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Left: Reliquary cross, Italian, 14th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpoint Morgan, 1917 (17.190.497) Right: Gilet, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Fall 2008–09, digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

This week, the exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The preview images are sumptuous, to say the least.

And, as usual, I can’t help making a few perfume connections. Here’s a list of fragrances that would be work well as olfactory companions for a Catholic-themed outing to “Heavenly Bodies.” (I’ve paired some of them with garments in the show and works elsewhere in the Met.)

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Cacharel Eden: Let’s conjure up our time in Eden with this perfume from Cacharel. It’s described by Cacharel as “a lush garden. . .a sensory paradise.” (Too bad about that bottle, but the box makes up for it.)


Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino. Evening dress, spring/summer 2014 haute couture. Courtesy of Valentino S.p.A. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

And here’s a gown from “Heavenly Bodies” to match, complete with Adam and Eve and their temptation at the Tree of Knowledge. (That image was appropriated from a painting by Luca Cranach the Elder.)



Lanvin My Sin (Mon Péché): Glamour with a dash of Catholic guilt? It was the most elegant way to acknowledge our fall from grace. . .until it was discontinued in the late 1980s. (It can still be found online here and there.)


Georges de la Tour, The Penitent Magdalen, ca. 1640. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1978.517

I’d wear a dab of Sin for a detour past one of my longtime favorites at the Met, this painting of Mary Magdalen.



Comme des Garçons Incense Series 3: Avignon: I can’t improve on Luckyscent‘s description of this one. “Avignon evokes the medieval city in the south of France which surpassed Rome as the Catholic Church’s power center in the 14th century. It’s the scent of Gothic cathedrals and papal palaces, of tapestries imbued with centuries of incense. Of cold marble steps, holy relics and dark confessions.”


John Galliano for House of Dior. Evening ensemble, autumn/winter 2000–2001 haute couture. Courtesy of Dior Heritage Collection, Paris. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

You could wear Avignon with an appropriately papal-inspired ensemble from the glory days of Galliano at Dior, complete with mitre.



Demeter Holy Water: Here’s an affordable pick from the ever-expanding Demeter line. The Demeter website suggests, “To capture this scent, imagine an old European church, in a small town off the beaten track. This is the scent of the blessed water you might find there in an old stone container.”


Follower of Guglielmus, Holy Water Font, ca. 1160–65. Carrara marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection 64.96

An “old stone container.” You mean…a font or a stoup?!  (Here’s a nice example, from the Met’s collections…)


o.26578.jpgLe Couvent des Minimes Eau du Cloître: According to the Le Couvent de Minimes website: “Below the village of Mane, in the south of France, a convent was built in the 17th century in a place surrounded by curative herbs and flowers. The Convent’s first inhabitants, the Minim Brothers, gave their name to the place.”

This “fresh and floral botanical cologne” is inspired by the cloister gardens cultivated and tended by the Minim order at that monastery. Matching body products are also available!


Madame Grès (Alix Barton). Evening dress, 1969. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., 1988 (2009.300.1373). Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

You might not necessarily think of monks and friars as style influencers. However, you’d be wrong. Case in point: this evening dress by Madame Grès.



Acqua di Santa Maria Novella Profumo: For even more authenticity, nothing beats Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a pharmacy founded by the Dominican order in Florence in 1612. Even before the pharmacy opened, Santa Maria Novella’s monks had spent centuries raising herbs and flowers to be used in medicines and toiletries.

According to the SMN website, Acqua di Santa Maria Novella was created by Santa Maria Novella’s gifted herbalists for the Florentine noblewoman (and eventual Queen of France) Caterina de’ Medici in 1533.” The House of Medici, monks, Renaissance Florence…what more could you ask for?



Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Ave Maria Gratia Plena: This perfume oil is a “pale, delicate, truly angelic blend” with notes of lemon, sandalwood, musk, sage, lily, jasmine and orris. It’s inspired by Oscar Wilde’s poem evoking the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary.


Botticelli, The Annunciation, ca. 1485-92. Tempera and gold on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.74

The Annunciation is one of the “joyful mysteries” of the Rosary and one of the key events in the Christian narrative. It was also a favorite subject for centuries of Catholic art in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and beyond. Here’s just one example, from the Met’s Lehman Collection.



Thierry Mugler Angel: Last but not least. Speaking of angels, how could I not include Angel? It’s one of the best-selling (and most creative) fragrances of the past quarter-century. It evokes a celestial being who loves candy, a seraphim with a sense of fun.

And here’s Galliano again, giving some very fancy angel her wings…


John Galliano for House of Dior. Evening ensemble, autumn/winter 2005–6 haute couture. Courtesy of Dior Heritage Collection, Paris. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

I’m hoping to get to the Met sometime before the end of the month. What fragrance will I actually wear for the occasion? I’ll just have to ponder my options and make a decision. Pray for me.

All fashion images via the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.