In one of those annual round-ups of the past year's news stories, 100 Things You Didn't Know Last Year, the Pope's alleged fondness for fashion got a mention. The BBC story noted that Pope Bendedict XVI is a 'fan of finery' and has been seen wearing a pair of red Prada loafers instead of the usual Papal footwear. He had also been spotted elsewhere in Cartier reading glasses (their demi lune Santos model) and 'pricey American Serengeti sunglasses — the preferred brand of the Hollywood film star Val Kilmer — which cost at least £200.' (Timesonline).
Why is the story still newsworthy, almost a year on? Is the idea of a religious leader being interested in fashion incompatible with the spiritual beliefs he is supposed to represent to others?
The fickle world of fashion has often been considered morally bereft and a sign of worldly vanity, hence the traditional sartorial rejection of its values by nuns and monks. John Evelyn, writing in 1661, even reckoned the decline of the Roman Empire was set in motion when the ancient Romans abandoned the toga for novelties in dress.
Without knowing the tailoring details, it seems unlikely that any of the other Papal ceremonial robes would be cheap garments, so presumably the media's interest in his alleged penchant for 'designer gear' is not purely a result of the actual financial outlay (though some of his items have been alleged to be 'gifts'.) So is it interesting because of the unlikely combination of high religious office and spiritual ideas with the perceived superficialities of contemporary style and the rampant conspicuous consumption frequently associated with fashion? Or possibly a sign that times are changing and Prada (and any other fashion label or non-label) is no longer just for the Devil!
If you really can't bear to contemplate the Pope's outfits, there are other interesting but trivial facts in the original BBC article... staying with the spiritual, in at number 64 is Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs, the term for people who fear the number 666. So now you know!