Spanish designer Alejandro Gomez Palomo mixed clubwear and ecclesiastical robes in his fall 2020 collection for Palomo Spain exploring both the spiritual and physical ecstasy of the sacred and profane. It was an intoxicating transgressive takeover of Catholic imagery and ecclesiastical garb reworked into imagined scenes at the Ruta del Bakalao, Spain’s infamous techno clubbing movement from Valencia in the 80’s and 90’s. Ecstasy was explored from multiple angles, drawing from both portrayals of religious ecstasy in Catholic imagery, and the chemically induced state emanating from the club scene.
The designer imagined the crowds that cross paths early on Sunday mornings, those of devout Catholics going to church, and revelers at an afterparty at the end of a night of clubbing. He presented the collision of those two worlds, not in opposition, but as a melding of the two. The show lit with red Catholic candles and spiced with fragrant incense opened with a starkly somber clerical suit and collar accessorized with S&M style black leather gloves, boots, and a marvelous feathered handheld fan. What followed also riffed on the clergy with sculpted shoulder manipulations that referenced the cape and mitre of Pope Francis. Other papal references included delicately embroidered linen or cotton Rochet, which resembled Victorian nightgowns. Palomo reworked these special raiment garments into puffed sleeve renaissance blouses with ruff collars and cuffs peeking out from denim jackets and parkas, tank tops, and long tunics under even longer brocade coats. The clothes read unabashedly femininely and sensual in their almost translucent fragility.
The Renaissance flair alluded to a time when men dressed as glamorously and elaborately as women. Palomo seems to think it’s about time we return to those glory days, and his work makes for a tantalizing prospect. The hot pink and green ‘ suits read almost like ball gowns, featuring cutout necklines with sculpted stand up or fold down collars, corset waists, and voluminous hips and gaucho skorts that reached calf length. More traditional suiting came in pink or plum, magenta, and a dusty blue. Colors which can be found in the paintings of “El Greco” who depicted religious scenes with an astounding intensity and flamboyancy. The velvet suits were adorned with strings of pearls which dripped like the rows of candle wax surrounding religious figurines at a Holy Week procession.
Three magnificent closing looks demonstrated their beautiful sculptural architecture forms, in brocade and velvet with raised egg shaped shoulders, stiff A-line silhouettes, and voluminous, cropped skorts emulating flowing robes. White ruffles spilled between jacket and trousers on one, while gold embroidery gilded the cathedral-like brocade on another. The final look sparkled top to bottom with detailed, but hard to decipher symbols worked in Swarovski crystals, including tribal flame tattoo swirls, snowflakes, ivy leaves, and what looked like a pair of cherubs tossing red dice.
Palomo Spain has built a brand on producing subversive menswear that challenges gender norms, celebrates homosexuality, and delights in presenting unrepressed beauty. While certain looks were utterly refined, this collection didn’t shy away from provocatively addressing and reclaiming territory that society has a history of denouncing, that of gay men. Rather than presenting a critique on the Catholic church, Palomo simply claimed it as part of his rightful heritage and inspiration for self expression. In the end, his complex cultural and historical blending produced a collection that was as rapturous as his influences.