The first Monday in May was always fashion’s biggest night out. The Met Ball in honor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute exhibit’s opening season was the Oscar ceremony of fashion. Where the red carpet was a brand placement machine with A plus entertainment personalities parading the red-carpet entry as million-dollar ambassadors. At $35,000 a ticket, fashion found fortune and fame. With this year’s cancellation of 2020 social events, such as The Met Ball, could the virus restrictions and social distancing rules have unleashed its demise? Has The Met Ball and all lost touch with reality and adapted a Marie Antoinette frame of mind? I sure hope not; it’s as if Prince Charming called off the ball and Cinderella is now stuck at home washing the floors for her evil stepmother and sisters. Don’t we all need a fairytale and a glass slipper to keep us enthralled with a fantasy distraction?
There are swirling rumors about the demise of the fashion empire and its well-groomed dictator, Anna Wintour. Anna, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue is the grand matriarch of The Costume Exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum since 1995. She’s responsible for the fund raising of its huge renovation, theme selection, VIP guest list, and just about everything else related to the event and exhibition.
This year’s theme was supposed to be “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” says Andrew Bolton, curator of The Costume Exhibit. He shared his thoughts with Vogue magazine about the duality of the message. “It’s a reimagining of fashion history that’s fragmented, discontinuous, and heterogeneous.” Bolton will divide 160 woman’s looks into black and white sections arranged chronically from late 180’s to present 2020. Perhaps I could have introduced Genesis and the creation of Adam and Eve as one unit before their divine split into two being of male and female. I’ll just save that for another time.
Over the years, I’ve watched and commented on TV about this grand spectacular in awe, respect and admiration. There were times that the exhibits were so stunning that they brought me to tears, leaving me unable to fully comprehend their beauty. There were times that I needed to view it three times in order to see all their intricate details, certainly in the case of Alexander McQueen!
Several years ago, the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit was so grand, it occupied both The Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue and its uptown location at The Cloisters. According to The Art Newspaper article, “New York has clinched the top two spots in our list of the world's most popular exhibitions in 2018 with the double blockbusters: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, which received around 10,900 visitors a day across two venues.” It reminded me of a conference I attended in Madrid (2008) hosted by King Juan Carlos of Spain and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They jointly invited all heads of religions, Catholic to Coptic, from around the world to partake in a global spiritual initiative. My mind nearly exploded with the assortment of supremely luxurious ceremonial attire with accessorized with incomparable ornate jewelry. Golden lace with crowns of rubies and sapphires were strewn across the room. It’s funny because I noticed that the rabbis in attendance were the worst dressed, in mere suits and ties!
Ironically, it’s the Torah that teaches us who the very first master couturier was and is...Hashem (G-d) himself! The Kohen Gadol's majestic attire rivals and far surpasses any mortal hand of the most highly acclaimed fashion houses of Paris and Milan. The intricate detail of lace, color, embroidery and jewels has the mastery far above any museum exhibit. Do we ever stop to think of Torah and how it relates to fashion? Two subjects void of each other...or so it seems (seams).
Long before Catholicism or The Metropolitan Museum of Art ever existed, the concept of divinity in costume was conceived by G-d himself within Torah with the idea that intrinsic dignity of the person, the so-called royal garments of the Kohen Gadol, is a function of having been created “in the Divine image.” That image, however, is only a potential, a latent state that must be nurtured and developed, in order to be realized. The message of the Kohen Gadol is that G-d has given us the opportunity to feel His presence, to sanctify our lives with His closeness.
The divinely designed costume of the High Priest consisted of many intricate parts. The me'il, or robe, was worn on top of the linen tunic ensemble (worn by all Kohanim) and was woven entirely out of precious sky-blue wool. Trimmed with chiming “pomegranates” of sky- blue, purple and crimson red wool. The ephod was a vest or cape-like garment that had a richly embroidered pattern made from threads spun of gold, sky-blue, purple, crimson red wool and twined linen. Worn on top of the robe, it had two shoulder straps upon each of which was placed a precious onyx stone set in gold. Upon these two stones were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Extending from the shoulder straps of the ephod were two cables of solid gold from which was suspended the breastplate, or Choshen. This ornament was fashioned out of a piece of material woven after the manner of the ephod. It was doubled over, and on its surface twelve gold settings were placed. In each of the settings was a precious stone associated with one of the tribes. The three rows were adorned with sapphires, emeralds, amethyst, turquoise and topaz, which outshines master jewelers such as Bulgari, Tiffany, and Van Cleef & Arpels! Within the doubled fold of the breastplate was placed the mysterious Urim veTumim, a hidden “designer label.”
Finally, we have the “Tzitz” or headband that the Ramban understands as a type of crown. Made out of pure gold, it was inscribed with two words: “Kodesh LaHashem” or “Holy to G-d.”
The designs by G-d have so obviously inspired other religions and modern-day designers alike. However, is the message just about power, wealth and social position? Did G-d actually design these Himself? Only in the Torah, does the original pattern exist. The least the world of art, culture and design could do is pay homage to the world’s first and foremost designer…G-d.
By Tobi Rubinstein