Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Evening Dress, spring/summer 2014 haute couture, Courtesy of Valentino S.p.A.

Fifty ecclesiastical masterpieces never before loaned from the Sistine Chapel sacristy and 150 designer ensembles from the early 20th century until present will form the crux of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s spring 2018 exhibition and next year’s Met Gala theme, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.

The thematic exhibition hinges on an ongoing dialogue between fashion and exemplars of religious art in the respective collections of the Met and the Vatican to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. The Museum’s Costume Institute Benefit, also known as The Met Gala – or the ‘Oscars of fashion’ – will open the exhibit on May 7. An unexpected Holy Trinity of Pop Culture icons consisting of Amal Clooney, Met Gala MVP Rihanna and Donatella Versace will co-chair the festivities alongside Anna Wintour (namesake of the Anna Wintour Costume Centre).

“Fashion and religion have long been intertwined, mutually inspiring and informing one another,” Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, said in a statement. “Although this relationship has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion.”

Designers whose work will be included in the exhibition will include those for whom Catholicism is a central tenet of their design story – Cristobal Balenciaga, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Christian Lacroix and Riccardo Tisci for the House of Givenchy – and those who have drawn on its iconography in more implicit ways, like John Galliano for the House of Dior, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Maria Grazia Chiuri (in her current capacity at Dior) and Pierpaolo Piccioli’s shared work for Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thom Browne, Donatella and Gianni Versace.

The work of Azzedine Alaïa, Gabrielle Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Craig Green, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Jeanne Lanvin, Shaun Leane, Laura and Kate Mulleavy for Rodarte, Thierry Mugler, Guo Pei, Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons (for his own label and House of Dior), Jun Takahashi for Undercover, Isabel Toledo, Philip Treacy, Madeleine Vionnet, and Vivienne Westwood will also feature, amongst others.

The exhibition will be staged across three gallery locations and include dozens of ecclesiastical artefacts loaned from the Vatican, many of which have never been seen outside the sacristy, including papal vestments, rings and tiaras dating from the 18th to the early 21st century. The last time the Vatican loaned a collection of this magnitude to The Met was in 1983 for The Vatican Collections exhibition, which today this day is still the Museum’s third most-visited show. China: Through the Looking Glass (2015) remains the Costume Institute’s most popular show, followed by Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology (2016), and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011).

Tile image (composite): El Greco, Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609), ca. 1600, oil on canvas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5); Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cover image: Evening Coat, Cristobal Balenciaga for House of Balenciaga, autumn/winter 1954–55; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Bryon C. Foy, 1957 (C.I.57.29.8); Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Digital Composite Scan by Katerina Jebb