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Give 'em enough robe
What the well dressed Pontiff is wearing this season. Also: Katrina brings out the crazies
Eamonn McCann, 20 Oct 2005
Slabbincks keep the pope in stitches. That’s the Slabbinck family of Bruges, couturiers to popes for more than a century and front-runners to emerge as suppliers of silk and golden threads to Benedict XVI.
The Belgian firm turns out elaborately embroidered clothing, tapestries and other ceremonial hangings for every Christian denomination. But in recent years, it’s been the endorsement of their modish designs by the papacy which has kept them continuously in the forefront of ecclesiastical haute couture.
The company has high hopes of Benedict XVI advertising their styles (“ornate but unfussy”) at ceremonies and photo-shoots over the coming months. Garments chosen for feast-days and foreign trips are regarded as particularly important when it comes to papal product-placement.
The vestments market is characterised by intense competition between a small number of houses. Theological Threads, for example, is a US company known mainly for its wide range of mitres. Its UK and Ireland distributors, F. A. Dumont of Folkestone, tell me that they can supply satin-lined made-to-measure mitres in 10 different styles. And, yes, pontiffs have used their products in the past. As for Benedict’s preference, they’ll just wait and see.
Pietrobon Bruno (UK/Ireland reps., Hayes and Finch of Liverpool) advertise themselves as a “traditional Italian family business” and offer “hand-crafted, individually-designed garments (manufactured) from fine silk fabrics and featuring top quality trims and fringes.” They, too, have had contact with the Vatican since the election, and look forward to doing business with the Holy See again soon.
Slabbincks, however, are generally accepted as the leading Church fashion house, not least because of the patronage of John Paul II. Company reps. are pleased to specify the occasions when the late pope chose their designs to dazzle the multitudes---and persuade bishops across the world to choose Slabbincks for their own ensembles.
On his first foreign trip, to Poland in 1979, John Paul not only sported a Slabbinck zucchetto, but presented the Polish church with a magnificent hand-embroidered Slabbinck chasuble featuring a woven-gold image of Poland’s patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
At the main mass of his 1985 visit to Belgium, at Koekelberg cathedral, John Paul displayed not only a Slabbinck-designed “Melchior” vestment---“a lightweight, simple but beautiful chasuble in muted colours” which, I am assured, “has since become a worldwide favourite”---but also a specially-manufactured once-off, jewel-studded mitre, showing St. Peter in the middle with Ss. John and Paul on the sides.
In June of 1986, John Paul appeared to go out of his way to promote the company’s wares when he made a special visit to the Flemish church in Rome, San Giuliano dei Fiammenghi, where, amid a frantic hubbub of paparazzi, Dirk Slabbinck presented him with a delicate, embroidered Flemish-style stole.
The stunning success of John Paul on these and other engagements resulted in Slabbincks being invited to design an entire new range of vestments for all participants of bishop rank and upwards attending the 45th Eucharistic Congress in Seville, Spain, in 1993. The Pope paraded two new Slabbinck chasubles, a new cope and two original mitres during mass and then benediction on the climactic day, June 13th. This triumph sealed the company’s position as the Vatican’s number one supplier and world leader in design and sales of theological costumery.
Why should John Paul have so positively adopted the Slabbinck line?
Maybe he literally just liked their style, fancied the cut of their canonicals. Or maybe there was something which appealed to him in the history and tradition of the firm. They were able to maintain production throughout World War Two, for example, their 60 specialist employees having been specially exempted from German armaments production. The Nazis shrugged off global condemnation for herding Jews, socialists, homosexuals etc. towards the death camps. But they didn’t dare risk the wrath of the religious establishment by depriving prelates of chic mitres, cool chasubles and elegant copes. Could that have been a selling point with John Paul?
Who’s to say? The big question now for Slabbincks and their competitors is whether, under Benedict XVI, the Vatican is going to continue to promote John Paul’s favourite fashion house---or strike out and establish a style of his own, possibly associated with a different label. So far, Benedict has proven “impossible to interpret” according to one knowledgeable website. Particularly close attention will be paid to his attire during the Xmas period, when popes are guaranteed extensive network TV coverage. This is as important to Slabbincks and their rivals as Nicole Kidman’s frock at the Oscars is to Zaramouche or Galoshi.
Next issue (cancel your order now): Why they have horns on their heads---the hidden history of the mitre.
It’s been clear from their response to Hurricane Katrina that crazies don’t read hotpress. Apart from Breda O’Brien. And she only reads it to refuel her resentment at the rational world.
The crazies were surprisingly slow off the mark after Katrina. Whole days went past before they got ‘round to explaining that god had sent the hurricane to punish the wicked.
“Repent America” (RA) spoke for a wilderness of televangelist websites in pointing out that Katrina had blown into town just ahead of “Southern Decadence,” an annual gay celebration attracting tens of thousands to New Orleans. “’Southern Decadence’ has a history of filling the French Quarters section of the city with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars,” complained RA. “Hurricane Katrina has put an end to this annual celebration of sin.”
“From the devastation, may a city full of righteousness emerge,” preyed RA director Michael Marcavage. “May this act of God bring us trembling before the throne of the Almighty.”
This despite the fact that, just last year in this very spot, we established beyond possibility of doubt that the best way of preserving a city or State from the ravages of hurricanes is to import lesbians.
It will be recalled that the US preacher-man and former presidential hopeful Pat Robertson had repeated his view that officials in Orlando, Florida, had put their city at risk of “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor” by allowing rainbow flags to be flown from lampposts during the annual Gay Days event at Disney World. “I wouldn’t wave those flags in God’s face,” he sternly advised.
It was in response to this warning that we sought scientifically to quantify the correlation between the frequency of tornadoes, hurricanes etc. and the incidence of gay sex in particular localities. We took the weather data from the US meteorological service and inferred levels of gay sexual activity from the numbers of gay bookshops, clubs and societies listed in a national register of facilities for gays.
Our main finding was that the greater the amount of gay activity in a State, the less likely that State was to be hit by killer weather phenomena. And that lesbians seemed to provide significantly greater protection than gay men.
Thus it was that I was able to scientifically demonstrate that South Carolina could save itself from an average of one hurricane a year by attracting as few as five thousand extra, active lesbians.
‘How come the crazies havn’t cottoned onto this?’ you ask.
Well, they’re crazy.