Catwalk Catholicism: On the Ongoing Significance of Federico Fellini’s Ecclesiastical Fashion Show
Religions. Mythology. Rationalism
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AbstractIn Fellini-Roma (1972), the film director Federico Fellini includes a sequence about an imaginary ecclesiastical fashion show, a display of ever more outlandish clerical clothing designs. Fellini brought together various elements that, in conventional cultural coding, do not seem to fit together: secular fashion design and catwalks, and Catholic practice and ceremonial. The sequence juxtaposes and intermingles these apparent incompatibles. Surprisingly little scholarly attention has been paid to the nature and significance of this sequence. Yet it is complex, being simultaneously satirical and empathetic, as well as camp and carnivalesque. The paper reaches back in time, reviewing the history of Catholic vestments, to show that the sequence also dramatizes the fact that sartorial fashion and Church garb have overlapped and informed each other historically. The appeal of the sequence for various types of audience has been enhanced in the internet age, and the paper considers how it has become an increasingly ubiquitous reference-point for the fashion industry, bloggers, and cultural critics, especially when the latter want to thematize controversies about male homosexuality in the Church today. Fellini&#8217;s presentation of catwalk Catholicism is both a rich object of scholarship, and a multivalent vehicle used by actors for various contemporary purposes.