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Couturier to the Heavens and Above

By Penelope Green (NYT)

THE way Patrick Boylan sees it, the best thing about being a liturgical vestment designer is that he will never have to make another cocktail dress.

''There was a moment a few years ago when the only thing I was sure of was that I didn't want to wake up one day and be this 55-year-old jaded garment guy asking myself, 'All this for a dress?' '' said Mr. Boylan, who turns 40 next year and hasn't made a cocktail dress for some time.

Mr. Boylan is the sole owner, designer and employee of Grace Liturgical Vestments, a two-and-a-half-year-old company that makes the ceremonial garments that clergy members wear during church services. Here in New York, he has begun to make a name for himself as a fresh talent, an inspired couturier in a field dominated by so-so ready-to-wear.

''There are not many Patricks in this world,'' said Julia Burke, a textile conservator at the National Gallery in Washington. Historically, Ms. Burke explained, the clergy was dressed by highly skilled artisans -- monks and nuns and artisanal guilds -- and more recently, and increasingly, by large catalog houses.

''Patrick is wonderfully gifted,'' Cristina Carr, a textile conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said. ''His sense of color is quite sophisticated.'' It was Ms. Carr who suggested that Mr. Boylan be chosen to design and replace the tattered vestment collection -- some 80-odd pieces -- of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on West 46th Street.

Now, St. Mary's is no ordinary church. Sandwiched between a Comfort Inn and Rosie O'Grady's steakhouse and half a block from the extravagant weirdness of Times Square, St. Mary's is a glorious expression of extremes. Known as ''Smoky Mary's'' for its liberal use of incense, the church, officially described as Anglo-Catholic, is about as close to Rome as a Protestant church can get. Its service is intoxicatingly ornate and draws a wildly diverse congregation of New Yorkers: black and white and everything else, uptown, downtown and out-of-town. All make the journey to this French Gothic confection of a building, freshly renovated five years ago, and with a rectory whose interiors were designed by the society decorator Thomas Jayne.

But, Mr. Jayne said, ''it is in no way a society church.''

''You go for the service and the celebration,'' he added, ''and not because you need to get your child into preschool.''

What Mr. Boylan was given was no ordinary commission: to match ornate liturgy with luxuriant cloth, the sacred with the profane, and all in the service of God.

Originally printed in The
New York Times,
December 9, 2001,

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