The new high priest of fashion

Confess - you're praying for a fashion bible to show you the way. Search no more. With the Vatican's new range of designer chic, you need never be a sacrificial victim on the altar of style.

For many years I had wanted an excuse to ring the Pope. And suddenly, here it was. Next week, it was announced, His Holiness will bring out a range of sunglasses, T-shirts and what were called, with a delicious lack of detail, leather items.

There were many things I had planned to say to him: "How can you find time to design outfits when you have all that corruption in the Church to deal with? How can you find time to design when you should be out on your balcony, Your Holiness, telling bad Catholic women that they shouldn't be using contraceptives?"

To be fair to John Paul II - but then why should I be? If it were up to him, I'd be on my 12th child by now. But, to try to be fair - he isn't the first to mix religion and fashion, and the Roman Catholic Church has been down this road before. Five years ago, their American branch allowed the Pope's name to be used on T-shirts, sunglasses and baseball caps, to raise money so that 150,000 young Catholics could go on a pilgrimage with the Pope to Colorado. They stopped short at "Pope on a Rope" soap, however.

Designers such as John Richmond and Dolce e Gabbana - all of them Roman Catholics - have for years used religious insignia on their garments in a most irreverent way. It's easy to see why. Religion, especially that creaky old ship Catholicism, is an easy target for those wanting to rebel.

When I was at convent school, we were taught that so much as putting the rosary over your head and wearing it as a necklace was a mortal sin. Pinning the bleeding heart of the Sacred Heart on your bodice as a fashion statement, let alone decorating gauze dresses with the Blessed Virgin Mary (both of which Dolce e Gabbana did last season) would have seen you on a diet of "Glory Be" for months. So if you want a quick and violent reaction, you can get it by sticking two fingers up at the Church.

"I was brought up in Manchester as a Catholic schoolboy and that guilt- ridden identity never really leaves you," explains John Richmond. "That anger manifested itself, especially in my early collections, with all those slashes and zips I did. But I'm calmer now; I've used the guilt and exorcised it from my mind on to material."

In 1990, the Vatican threatened to ban Madonna's Blond Ambition tour from Rome, saying that it was "one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity". On stage, Madonna's props included blazing crucifixes, tabernacles and a bed covered in cardinal scarlet linen to frolic on. She also got friendly with a dancer dressed as a priest.

The Vatican threatened to excommunicate her from the Catholic faith, the harshest punishment it can impose. One poor misguided bishop even said, "The crosses used by Madonna are not only obscene, but also surprising. It was thought she had been brought up in the spirit of religious faith." Hm. Precisely why she was using them.

But don't listen to me, because (really) Catho-chic is the next big thing. The United States has already caught the first wave. Over there in "bible factory outlet" chain stores, you can buy items such as Latham's Testimints: each sweet is marked with a cross and wrapped in paper printed with an extract from the Bible. But their biggest seller is their "What Would Jesus Do?" range. These are bracelets and key fobs printed with WWJD and manufactured by a company called Fresco in Michigan (where Madonna is from - can't you see why she flipped?). The company (which claims that it doesn't have to market the product - "God sells it") have a terrific marketing angle. If you're wearing a bracelet with the WWJD initials and someone asks you what it means, you're meant to give it to them. So you have to replace it, and on and on it goes.

And the point of them? Well, when you're about to commit adultery or blow someone's brains out, you catch sight of your key fob or bracelet and think "what would Jesus do?", and then you do just that. Never mind that a great many paranoid types believe that God is telling them to kill anyway. World peace is sure to follow.

So. Il Papa and his new range of accessories. I called the Vatican press office who confirmed its appearance next week, but would give no more details. They know the importance of designer secrecy, plus, I think, it was time for their siesta (they work only until 3pm).

Naturally, the Pope will not be designing the stuff himself; he will just license his name to raise money for Project 2000, which is a scheme that sends young Catholics on pilgrimages. The sunglasses (which will cost about pounds 22 a pair) will be signed "Joannes Paulus PPII" in his own hand, and the words "Exist for Someone" will be printed on the frames.

I can but guess at the other designs in the range: possibly trousers with padded knees, for praying and taking kneeling penance on dried corn kernels; T-shirts that light up with slogans to show if you've indulged in (unlawful) sex the night before.

What do people in the industry think of the Pope's attempt to break into fashion? "Why not," says Richmond. "He's keeping up with the times; he should modernise the Church."

"I like the affirming message that will be on the frame," says Andrew M Brown, associate editor of the Catholic Herald.

"If it's done for a good cause, then I'm not against it," says Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, who has designed robes for the Pope (and Charlie's Angels). "Times are changing; if it's a good design and well conceived, then it's definitely good. But sometimes I go to Lourdes, or some other place of pilgrimage, and the designs are not so good."

Brown agrees. "The Catholic Church does seem to attract incredibly tacky merchandise, and Catholics seem to have a great tolerance, even fondness, for it."

Hopefully, this range won't be tacky. Two years ago, the Pope personally chose de Castelbajac to design his robes, and those of his bishops and priests, for the Festival of Youth in Paris, which took place last year.

De Castelbajac, too, has always had a religious theme to his clothes (most of them are based on the T-shirt or cross shape) but his use of such designs is not a rebellion against his faith. "Oh no," he cries. "I have always had a religious influence in my designs.

"I went to Catholic boarding school, and those images stay with you - they are so powerful. But I don't do it as a trend. I am very much at peace spiritually, and I think that it is right for me to use these influences in fashion."

De Castelbajac said that the Pope (who gave him carte blanche with the designs) was very nice to him when they met. "He called me `young man'," he sniggers. "But I am 49!" What a charmer!

After speaking to de Castelbajac, however, I think I may have to be more supportive of the Church, as the alternatives are even more horrifying.

"After I met the Pope," explains de Castelbajac. "I read a report that said the most famous symbol in the whole world, the one most recognised, was the `M' of McDonald's. The cross was only number four (after Marlboro and Coca-Cola). I think it would be good if the cross went back to being number one again."

Oh dear. There's still time for that phone call. "Bless me, father, for I have sinned..."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker