — which showcases Gucci’s pre-fall 2018 collection against lush, noir-like backdrops in Rome. Schlesinger selected haunting locations around the city, including an eerie dental hospital, explaining that he was inspired by Dario Argento’s horror films. (Excerpts from the director’s 1980 film, “Inferno,” appear throughout the book.) “I was surprised and intrigued to be asked by Gucci to do a photo shoot because I had never done commercial photography before,” Schlesinger told T in an email. “I was doubly excited to hear it would be in Rome and inspired by the films of Dario Argento as I am obsessed by movies. Argento’s films are so intense and have a unique look.” “Disturbia” is out May 3, and Schlesinger will be signing copies at Dover Street Market in New York that night from 6-8 p.m.— ISABEL WILKINSON

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