This week, the exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an art historian and a fashion fan (not to mention, a Catholic!) I can’t help but anticipate this event. 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 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 my own selection of other works from Met’s vast collections.
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!
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 on the skirt was appropriated from a painting by Luca Cranach the Elder.
Lanvin My Sin (Mon Péché)
Glamour with a dash of Catholic guilt? My Sin 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, with a little luck and patience.)
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.”
You could wear CdG Avignon with an appropriately papal-inspired ensemble, complete with mitre, from the glory days of Galliano at Dior.
And here’s an interior view of Bourges Cathedral, photographed by Frederick W. Evans in 1901, to set the mood further. Cold marble, iron gates, wood pews…and the aroma of incense.
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.”
An “old stone container.” You mean…a font or a stoup?! That’s the specific name for the bowl-like vessels that contain holy water. They’re often positioned just inside the entrance to a church. (A larger version is used in the sacrament of Baptism, when a newcomer to the Catholic faith—often an infant—is anointed with holy water.)
Here’s a nice example, above, from the Met’s collections.
Le 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!
You might not necessarily think of monks and friars as style influencers. However, you’d be wrong. Case in point: this robe-like evening dress by Madame Grès.
A fragrance inspired by the medieval clergy and their quiet retreats would be especially fitting for a visit to The Cloisters, where half of “Heavenly Bodies” is installed.
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.
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.
The angel holds a lily flower, a symbolic representation of Mary’s purity.
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.
These angels, with their blue enamel haloes and wings, are swinging incense burners, so you just know they smell as gorgeous as they look.
And here’s designer John Galliano again, giving some very fancy angel her wings…
I’m hoping to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art sometime before the end of the month to see this exhibition. 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 and art images via the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.