The Origins of Catholic Core – Jean Paul Gaultier S/S couture 2007

A look at the marriage between religious art and fashion – Jean Paul Gaultier S/S couture 2007

The popularity of Catholic Core, one of the myriad “aesthetics” that float around the World Wide Web, doesn’t seem to wane, with some of its elements making their way into other popular aesthetics. After all, this is nothing new under the sun for those who roamed Tumbler blogs during its heyday, with Catholic iconography and signifiers commonplace in the social network’s signature aesthetic mood boards.

While widely disputed, pop culture’s filtration with the use of Catholic iconography and themes in “profane” contexts is long and well documented. Think of the music videos made for Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ (1984), BTS’s ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ (2016), and Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Feather’ (2022), to cite a few. 

To many of us born and raised in Catholic-majority countries, tongue-in-cheek use of Catholic imagery is part of how we are intact with what’s not only part of a religion but also of our artistic and cultural heritage. What has become Catholic iconography has its roots in religious art, which was not solely the result of devotion but a way in which the Church flexed its wealth and power as a temporal institution and state. The results are centuries worth of paintings, statues, and other works of art. The Jean Paul Gaultier Spring Summer couture of 2007 represents not only arguably one of the original Catholic Core fashion moments but also an instance in which haute couture borrowed from this wealth of art to make fashion as timeless as it is controversial. 

Jean Paul Gaultier S/S couture 2007 – when fashion meets religious art   

For that year’s Spring Summer Paris Fashion Week, the French designer put on display a collection that borrowed a profusion of its visual elements from the centuries-long history of Catholic religious art. 

The models emerged on the runway sporting gowns rich in ornate details with Botticelli-esque middle part loose curls hairstyle bathed in a vivid blue hue that in Catholic art is widely employed in representations of the Virgin Mary, tracing back to Byzantine art that reminds us also of Giotto’s azurite-based skies from his religious frescos and Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel

The use of Marian iconographic references doesn’t end there, with several models donning faux tears that mirror those that identify a specific type of representation of the Virgin Mary in Catholic religious art: ‘Our Lady of Sorrows,’ a mournful and tearful Madonna, like the one painted by Titian now displayed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. 

Elements of Catholic religious art permeate the whole show, with its Braque reimaginations of the halos of Saints, stained glass, heaps of gold, translucent fabrics, and metallic burning hearts. In some instances, the catholic iconography overpowers the artistry of the couture, while other looks feel referential and ethereal rather than overplayed, a pop culture ode to one the most influential forms of Western art. 

The origins of an aesthetic – The Jean Paul Gaultier collection’s influence on fashion 

The Jean Paul Gaultier S/S couture 2007 didn’t represent the first or last time Catholic iconography and fashion controversially met on the runway, with Gianni Versace’s golden cross-embellished evening dress from the Fall Winter collection of 1997/1998 coming to mind. 

After the Jean Paul Gaultier show, a few years passed before we saw another collection so deeply infused with Catholic religious art references hit the runway: the Dolce & Gabbana Fall/Winter  2013/2014 Ready to Wear collection, which was largely inspired by the Byzantine golden mosaics found in the Monreale Cathedral, located in the homonymous town near Palermo in Sicily. 

What gave Jean Paul Gaultier’s S/S Couture 2007 the ability to influence fashion beyond the aesthetic mood boards and stand the test of time is that its imagery is as familiar as it is otherworldly, universally beautiful, and cleverly referential.

Thanks to this sagacious mixture of elements, that couture wouldn’t have looked out of place among the vaporous, delicate gowns displayed on the catwalks of the Fall Winter Paris Fashion Week 2023, and while the plastered, statue-like makeup looks worn by the models from the Gaultier show made a comeback back in what has arguably been the most talked about fashion show of the past few years, the Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 ‘Artisanal’ by John Galliano.