Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Charles Dickens are buried there. So are 17 British monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most important figures in British history. It’s been England’s coronation church since 1066, and today British royalty still walk its aisles on their wedding days. Come June, Westminster Abbey will also host its first runway show.
Yesterday, Feb. 3, Italian luxury brand Gucci revealed to The Telegraph that the historic London church will be the site of its summer cruise show. The abbey confirmed the deal. The show will be held on June 2 in the abbey’s Cloisters, marking the first time a fashion brand of any nationality has presented a collection there.
Alessandro Michele, who took over as Gucci’s creative director just a year ago and has shown a love of antiquity, called the news “magical.”
While the abbey says the Cloisters have been available for rent for some time, not everyone is overjoyed by the thought of a clothing label using a holy site for its marketing. Reverend Peter Owen-Jones of the Church of England told The Independent that the fashion collaboration misconstrues the mission of the church.
“I think it’s part of the Disneyfication of all the traditional sacred spaces in this land,” he said. “We are in the process of selling our soul for a pair of trousers.”
Even members of the fashion community have expressed some hesitation, such as Vanessa Friedman, the fashion critic of the New York Times.
While the move may be surprising, it does fit into a larger trend for European fashion’s big cruise shows. Unlike fall and spring shows in Paris, Milan, and London, cruise collections have no set location. Brands have taken the opportunity to show anywhere they like, and locations get more exotic with each passing season.
Chanel held a show in Dubai last year, and Dior set its runway in Pierre Cardin’s crazy “Bubble Palace” in Cannes. This year, Louis Vuitton will head to Rio de Janeiro, and Chanel to Cuba.
They’ll undoubtedly be elaborate productions, but as for the actual buildings where these shows will happen, none can touch Westminster Abbey. The location along the Thames River was originally home to a small Benedictine monastery founded around 960 A.D. When King Edward started building his palace nearby, he also began enlarging the abbey. Then, in the 13th century, King Henry III began to rebuild it in the Gothic style, making it a structure fit for royal coronations. Westminster Abbey’s growth continued for centuries, turning it into the iconic work of art and architecture that it is today.
“Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom,” the abbey’s official site says.
Short of showing in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Taj Mahal, it will be a tough location for other fashion labels to top.