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Couturier to the Heavens and Above, continued

Mr. Boylan rediscovered his faith 12 years ago, at the Church of St.Luke in the Field on Hudson Street. His partner was a parishioner there, and one Sunday Mr. Boylan went along for the ride. ''I was blown away by the aesthetics -- my senses were quite literally flooded,'' said Mr. Boylan, who was raised Roman Catholic on Staten Island, the youngest of six, and whose early church experiences were confined to Mass in a building that doubled as a bingo hall. ''There wasn't much for me in the Catholic Church,'' he said, ''but there was in the Episcopal Church. All of a sudden I could be a gay man and have a spiritual life.''

Mr. Boylan, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, was searching for a creative life, too: for a way out of the garment business. He had had his own company, Matwear, which made maternity clothes. At the urging of Mr. Hockett, Mr. Boylan approached Graham French, a vestment maker who is a member of St. Luke's and who had created the vestments for the church after a fire destroyed its collection in the early 1980's. The two collaborated on a project, and Mr. Boylan learned the basics.

If you flick through the pages of the CM Almy catalog, which is one of the largest vesture manufacturers, with its design-your-own copes and cookie-cutter orphreys, you get an idea of why Mr. Boylan is so sought-after. And if what is happening all across Protestantism is, in the words of Paul Wilkes, author of ''In Mysterious Ways: The Death and Life of a Parish Priest'' (Grove/Atlantic), ''a real return to what we call the sacramentals,'' this more traditional liturgical approach wants to be dressed accordingly.

''The bare-bones, nothing-but-a-Bible kind of thing is not feeding the senses,'' Mr. Wilkes said. ''So what you see is the churches trying to appeal to the senses in the best sense of the word: they realize that liturgy and vestments are a way to inflame the senses, that these make another path to God.''

On the Friday before last, Mr. Boylan's red damask chasubles made their first processional, for the ordination of St. Mary's new curate, the Rev. Matthew Weiler. Father Weiler is 31, fresh from the Yale Divinity School. ''It felt quite literally beautiful to wear them,'' he said the other day. ''And I mean that in an almost Platonic sense. Because you know to see something beautiful or to feel it is to get some glimpse of what God is like. It was very, very moving.'' Mr. Boylan said he would like to design vesture for all sorts of settings. ''St. Patrick's would be interesting,'' he said. ''But I'd also like to make things for a little church in Iowa, for whom all this richness isn't really appropriate.''

A bridge line?

''Something like that,'' Mr. Boylan said. ''My sister told me to call it Fallen From Grace.''

Originally printed in The
New York Times,
December 9, 2001,
Sunday STYLE DESK

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