The first Monday in May is always fashion’s biggest night out. The Met Ball, in honor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibit’s opening season is the Oscars ceremony of fashion. The red carpet is a brand placement machine, parading A-List entertainment personalities, playing high end brand ambassadors. At a very steep ticket prices, fashion finds fortune and fame. Over the years, I have watched and commented on TV about this grand speculator with 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. I needed to view them at least three times to see all their intricate details, certainly the case with “Alexander McQueen and China: Through the Looking Glass.”
Several years ago, the Met presented the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit. It was so grand it occupied both the Met on 5th 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.” As with every exhibit, it was meticulously curated by Andrew Bolton and knighted by Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of “Vogue.” The Catholic-centric fashion collection ran from its designated hall downstairs and flowed through the Lehman wing. Then effortlessly continued at the Cloisters, the museum’s peaceful home for religious art in Manhattan. The exhibit included historical fashion figures like Elsa Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent, and active designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, and Raf Simons. After spending hours mesmerizingly viewing each section of true fashion genius, it reminded me of a conference I attended in Madrid (2008) that was hosted by King Juan Carlos of Spain and late 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 religious attire accessorized with incomparable ornate jewelry. Golden lace with crowns of rubies and sapphires were strewn across the room. I It is funny because I noticed that the Rabbis in attendance were the worst dressed in mere suits and ties.
Long before Catholicism or The Met ever existed, the concept of divinity in costume was conceived by G-d. Do they know the very first master couturier was G-d himself? The Kohen Gadol’s (High Jewish Priest) majestic attire rivals and far surpasses any mortal design by the most highly acclaimed fashion houses of Paris and Milan. The intricate detaila of lace, color, embroidery, and jewels had mastery far above any museum exhibit. Do we ever stop to think of Torah (Bible) and how it relates to fashion? Two subjects void of each other, or so it might seem. “Some might consider fashion to be an unfitting or unseemly medium by which to engage with ideas about the sacred or the divine,” claims Andrew Bolton. A statement that I strongly disagree with.
I always found it puzzling that of all industries to be schooled by G-d himself after the Egyptian exile, it would be garment manufacturing. Living in the dessert, the Jewish people were provided with food or manna from the heavens, water from Miriam’s well, along with a special cloud of protection. Why did He choose the fashioning of His priests as one of the first hands on learning experiences?
The subject along with detailed instructions are introduced in the Torah (Bible) portion Tetzaveh, filling the entirety of Exodus 28. They are described again in detail in Pekudei (Exodus 39:1–31) as well.
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 patterns 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 from pure gold, it was inscribed with two words “Kodesh LaHashem” or “Holy to G-d.” The ordinary priests had four garments, a tunic, breeches, a turban, and a sash.
Four of these garments are worn exclusively by the High Priest. They alone are called bigdai kodesh (the holy garments). Moses first places them upon Aaron at the consecration of the priests (Leviticus 8:7–9). Aaron wears them until his death, transferring them to his son and successor Eleazar immediately before he dies (Numbers 20:25–28). All successive High Priests are commanded to wear them as well (Exodus 29:30; see Leviticus 21:10).
The world of art, culture and design should pay homage to the world’s first and foremost couturier, G-d.