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Style & Culture | LETTER FROM MILAN

Suddenly, 'The Last Supper' is fashionable

March 03, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

MILAN, Italy — During fashion weeks past, Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," housed in a convent here, was the city's surest refuge from the stiletto-clad, shopping-mad masses. But this season, Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code," with its examination of certain symbols in the painting, has made it as trendy as the new Prada charms in heart, skull, rose or butterfly designs that people are clipping to their purses.

Visitors are required to reserve tickets in advance to see the masterpiece, completed in 1497, because only 25 people are allowed inside at one time, due to preservation efforts.

"We booked three weeks in advance because we just had to see it," said Sasha Inglehart, deputy fashion director of Glamour magazine. "I think we ended up missing some show because of it. And now that we're going on to Paris, we can't wait to see the Louvre pyramids in a different way," she said, referring to another plot point.

The book that created the frenzy has been on the L.A. Times bestseller list for 47 weeks, and on bestseller lists throughout Europe. A thriller, it tells the story of Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbolist who receives a late-night phone call that the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, and a cipher found near his body. Langdon and a French cryptologist sort through clues that direct them to symbols hidden in Da Vinci's work, and a link with the Priory of Scion, an actual secret society whose members included Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Da Vinci.

The book suggests that the figure who sits at Jesus' right hand in "The Last Supper" is not the apostle John, but a woman, Mary Magdalene.

David Graham, a fashion writer for the Toronto Star, saw the painting with two colleagues last week. Graham has been attending Milan fashion week for several years, always meaning to see "The Last Supper," he said. But it was the book that was the catalyst. "We were going to go this time, even if we had to blow something off," he said.

"The Da Vinci Code" was preferred front row reading for Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, while waiting for the Prada show to start. "I left the J.M. Coetzee at home because I needed a real page-turner," she said.

Wells went to see "The Last Supper" with Candy Pratts Price, executive fashion director at Style.com. The book gave the editors an itch to go to London too, where some scenes are set. Perhaps for London Fashion Week next season? "It could be good for business there," Wells joked.

At Santa Maria delle Grazie on Sunday, every tour of "The Last Supper" was sold out, but still people came and begged. One woman said she had prayed on the way over that there would be a place for her. It didn't work.

In the adjoining bookstore, where Italian translations of the book are sold ("Il Codice Da Vinci"), Anna Daloli Fabro, a saleswoman, said, "We are always full. It doesn't depend on Dan Brown."

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