Fashion Now Archive

Gravity Fatigue: Hussein Chalayan’s Foray into Dance


Gravity Fatigue - Image 1

Gravity Fatigue, directed by Hussein Chalayan was at Sadler’s Wells from the 28th-31st October 2015

Enter: three dancers, each wearing a white, pleated, knee-length skirt and a boxy jacket with a high collar pulled up to the nose. In step, they make their way around the stage in a manner that can only be described as hula-like – their hips moving in short jerking motions, sending the skirts swishing from side to side, their legs moving as if independent from their bodies.

Soon, they are joined by another trio wearing long black coats. Slowly, but picking up speed, the dancers begin to spin, three at a time, on the spot; the hulas become whirling dervishes. The jackets are unzipped and left to fall. As they do it transpires that they are attached to the skirts and an underbody, with the inside of the jacket covered in multi-coloured sequins. The jackets whirl around the dancers as they spin, creating a mesmerising, hypnotic effect.

This is Gravity Fatigue at its finest – the title of a new performance created by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan for Sadler’s Wells, London. The designer was commissioned by the contemporary dance company and worked alongside choreographer, Damien Jalet, to produce the 1h 15minute performance that showed over four days from the 28th-31st October 2015. Although this was the first time that Chalayan – known for his inter-disciplinary practice – had directed a dance piece, it was not the first time he had shown his work on Sadler’s stage, having used the venue for his famous 2000 A/W show, Afterwards: a commentary on the horror of displacement in wartime that saw models transforming furniture into clothes.

A page from the official programme showing sketches by Chalayan for each of the short tableaux.

A page from the official programme showing sketches by Chalayan for each of the short tableaux.

Officially the ‘hula-dervishes’ were Body Split, dance number 7 out of 18 tableaux that made up the performance, each undeniably stamped with Chalayan’s – aesthetic and thematic – mark. As one might expect, fabric was a central element of the show, in terms of both costumes and set design. The possibilities or restraints provided by fabric formed the starting point for the dancers’ movements, as Chalayan played on themes such as gender, religion, technology, migration, and the self in modern reality.

Photographs in the official programme of dancers in rehearsal

Photographs in the official programme of dancers in rehearsal

Despite these weighty topics the dances never strayed far from a playful humour. Fabric was made to perform alongside the bodies of the dancers, pushing the boundaries of what might normally be expected from material, in classic Chalayan innovation. One tableau, for example, saw the dancer’s dress itself appear to dance. As she stood rooted to the spot it moved and mutated autonomously, and disconcertingly, around her hips.

The fact that Chalayan was entrusted with the role of director, despite his previous lack of dance experience, is a testament to his abilities to cross disciplines in a meaningful and thought provoking way. Significantly, he refers to the experience of creating the show as ‘one of the most important projects in my development as a designer/artist.’  Certainly, Gravity Fatigue brought together two media in a way that created an exciting and enthralling perspective on fashion, material and its relationship with the body.


Chaos Magic: In Search of Identity in the (Post-) Internet Age

the cover of K-Hole's report #5

the cover of K-Hole’s report #5

Chaos Magic

Chaos Magic

A small white logo in the middle of a jarring green page. A series of letters form a crooked ring around a shaky K. This is the cover of Report #5: A Report on Doubt, the latest offering from K-HOLE, artist-collective-cum-trend-forecasting-group. The PDF report is 36 pages of brightly coloured WordArt-like text, set on clashing backgrounds alongside internet-sourced photographs and stock imagery. The text, in a tone somewhere between conversational, mockingly humorous and gravely academic, is uncompromising, challenging, even deliberately obtuse.

Through analysis of consumerism and branding, intended as conceptual propositions, K-HOLE’s reports express anxious efforts to situate and understand identity in the uncertain (post-) internet age. Significantly, ‘k-hole’ refers to the dislocated state that may be experienced after taking the drug ketamine.

Although not everyone will have heard of K-HOLE, many will have come across ‘Normcore’, the term the group employed in their 2013 report to describe the idea of embracing unoriginality in order to achieve freedom. After being confused by the press with another of the group’s terms, ‘Acting Basic’, an over-night trend for fleece and Birkenstocks was born. Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Normcore mix-up, the group seems to be attempting to distance itself from fashion – a subject it already had a complicated relationship with.



A Report on Doubt proposes ‘Chaos Magic’ as the successor to Normcore.  Chaos Magic is not a new concept – according to Wikipedia, it emerged in the 1970s. Although the original meaning relates to a practical application of magic – involving magicians and rites – K-HOLE borrows not only the name but, crucially, the idea of belief as magic, suggesting a new approach to experiencing reality. The report proposes Chaos Magic as the idea that, ‘Belief becomes a technology that creates change’. Chaos Magic is about embracing the uncertainty of why things happen: you don’t have to know how; you just have to believe that they will. As K-HOLE member, Emily Segal, explains in a recent interview for ‘What’s important is how people are experiencing the world, experiencing their spirituality, experiencing anxiety, so there is a motion back toward the emotional landscape of consumers.’

Once again, the fashion press has seized upon this new concept in a literal way, seemingly ignoring K-HOLE’s conceptual intentions. There have been no fewer than three separate fashion related Guardian/Observer articles on the topic in two weeks. One is entitled ‘10 ways to get the Chaos Magic look’ and presents the reader with a shopping list consisting of glittery shoe-boots, sequin-festooned boyfriend jeans and an evil-eye bracelet.


However, beyond suggestions that people don galaxy-print jackets and crystal-ball inspired brogues, there perhaps lies a more nuanced way for fashion to engage with Chaos Magic. Fashion, after all, is no stranger to exploring issues of contemporary identity. As Joanne Entwhistle comments in her book, The Fashioned Body, ‘Fashion, dress and consumption provide ways of dealing with the problems of the modern world, characterised by increasing fragmentation and sense of chaos. Fashion opens up possibilities for framing the self, however temporarily’ (p.139). Fashion has a historical precedent of acting as a tool with which to come to terms with the changing technological world: consider post-war modernity and fashion’s role in refiguring the subject. Fashion is an important device which people use to grapple with experiential issues of contemporary identity through materiality.

In this overlapping concern with identity, there is potential for a truly interesting dialogue between K-HOLE and fashion. However, in order to allow this to emerge, a different approach is required. Rather than settling for a literal aesthetic of the magical through a set of style commandments (star-spangled footwear…), perhaps we should be mobilising the concept of Chaos Magic to think about new ways of approaching and experiencing dress. The real magic of K-HOLE’s concept comes from the myriad of possibilities which open themselves up to you, if only first you can let go and believe.


Find all of K-HOLE’s reports on their website –
Joanne Entwhistle, The Fashioned Body (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000)

Louis Vuitton Series Three

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Louis Vuitton’s enigmatically titled exhibition, ‘Series 3,’ has taken over 180 Strand, just a few doors down from the Courtauld. It documents Nicholas Ghesquiere’s inspirations for his fourth ready-to-wear show as the Artistic Director for women’s collections at Louis Vuitton.

Before going to the exhibition, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There is very little information available on Louis Vuitton’s website, and I was only aware that it was even happening having walked past the venue. (I have since, however, been absolutely inundated with advertising for it, which is unsurprising). Upon arrival, I was met by an army of people, dressed identically in black suits with white shirts. Their crisp, stark appearance was, I soon realized, to be echoed throughout the exhibition space. The entrance, as well as all the hallways connecting the rooms were a bright, somewhat severe, white. The rooms housing the displays, however, were an immersive, loud, bright, highly sensory experience. The first room, entered via a white tunnel, displayed a trunk hanging from the ceiling. The round walls played a repeating montage of video clips, some of models talking about their experience of working for Louis Vuitton, others of the same models, marching down the catwalk, interspersed with alternating flashes of the famous LV print and white noise, which spun at an increasing speed around the walls. The whole thing was enough to make the visitor just dizzy and nauseous enough that they had to stagger into the next space. Bright lights, loud music and rapid moving images were employed again and again by the curators, in an attempt to make the experience as immersive, and subsequently memorable, as possible.

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The aim of the whole exhibition, was, it quickly became apparent, to emphasize the genius of Ghesquiere, and elevate him to the status of a revered and respected artist. The exhibition guide described the show as a ‘stream of consciousness, dreams and self-reflexive journeys… The designer’s careful thoughts pair with a  delicate artisanal touch.’ This idea of the designer as a genius, and the exhibition as an insight into his inspiration and psyche is reiterated again and again, creating a ‘sensorial journey, venturing deep into the designer’s soul and an artisan’s heart.’ The curators were evidently far less concerned with conveying any information about Louis Vuitton or the new collection.

 The handmade quality of the objects in the collection was also a prominent theme of the exhibition. In one room, the viewer was encouraged to sit at a wooded table, and watch a real time video of the maker’s hands, carefully crafting a clutch bag. The description of this room tells the viewer that ‘each craftsman’s movement is that of an artist.’ Like Ghesquiere, the creators are heralded as artistic heroes, however, unlike the designer, whose name is the most prominent aspect of the exhibition, they remain completely anonymous. In this room, it is only their hands on show. In a later room, the visitor met the maker, head on. Two women were sat at desks, carefully crafting clutch bags. They were surrounded by an intricate system of lights and cameras, projecting videos of their hands onto screens behind them. The act of making a bag was turned into a performance, and the women a spectacle.

a video showing the hands of an anonymous maker

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The visitors were first shown the collection about half way through the exhibition, in a large, bright room with mirrors lining every wall. Lifesize videos of models marched to the pumping beat on large free standing screens. The effect was clever, making the visitor feel as if they were actually at the show, however, again the clothes of secondary importance to the room itself. The information for this room was quick to reinforce Ghesquiere’s position at the top of the pyramid, stating ‘… 45 models, one designer- Ghesquiere.’

Floor to ceiling mirrors were employed in nearly every room, creating the effect of never ending, infinite space. However, they also caused the visitor to look at themselves too, alongside Ghesquiere’s collection. From a curatorial point of view, this forces the viewer to, perhaps subconsciously, compare themselves to the glamourous collection, or imagine themselves wearing it, giving the exhibition an aspiration quality. This was extremely apparent in the final room, in which the entire collection hung in open Perspex boxes. Visitors were not only allowed, but encouraged to touch things, pick them up and open them. The guide for this room read ‘clothes speak to the women to wishes to own them,’ and I overheard a tour guide dub the room ‘every woman’s dream come true- the walk in wardrobe.’ It was clear that, upon entering the room, the visitors were meant to covet the luxurious, fur coats and elaborate jewel encrusted skirts.

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The mirrors also served another function: they made the rooms the perfect setting for the ultimate selfie. They had clearly been conceived of as the most instagrammable rooms ever (it suddenly became apparent why the wifi password had been displayed so prominently in the entrance!), which was a hugely clever PR technique from Louis Vuitton. Every visitor in the exhibition with me was lapping up the opportunity to take the artsiest selfie they could, which, presumably, they would soon share on social media, creating the desired buzz around Ghesquiere’s new collection during Fashion Week season. I couldn’t help thinking throughout that this was one of the most elaborate and immersive marketing strategies I had ever seen.

in selfie heaven

in selfie heaven

This was definitely not most informative fashion exhibition- I left feeling scarcely more knowledgeable about Louis Vuitton than when I arrived. In fact, I would scarcely call it an exhibition,  but rather the most lavish example of experiential marketing I have ever seen. It was an eye-opening foray into the techniques design houses use to promote their collections. In terms of marketing, the exhibition was enormously clever, because it created an experience that no visitor could resist photographing and sharing. It seemed to be an exhibition for exhibition’s sake. The actual collection was of secondary importance to the exhibition itself, and very little information was provided. However, where it succeeded was creating an unforgettable experience, and, even if the visitors can’t remember what one garment in the collection looks like, they will definitely remember that it was by Louis Vuitton.

Cactuses and Paper Dresses: Frida Kahlo at the New York Botanical Gardens

cactuses in the Enid A Haupt conservatory in the NY Botanical Gardens, inspired by Frida's collection of cactuses in the Casa Azul

cactuses in the Enid A Haupt conservatory in the NY Botanical Gardens, inspired by Frida’s collection of cactuses in the Casa Azul

a replica of Frida's desk, in the conservatory at the NY Botanical Gardens

a replica of Frida’s desk, in the conservatory at the NY Botanical Gardens

Humberto Spindola's sculpture, inspired by Frida Kahlo's The Two Fridas

Humberto Spindola’s sculpture, inspired by Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas

The New York Botanical Garden has been transformed into a Mexican, Frida Kahlo-esque paradise.  The Enid A Haupt conservatory, a huge Victorian greenhouse, is now full of cactuses, Frida’s great botanical love. The Casa Azul, the house in which Frida was born, and where she spent most of her adult life with her husband Diego Rivera, has been replicated within the conservatory. The strong blue colour that is so characteristic of the Casa Azul, and from which it derives its name, serves as a backdrop for the hundreds of prickly plants.

The garden is accompanied by a small collection of Kahlo’s paintings that exemplify her interest in and passion for plants and botanical drawings. The lifelike realism with which she rendered floral imagery in her paintings suggests that she was a keen and knowledgeable horticulturalist.

I studied Kahlo’s representation of dress in her paintings, and her own dress, extensively for my MA dissertation, so I was happy to make the trek out to New York’s Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The most interesting aspect of the exhibition was, in my opinion, Humberto Spindola’s lifesize recreation of the two figures in Kahlo’s famous painting The Two Fridas. The painting is a double self portrait; the two identical women sit side by side, holding hands. As in many of Kahlo’s self-portraits, dress is an important tool employed to depict a sense of strong Mexican national pride. The clothing worn by the figure on the right in The Two Fridas is very similar to other depictions of dress in her works, including My Dress Hangs There. The Mexican outfit, indigenous to the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, comprised of woven huipil and floorlength skirt, was also worn by Kahlo herself in her day to day life. Frida adopted this style of dress during her early adult life, and continued to wear it until her death. To her, this style of clothing was deeply implicated in her socialist political views and a symbol of her strong feelings of national pride. Since her death, the Tehuantepec style of clothing has taken on connotations as a symbol of the artist herself, and is used by many, including Spindola, as a homage to Kahlo.

My Dress Hangs There, Frida Kahlo,

My Dress Hangs There, Frida Kahlo

Spindola’s work, which stood alone in a rotunda, is a powerful example of how Kahlo’s dress has been transformed into a symbol of her identity. Although recognizable as the scene from The Two Fridas, his sculpture depicts only the figures’ clothing. Their bodies are simple reed canes, woven to create the three-dimensional figures. From a distance, the frames almost disappear into the background, creating the illusion of the dresses floating in space. The clothes, despite their realistic appearance, are made from amate paper using a traditional Aztec technique, posing an interesting question about the role of dress in art and art in dress. Many of the clothes Kahlo depicted in her paintings were real garments that she owned and wore on a regular basis. After her death, Rivera demanded that Kahlo’s bathroom and dressing room remain locked for a minimum period of fifty years, and, in 2004, when the rooms were finally opened by the conservators and curators at the Casa Azul, many of the clothes discovered inside were in perfect condition thanks to the dark, cool environment. Many were very similar, or indeed identical, to those Kahlo rendered in paint. For her, the garments she painted were very personal, real life objects. Often, as in My Dress Hangs There, clothing stands in for a human figure, acting as a form of self-portrait. However, for the millions of people who have looked at Kahlo’s paintings since her death, the dresses she depicted are nothing more than two-dimensional images. Spindola has played on this paradox between clothing that, to Frida, was very real and everyday, but to an audience was nothing more than a potent painted symbol. In creating these dresses in a lifesize, three-dimensional format, Spindola places them back in the ‘real’ world. But, not quite. Especially when approaching them from a flight of stairs, as the curators of the exhibition enforce, they seem almost like real women, a likelike incarnation of Frida herself. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that they are made of paper on a reed frame, and are therefore entirely unwearable. These dresses that have lived purely in the cultural memory of the post-Frida generations have been taken off the canvas and into the three-dimensional world by Spindola, yet remain just as fragile and unwearable.

The Two Fridas

The Two Fridas


Denise Rosenzweig and Magdelena Rosenzweig (eds), Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: Frida’s Wardrobe, Fashion from the Museo Frida Kahlo, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007)

Favourite Fashion Instagrams

Documenting Fashion writers share their favourite fashionable feeds:

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Alexis @dapper_kid
Courtauld alum Syed can make anything fashionable, from an embroidery detail to a light bulb. And it connects to a thought provoking (and equally dapper) blog (

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Rebecca – @duroolowu
Designer Duro Olowu’s posts are always beautiful and inspiring. A really great, well-curated selection of images

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Rosie – @marthaward
Martha Ward is a freelance fashion stylist and editor. Her dreamy instagram, full of beautiful pictures of clothes, art, flowers and travel, will make you want to run away to a remote country cottage filled with roses and surrounded by fields, but taking your best designer gowns with you!

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Brianna @simplicitycity
A combination of 20th century fashion photography and active curation of subject matter, style and form, each image that simplicitycity posts resonates with the present day. Minimal descriptions serve to grant the images with renewed relevance and a sense of timelessness at once- they belong just as much to the present as they do the past, yet it is only the date of the images that suggest otherwise.

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Rebecca  @charlottedicarcaci
Tantalising and beautiful – details of paintings that focus of aspects of dress.

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Rosie – @paperfashion
Katie Rodgers is a New York based artist who hand paints beautifully simple, fairy-like fashion illustrations. Follow for pictures of floaty dresses, easels in sunflower fields and ballet dancers.

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Rebecca @thefashionablereader
Wide ranging selection of books and journals from the poster’s enviable collection. Perfect for summer reading inspiration!

Ekocycle: Make Do and Mend for the 21st Century?

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‘ is building a whole new world, one recycled micron at a time.’ That is the claim made by the website of Ekocycle, the brand he founded in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company to promote, design and sell clothing made from recycled materials. The company sells trendy, eco-conscious clothing created in conjunction with many different designers both online and in Harrods.

The whole thing is done in a very over-the-top, very way. However, it’s hard to forget that what they’re doing is actually a really good thing. Amidst the silliness – ‘until now recycling hasn’t been the stuff of legend- not the best selfie material’ – there is a hard-hitting and important message. The website states: ‘we see sustainability as “the” revolutionary social material of our time. Efforts to combat climate change and green initiatives are often sidelined by propaganda and political shuffling- but our goal is to help sow the seeds of change…’

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Many of the garments are made from 100% recycled plastic or PET bottles and are produced using the most energy-efficient methods available. The aim is to encourage people to recycle by demonstrating how already used things can be turned into some new, completely different and exciting. The idea is to evolve from a clothing range into a whole movement, which encourages people to recycle and encourage others to follow suit.

Exploring the Ekocycle website, and snooping through their range in Harrods (perhaps the only retailer where a backpack can sell for £1,415), I am prompted to consider the role fashion has to play in the future of sustainable living. Fashion is, by its very nature, one of the least sustainable commodities. In today’s culture, where novelty and individuality are desired above all else, clothing is bought, worn and discarded on a near seasonal cycle. We are taught to value the new to such an extent that our clothing habits can become somewhat wasteful. We rush to buy cheap clothing that we can wear once and throwaway, to ensure that our look is constantly being updated. However, this is causing huge problems for our planet. An estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothing (worth 140m) is thrown away each year. Consumers today need to learn to change their shopping habits from bulk-buying cheap, disposable clothing to reusing, adapting and upcycling old garments. Ekocycle is attempting to pave the way for a new consumer who shops ethically. The problem with this plan is the cost. It is inconceivable for most shoppers today to spend the kind of money Ekocycle is demanding for its clothing. Until sustainable fashion is more budget friendly, it seems the inevitable truth is that people will continue to buy the cheapest clothing they can, and indulge their desire to constantly refresh their wardrobe.

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However, this view of clothing as something disposable is very modern. During the Second World War, and in the years that followed it, clothing was rationed, and so it was seen as a precious commodity. Nothing was thrown away if it could be restored, and old things were constantly being adapted into new garments. Campaigns such as ‘Make Do and Mend’ encouraged the kind of resourcefulness that is lacking in today’s consciousness. People were expected to wear a garment until it no longer fit, or had lost all structural integrity, but then, instead of throwing it away, it was changed into something new by reusing the material.

Perhaps what and Ekocycle are doing isn’t so modern, despite the futuristic designs of their clothes. It seems, in fact, that they are merely resurrecting an old ideal of reusing and readapting to prolong the life of a material. Our Grannies- the kind of women who would repair continuously to avoid throwing something away- would recognise something of themselves in this brand. The old curtains and tablecloths that fill anecdotal evidence about wartime clothing have been replaced by plastic bottles, however the concept of turning something old into something new remains exactly the same.

‘Handprint’: The Double Fingerprint of Fashion

One of the most powerful and memorable chapters I read as part of the History of Dress MA course was Kitty Hauser’s ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin’ (2005), in which she describes a series of bombings and robberies that took place in 1996 in the Spokane area of Washington. What was remarkable about this case was that the culprit was identified by his clothes: the seams and hems on their jeans showed patterns of wear and fade that were so distinct to the wearer that they acted almost like his fingerprint at the crime scene, allowing the detectives to eventually identify him.

Hauser’s article claims that each person’s clothes bear the imprint of the body of the wearer, becoming a second unique ‘fingerprint.’ However, it is not only the trace of the wearer that is visible on a garment. Clothing does not gain individuating features only from the consumer; the mark of the maker is also present. Visible traces of the creator’s hands can be seen in the structure of each garment, especially along seams and hems, where the subtle differences in the way they work the sewing machines will result in tensions building up in the material. Each piece is not a tabula rasa, it is already a highly personalized record of the maker long before it is worn.

Hauser’s article seems particularly pertinent in relation to the recent Fashion Revolution Day, which took place on April 24, and was conceived as a way to encourage consumers to be more conscious when making clothing choices and to consider where it has come from. It is especially concerned with raising awareness of the unethical sweatshop conditions that many thousands of people, often women, must endure for hours a day in return for very little pay. It encourages consumers to think about what the human cost of their cheap clothing is.

Last year, I attended a Fashion Revolution Day film screening and panel discussion focusing on the issue of ethical fashion. The film, directed by Mary Nighy and entitled ‘Handmade,’ was awarded silver in the Young Director Category at the Cannes Lions in 2014 and highlights the exact same concept that Hauser discusses. It begins with a scene that will be all too familiar to many fashion conscious women: clothes, accessories and shoes are strewn across the floor of a bathroom, while a girl wrapped in a towel washes her face and then proceeds to get dressed.

But it is not her hands that slip her dress over her back, zip it up, fasten her belt and put in her earrings. Multiple hands of different ages and ethnicities dress this glamorous woman; then, she looks in the mirror, and the faces of these people are revealed. The film ends with the quotation ‘you carry the stories of the people that make your clothes,’ forcing the viewer to be more conscious and curious when purchasing their clothes. As in Hauser’s essay, the dress already carries the identities and memory of the people who made it.

To the consumer, the people who make our clothes are completely anonymous, invisible and silent, however, their mark is all over our most personal objects, and therefore there may be more of a connection between creator and wearer than one might think.



Kitty Hauser, ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin,’ in Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans (eds) Fashion and Modernity, (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005) pp 153-170


Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in June we will be posting the MA and PhD Dress History students’ responses to their chosen texts that constitute our ‘500 Years of Dress Historiography’ display, which is currently on show in the Courtauld Institute of Art. The display was created as part of our 50 Years of Dress History at the Courtauld celebrations, and was on display for our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women’. The display was a collaboration between the History of Dress department at the Courtauld and the Fashion Museology department at London College of Fashion. We hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as we did the texts and come back to the blog on Wednesday for the first in the series.

‘Second Skin’ Exhibition at London’s City Hall

Jennifer Rothwell's garment

Jennifer Rothwell’s garment

Natalie B Coleman's garment

Natalie B Coleman’s garment

Joanne Hynes' garment

Joanne Hynes’ garment

London’s City Hall is perhaps the least likely venue for an exhibition on sustainable fashion, however it was the setting for the recent ‘Second Skin,’ an exhibition that first opened in Ireland and came to London for a week in late March. It was part of the Irish Design 2015 programme and posed a challenge to four Irish fashion labels to source and create a garment totally within Ireland.

Lennon Courtney's garment

Lennon Courtney’s garment

The exhibition, nestled right at the bottom of the round glass building, displayed the finished garments, as well as photographs from the process of their manufacture. Starting with a series of fairly shocking facts about the fashion industry, such as ‘the Chinese textile industry creates about three billion tons of soot each year,’ and ‘in the UK 1.4 million tons of clothing is dumped onto landfills annually,’ it highlighted the ethical issues caused by the production and consumption of clothing.  In the past three decades, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed, and therefore it is vital that the fashion industry adapts its practices. There are, of course, also the humanitarian concerns that the production of clothing creates, such as the sweatshop conditions that many people, often young children, must work in to make the garments that we buy. It is often easy to overlook the ethical and environmental issues posed by the fashion industry, so displaying them so starkly is an important wake up call for many people. The objects on display in ‘Second Skin’ address these issues, as they are created using purely locally sourced materials and by Irish workers who were paid a fair wage.

 Curator Louise Allen writes that ‘today we have become used to fast fashion [however] we don’t tend to consider the collective impact of our individual buying patterns.’ This desire for cheap clothing that is not made to last is a fairly new phenomenon. For most of the twentieth century, the emphasis was on high quality clothing that could be worn for a long period of time. Our contemporary throwaway attitude is one of the main problems facing, and indeed caused by, the fashion industry, and something that the designers in ‘Second Skin’ seek to address.

The garments created by brands Natalie B Coleman, Joanne Hynes, Lennon Courtney and Jennifer Rothwell for the exhibition are the opposite of cheap, convenience clothes. They are handmade and unique garments, all inspired by aspects of Ireland. Natalie B Coleman, for example, was inspired by books from her childhood, such as ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series by Enid Blyton, and worked with textile artist Caroline Schofield to create objects both dark and whimsical. Jennifer Rothwell drew her inspiration from folklore and mythology, working with artist Harry Clarke to create a dress that resembled stained glass windows. She used vivid purples, blues, oranges and reds to depict the Eve of St Agnes. She claims to want to reignite the Celtic revival of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries today.

Sonya Lennon, of Lennon Courtney, worked with a local furniture designer to create the wooden shoulder pads that adorn her dress. She says that ‘the real value of producing in Ireland is in developing collaborative relationships.’ This intimate working relationship, that used to be so important in homemade and handmade clothes, is lost when garments are made by many different people who are part of a large system. Joanne Hynes also worked with local craftsmen to create her knitted garment, however, her use of 3D printing is aspirational and looks towards the future of textile production.

The 'Second Skin' exhibition space

The ‘Second Skin’ exhibition space

This exhibition served to highlight the importance of sustainability in fashion, especially in the years to come. It also showed how unique and beautiful clothing can be when created by local craftsmen and using locally sourced materials. It also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary fashion manufacturing process. The one shame is that it was on display in London for such a limited period, and in such an unheard of and little advertised exhibition space.


De Djess: A Cinderella Story for MiuMiu

De Djess

The Ninth Women’s Tale for MiuMiu’s Spring Summer 2015 collection is told from the perspective of a newborn dress, or ‘djess,’ according to the film’s fictitious gamelot. In Alice Rohrwacher’s film, the dress, animated by stop-motion, is no mere piece of stuff, but a fully sentient being. According to animator Michaelangel Fornaro, being a feminine object, the dress had to possess the delicate, deft mannerisms of a woman. Certainly, thanks to an internal rig, its white satin body ripples with emotion, and the fringe of polyp-like beads that fringe its deep neckline, function as sensitive antennae.

The dress, which is different from its gaudier sisters in the collection, with their graphic prints, suggestive cuts and jazzy embellishments, resonates with fairytale or indeed couture show endings. Those familiar with either form, might comprehend that the white, ethereal garment is a wedding dress, and that it is saving itself for someone special.

The dress’s original intended is Divina, an Anita Ekberg-like actress with a halo of platinum blonde hair and a hibiscus-red mouth, who courts the paparazzi in a tight, scarlet pencil skirt. However, when the dress is presented to her in her hotel suite, where she reigns supreme in a white bullet bra and sheer tights, she is indifferent to it. She continues to talk on the telephone, despite entreaties from her agent, and caresses from the garment itself. After a tantrum, she reluctantly agrees to wear it, but the moment she touches it, the scorned dress mysteriously pricks her finger, and a drop of blood stains its white surface. It squeals in protest, and sobs ricochet through its satin body, as it sheds a trail of beads, and goes into hiding under the bed.

The dress and Divina’s mutual rejection of one another, somewhat evokes that of Cinderella’s stepsisters and the fateful slipper in Charles Perrault’s classic fairytale. Despite their best efforts, which include cutting off their toes,  in the Grimm Brothers’ later adaptation, the stepsisters cannot deceive the shoe, and by extension, the Prince, that it belongs to them. Rohrwacher’s cinematic tale draws upon the older fairytale’s premise that bespoke garments and their associated destinies, are the property of particular owners. However, her film is less morally clear than the Cinderella fairytale, because though Divina is blind to the dress’s extraordinary nature, she is wise enough to recognise that it is not for her.

De Djess 2

In another modification of the Cinderella story, the dress’s true intended, at first seems an unlikely candidate. A ingenuous, bare-faced, black maid, played by Yanet Majica, appears on scene, when she scrambles out from beneath the dust cloud of paparazzi. The viewer instantly recognises her as the highly-strung dress’s rightful wearer, because she is sensitive to every bead it sheds. However, she is initially  intercepted by a nun, who indicates that she must take it to Divina. Like Cinderella and the slipper, the maid and the dress find each other once more, and when she discards her maid’s uniform, it automatically glides up her stem-like body. If Perrault had scripted this tale, we might have expected the spot of blood to clear away in its contact with the maid’s virtuous flesh. However, Rohrwacher is once again more interesting, as the spot becomes the beginning of a cherry pattern that embroiders the dress.  Rohrwacher described this as the dress’s blossoming, because ‘it hadn’t already blossomed,’ and was therefore unfinished, prior to wear. Equally, the shy, serious maid, is incomplete without the dress, because she only smiles after she has put it on. As they step out to greet the zealous paparazzi, both dress and maid laugh audibly when they recognise that the latter have run out of battery. Thus, the dress lives happily ever after with the one who truly loves it, rather than merely wanting to capture its beauty. Rohrwacher thus subtly implies that aesthetic fulfilment is reached through the wear of bespoke garments, and not through the accumulation of images.


‘De Djess’ Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, for MiuMiu, Spring/Summer 2015. Posted on February 17, 2015

’De Djess’ Interview with Michaelangelo Fornaro. Published February 18, 2015.




The End of Fashion (Again)

Processed with Moldiv

On 1 March, reported on leading trend forecaster Li Edelkoort’s statement that ‘This is the end of fashion as we know it.’ In an interview, that drew upon her recent talk at Design Indaba in Cape Town, she set out her thesis that fashion has become self-absorbed and out of touch, and as such is irrelevant to the clothes (her new interest) that most people wear. After decrying bloggers, the decline of a connection between new designers, advertising and editorial, and noting a general malaise, Edelkoort identified the main source of potential as couture – which might rise again as the fount of fashions.

It is interesting that one of the designers she cited nostalgically as having created exciting and provocative shows in the past was Thierry Mugler. His huge, ticketed shows and spectacular theatrics of the early ‘90s, were themselves seen as a tipping point in fashion history. He was criticised as much at the time for being overly commercial, and including catwalk pieces that would never go into production and bore little relation to ‘clothes’.

So is this the ‘end of fashion’? Or just a new generation remaking the industry in its own image? It’s not the first time an insider has identified fashion’s finale. Teri Agins’ important book The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever of 2000, explored the ways fashion changed at the end of the millennium. She analysed the significance of wearable separates as the mainstay of high street brands and the importance of American designers at big name luxury labels, including Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, as signals of the industry’s identification of clothes rather than fashion as the mainstay of the future.

While this was a timely and thorough analysis of the status quo, what happened next was the rise of Top Shop, Zara et al, high street names that focused on high fashion as its main source for throwaway styles that referenced current trends. And, in the realm of luxury and couture, a resurgence in labels, and It bags, plus, more recently, a shift towards younger names, such as Alexander Wang at Balenciaga being employed to strike a balance between fashion and the kind of sporty clothes people on the street really wear.

This is not to say Edelkoort, or Agins are or were wrong, but rather to suggest it’s never the end of fashion, just another transition. Pressure on designers to produce more collections is unsustainable, as big names including Raf Simons and Olivier Theyskens have commented. Allied to this are the changes brought about by digital media, which have shifted power and undermined, or, to put a more positive spin on it, altered fashion criticism and commentary.  These, along with emerging technologies and globalization mean that the current, and to an even greater extent, the next generation of designers, marketers, writers working in fashion face different contexts and challenges. Couture’s resurgence in the last ten years, and online bespoke services are certainly one way in which changes within the industry are registering this. Customer demand is also highly significant, as consumers have greater access to information and the ability to have their opinions heard, directly and immediately.

So, rather than seeing this as an end, maybe it’s a transition, at times difficult, towards a fashion industry that fits the future.


Teri Agins, The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, (William Morrrow Paperbacks, 2000)