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Religiously Fashionable

Fashion could never be a devotee to a monotheistic religion. Rather, it is flighty and capricious with a bad case of attention disorder deficit. Thou shalt not make for yourself an idol… thou shalt make yourself into one. So since when is having fashion and religion in the same room anything but a diligent parent screaming “Where do you think you’re going in that skirt?” and “You used to be in Legion of Mary”? After a period of abstinence, designers seem have been citing divine inspiration for their collections – and there has not been a vintage 10 commandments bracelet in sight.

“Piety on Parade: Fashion Seeks Inspiration” cried a New York Times headline in September 1993. The jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris, used the cross - for centuries a symbol of the Catholic faith - in his pieces and was partly responsible for the massive trend which ensued. He had us believing that the underlying message beneath hefty price tags was of spirituality. This could well be. The AIDS crises had brought about worldwide humility and representations of sexuality had to be kept on hold. Calvin Klein referenced Amish cloaks, Jean Paul Gaultier caused controversy with his Hasidic-inspired collection and Dolce & Gabbana has had us wearing rosary bead necklaces ever since.

Though unintentionally, Chanel caused a stir with its couture clients, mainly rich Arab wives, when Lagerfeld’s collection of women’s included texts from the Koran. He confessed he believed them to be extracts of love letters. It caused a Muslim group in Jakarta, Indonesia to make a formal protest to officials in the designer’s home country Germany. The collection, which had been worn by Claudia Schiffer, was burnt at the stake.

And yet, who’s borrowing from whom? The pashmina, which originates from Kashmir and Nepal and which was marketed so heavily in the mid to late nineties, lingered when it became the hijab’s kissing cousin.

Fashion and religion broke bread again during Riccardo Tisci’s recent travels to South America. As a Catholic, he was able to identify with the demure romance of Hispanic faith. Thus, by Tisci’s influence, Givenchy’s Autumn 2008 collection was a display in monochrome of all that is restrained and yet painfully romantic. Prada, one year in advance, walked taciturn girls in Tibetan orange knee high socks and sensibly loose grey cardigans Sister Helen would like back. In 2003 John Galliano’s exuberant parade of colour and exotic characters featured clothes which could have taken centre stage at a Hindu holi festival.

Lately, we haven’t been as innocent. When taking notes from religious orders, one is more likely to be allured by the concepts of sin and temptation than by monastic habit. As stunning as an item may be, the possibility of profanity is a tough one to swallow when you’re about to raid your spare cash. Various independent clothing lines have done a Baz Luhrmann and gone as far as to make the crown of thorns a punk’s best tee. Consider independent clothing line Paper Doll Productions. They have fashioned a dress screaming “Virgin!” from hem to hem. It’s no white taffeta gown. Rather, it is a waist-hugging sun dress showing multiple prints of the Virgin de Guadalupe. Similarly, German based lingerie company "Vive Maria" could easily have my mother's praying group up all night reciting multiple rosaries for the salvation of my soul.

“Thou shalt not make wrongful use of the name of your God” and thou shalt certainly not be out and about in that dress with sacred images plastered all over it. Are our 2008 intentions as pure as they were supposedly in 1993 or will a holy war be raging against our fashion houses and the apparel we sinfully covet?

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