Forgive the terminology used by the author of this article on ecclesiastical garments. It's unlikely that he knew anything at all about them before he was assigned to write this article.
"It was so cute, the entire room was filled with young priests, all of them about to be ordained, all of them trying on new vestments. It was like a sleepover with everyone looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, `How do I look in this?"'
With the "this" in question being vestments of ancient style, the kind seen on Roman Catholic Church altars worldwide. And all of it made by hand and by expensive machines not far from the Ikea store at Chagall Design Limited.
If you ever wondered where all the church finery comes from - I'm talking the whole shebang from the bishop's mitre to a deacon's plain, but-not-really-so-plain cassock - look no further. [Since the deacon's cassock is the same as a priests, the author must be referring to the dalmatic, the vestment worn by a deacon when assisting at Mass.]
Chagall, which was started by Delfino's now-retired husband, Jack Degroot, has been in her capable hands since 1991. In that time this attractive, energetic and very smart mother and grandmother has expanded her built-in nurturing qualities, becoming in her answering of a church's highly unique and almost always frantic needs a kind of den mother, confidant and minister to those who minister.
As a lifelong Catholic, her years at the helm of the firm have changed her view of the church's colorful rites of worship.
"I'm part of the stage crew," she jokes, meaning that she knows exactly what it takes to dress the performers in the world's largest (and original) Christian sect. [A "sect"] has broken off from something. Protestant denominations are sects of the Catholic Christianity founded by Jesus.]
And none of it is as you might expect, starting with the huge workroom where all the 14 cutters, sewers, designers and artisans introduce themselves as what they are, part of a work family that has been laboring together for decades.
Together they produce the thousands of handmade garments ordered each year from as far away as England, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia. Fact is, any given cover of The Tidings (L.A.'s Catholic weekly), and many Masses celebrated across this nation and the world, will feature items from this single Carson shop.
If you grew up around this stuff it's fascinating to just stand in the hushed and cluttered showroom. Hovered over by a large statue of the Virgin Mary, this working place of samples and thread had me thinking that this is what it must have been like to shop in the 14th century.
Mind you, Delfino keeps a library of ecclesiastical books - including the always popular "Popes Through the Ages" - so priests, bishops, deacons (as well as Anglican and Episcopal priests, female Episcopal priests and priests from both denominations who shift to Roman Catholicism) can pretty much choose any style from any age and be assured that its every detail will be hand-stitched and computer-copied to the smallest detail and the latest fashion. With the so-called "fiddle-back" design now enjoying a revival after some centuries of disuse. [Well, it never went out at St. Agnes and "decades" would be a better term than "centuries."]
Still, they have some great chasubles on display. These being the often highly decorated, bat-winged outermost layer of a suit of arcane clothing that includes (as you certainly know) the alb, amice, surplice and cope. [Don't forget the maniple for the really orthodox!]
On a recent morning they had a few chasubles on sale for as low as $75 [Made of paper?]. But their color catalog features some wonderful examples that range in price from $750 to $1,350.
Naturally priests don't have that kind of money unless they are dipping into the poor box, which is why most vestments (and the restoration of sometimes very old ones) are paid for by church patrons, family and friends.
This goes for chalices as well, which they design here. The beautiful custom-made communion cups [Cups are for coffee!] sell in the $950 range, and each new priest gets one [Only if he has deep pocket friends or relatives].
The trouble, if you can call it that, with this booming business is Delfino herself.
"I haven't learned to say no," said the Canadian-born businesswoman of an unusual clientele that, for reasons all their own, do their ordering at the very last minute. That also goes for new altar cloths, banners and all manner of sewn items that often must be designed by staff artist Jim Cecchetti before being run up on a massive, computerized and clattering $80,000 Brother embroidery machine.
On a recent weekend it was a last-minute call for a 60-person investiture of deacons (sort of JV priests) in Santa Barbara. With each set of deaconly vestments, as Delfino put it, "expected to look absolutely the same and absolutely different."
The ordination of four new priests in L.A. in June and 15 in Menlo Park meant 19 priestly "wish lists" and four complete sets of vestments for each. And while they may be priests, they are also guys, which means that ordering the outfits isn't always top of the list.
Still, they need everyday albs and chasubles and all the silken high-Mass and holy-day finery, stuff that is designed and built to last a lifetime. Or two because the things get passed on. On top of that, the church works in Liturgical time, which means that somebody is likely to wake up a few weeks ahead of the fact and realize that they need new items for Easter or Christmas.
"This we accommodate with overtime and a lot of juggling. Most of it is custom, most of it requires just going with our creativity. Luckily, this is not Nordstrom. Nobody calls to yell at us or complain, and rarely is an item returned," said this woman who spends most weekends visiting churches just to see how her new creations fit the holy show [liturgy]. "I now know more about the Roman, Byzantine and Orthodox Catholic churches than even I can believe and I know all the saints (most have been featured on vestments). And I think that I understand why there has been an upsurge in our business.
"We are complacent when things are good. But when times are bad, people return to church in search of meaning and solid values. Suddenly making an offering of new vestments for a priest seems important."
Important and, here, well done. Like an offering. S. Calif. Daily Breeze