Fashion Now Archive

The Birth of Cool: A Research Forum Event

BOC-hi-res-jacket-for-Courtauld-e1464705512832-1024x672Please join us on Monday, 20 June for a Courtauld Institute Research Forum, The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. The event is organised by our own Dr Rebecca Arnold with guest speaker Carol Tulloch, the Professor of Dress, Diaspora and Transnationalism at the University of the Arts, London, based at the Chelsea College of Art. Carol Tulloch’s practice of research in dress studies has invariably been inspired by an image. This was the case for her recent publication The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. In this informal illustrated talk Carol will discuss the role images have played in the writing of her book and why certain images had to be included.

Carol Tulloch is also the Chelsea College of Arts/V&A Fellow in Black Visual and Material Culture at the V&A Museum. As writer and curator, Carol’s recent work includes: the book and exhibition Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism (co-editor and co-curator 2015), the articles A Riot of Our OwnA Reflection on Agency (2014), Buffalo: Style with Intent’ (2011), ‘Style-Fashion-Dress: From Black to Post-black’ (2010); and the exhibitions ‘The Flat Cloth Cap’ in Cabinet Stories (2015),  International Fashion Showcase: Botswana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone,British Council (2012), Handmade Tales: Women and Domestic Crafts, Women’s Library London (2010-11), Black British Style (co-curator 2004).

http://professorcaroltulloch.com

Event Details:

Monday 20 June 2016

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

http://courtauld.ac.uk/event/the-birth-of-cool-style-narratives-of-the-african-diaspora


The Research Forum “Dress Talks” is a series of lunchtime events bringing together a roster of invited speakers to talk about their current research, and encourage discussion about dress history now. Each term academics, curators and dress and fashion industry professionals will share their insight and analysis of an aspect of dress and fashion history to provide a platform for new ideas and approaches to the subject.

Taking place over the lunch hour, these sessions are free and open to all.

 

The Met Gala – A Forgotten History

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching The First Monday in May after at last finding it online (this took an unhealthy amount of time searching the depths of the internet as its UK debut is not until September, I suppose patience is a virtue that I lack). Ever since watching the trailer earlier this year I have anxiously awaited its release. The film marks the first time the Met gala has been the subject of a full-length documentary, and closely scrutinized by a relative fashion and art industry outsider. Critically acclaimed director Andrew Rossi has previously focused the attentions of his documentaries on industries such as journalism and education including, Page One: Inside the New York Times and Ivory Tower, but never the opaque fashion or art worlds.

The trailer promises to follow the creative process–with unprecedented access–behind the curation of “China: Through The Looking Glass,” the museum’s 2015 spring exhibition curated by Andrew Bolton exploring Chinese-inspired Western fashions, and an exclusive look at what it takes to organize the logistical Everest that is Met Gala. Co-Chaired by Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, the Gala has recently become known as the “super bowl of social fashion events”. It not only marks the grand opening of the spring exhibition, in this case “China”, but also functions to fundraise the Costume Institute’s operating budget for the entire year. #NoPressure

Overall, I immensely enjoyed the film, and do highly recommend watching it now that its on iTunes. However, I found that although it lived up to what it promised to deliver, and beyond in many senses (interviews with Harold Koda, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gautier in particular provided unique perspectives on the “Is Fashion Art?” debate), it missed an important opportunity to examine the Met Gala’s cultural significance within the fashion industry beyond its connections to celebrity culture. The film only briefly paid homage to former Vogue Editor, Diana Vreeland, whose contributions as a “special consultant” to Met in the 1970s (she joined in ’73) are largely credited with reinvigorating public interest in the Institute. And furthermore, it entirely overlooked the Costume Institute and the Gala’s deep connections with the development of the American fashion industry; especially the key role both played in establishing American designer sportswear as a legitimate alternative to Parisian haute couture in the post WWII era.

Indeed, since its founding in 1940 the Costume Institute has been an advocate for American sportswear. Not only did it function as a historical resource for New York-based fashion and theatre designers, it also served to establish the intellectual community and rhetoric needed to exalt the virtues of American fashion to the world, including words now commonly used: democratic, functional, rational and/or versatile.  For example, when the Museum of Costume became The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum in 1945, it presented an exhibition called “American Fashions and Fabrics” in collaboration with sportswear designers such as Clarepotter and Claire McCardall to showcase the skills of American sportswear designers, or as former Costume Institute curator Richard Martin said, “represent the unceasing creativity of American fashion”.

Lastly, and perhaps most sadly, the documentary overlooked the critical roles Eleanor Lambert, the renowned fashion publicist behind the creation of Fashion Week, the International Best Dressed List and “Battle of Versailles”; and Dorothy Shaver – the groundbreaking President of Lord & Taylor – played in the gala’s creation. Both collaborated in establishing the COTY American Fashion Critics’ Awards (the precursor to today’s CFDA awards), whose first ceremonies interestingly took place on January 22, 1943, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps they knew they were on to something because in 1948, almost 70 years ago, Lambert and Shaver went on to establish the Party of the Year, an annual fundraiser now known as… the Met Gala.

The dresses in this gallery, including the one featured in this image were by John Galliano for Christian Dior and Maison Margiela. Galliano was inspired by Beijing opera, an art formed governed by the overriding principle of beauty. The dresses were placed in a gallery that explored the exhibition's subtitle, "Through the Looking Glass," which translates into Chinese as "Moon in the Water," suggesting something that cannot be grasped and has both positive and negative connotations. Using a projector and the sounds of water dripping, the curator's created the impression of the moon rippling in water, reflected on the black laquer - a Chinese plastic used as an artistic medium for centuries. "When 'Moon in the Water,' is used to described a beautiful object, it can refer to a quality of perfection that is either so elusive and mysterious that the item becomes transcendent or so illusory and deceptive that it becomes untrustworthy." Quoted Text: Metropolitan Museum of Art Image: Carolina Reyes

The dresses in this gallery, including the one featured in this image were by John Galliano for Christian Dior and Maison Margiela. Galliano was inspired by Beijing opera, an art formed governed by the overriding principle of beauty. The dresses were placed in a gallery that explored the exhibition’s subtitle, “Through the Looking Glass,” which translates into Chinese as “Moon in the Water,” suggesting something that cannot be grasped and has both positive and negative connotations. Using a projector and the sounds of water dripping, the curator’s created the impression of the moon rippling in water, reflected on the black laquer – a Chinese plastic used as an artistic medium for centuries. “When ‘Moon in the Water,’ is used to described a beautiful object, it can refer to a quality of perfection that is either so elusive and mysterious that the item becomes transcendent or so illusory and deceptive that it becomes untrustworthy.” Quoted Text: Metropolitan Museum of Art Image: Carolina Reyes

A porcelain- inspired couture gown included in "China Through the Looking Glass". Image: Carolina Reyes

A blue-and-white porcelain- inspired couture gown included in “China Through the Looking Glass”. The exhibition pointed out that the story of blue-and-white porcelain encapsulates centuries of cultural exchannge between the East and the West. It was originally developed in Jingdezhen during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), and was exported to Europe as early as the sixteenth century. However, because of its popularity potters in the Netherlands, Germany and England began to produce their own imitations with a particular willow pattern, causing Chinese craftsmen to begin producing their own hand-painted versions of the willow pattern. Image: Carolina Reyes

A Chinese Calligraphy inspired dress by Dior. As the wall text pointed out, Dior was likely unaware of the semantic value of the words on his dresses, which in this case resulted in a humorous juxtaposition. The dress is adorned with characters from an eighth-century letter by Zhang Xu in which the author complains about a painful stomachache.

A Chinese Calligraphy inspired dress by Dior. As the wall text pointed out, Dior was likely unaware of the semantic value of the words on his dresses, which in this case resulted in a humorous juxtaposition. The dress is adorned with characters from an eighth-century letter by Zhang Xu in which the author complains about a painful stomachache. Image: Carolina Reyes

On the left: Eleanor Lambert On the right: Dorothy Shaver. Founders of the "Party of the Year" now known as the Met Gala.

On the left: Eleanor Lambert On the right: Dorothy Shaver. Founders of the “Party of the Year” now known as the Met Gala.

Undressed at The V&A

by Aric Reviere

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Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A Photo: Authors own

Last weekend, on my semi-regular sojourn to the V&A, I decided to attend the Fashion Department’s new exhibition “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” To my surprise the exhibition garnered quite a bit of attention the morning of my visit, with the exhibition space itself full of visitors and lines of spectators inching slowly past the glass displays of historic underwear and garments.

My initial expectation of the exhibition imagined the display to be a spattering of various undergarments from different eras, but with a noticeable emphasis on the corset and hoop skirt. To be fair, these elements were featured prominently in the display, and even though most of the visitors flocked to these body contorting contraptions, the rest of the exhibition presented a delightful overview of innovations in underwear from an impressive range of eras. I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on the evolution of lingerie design toward the end of the exhibition, which traced developments in the industry from the 1920s to the 1930s. Compared to the hyperbolic manipulation of the body evident in the miniscule waists of the corsets on display, the body sculpting garments from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s seem tamed. Upon closer examination, however, the garments’ structures constrict the form and manipulate it into an ideal shape. From an academic perspective, the garments provide a perfect point from which to examine the power structures connected to standards of beauty. They enable the viewer to question what motivated a wearer (and still does) to physically transform their body via the adornment of garments that often use metal structures to manipulate the form? What gaze ultimately develops that definition of beauty and through networks disseminates and propagates an entire system of dress to elevate certain ideals? How do such beauty ideals limit the wearer’s agency within various social contexts, but also enhance his/her agency within others?

The second half of the exhibition attempted to blur the demarcation between under garments, lingerie, etc., and outerwear through the presentation a numerous outfits from the V&A’s permanent collection. Personally, I found this section disconnected from the first half of the exhibition with certain ensembles on display not particularly resonating with the exhibition’s theme. With that said, I must admit that the Ulyana Sergeenko couture pieces were to die for and on my list of most coveted items.

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Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A Photo: Authors own

 

Ulaan Sergeenko Couture, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A. Photo: Authors own

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A. Photo: Authors own

Performing for the Camera at Tate Modern: Dress & No Dress

Amalia Ulman, from Excellences and Perfections, 2014; Yves Klein, ‘Leap into the Void’ (Saut dans le Vide), Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, 1960.

Amalia Ulman, from Excellences and Perfections, 2014; Yves Klein, ‘Leap into the Void’ (Saut dans le Vide), Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, 1960.

Clad in his classic bourgeois suit, Yves Klein leaps into the void. Captured in a Christ-like posture, his silhouette hovers over a street, the deadly landing point of the Parisian bitume in view. It is perhaps the void that Amalia Ulman evokes too – a hollowed sense of identity left to exist solely through Instragram snapshots. Klein opens the Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera, Amalia Ulman acts as an allusive conclusion.

As an additional shot reveals, a group of Klein’s friends holding the tarpaulin into which the French artist was meant to safely fall was erased through photomontage. The photograph was then printed on the front page of a spoof newspaper, disseminating the aura of Klein’s eerie figure to the masses. Ulman’s lingerie selfie is a shot from her instagram feed, blown up to museum proportions. It is taken from a three-part tale, in which the artist assumes the identity of a provincial girl with dreams of making it in LA, and acts out her downfall into drugs, surgery, and suggestive selfies. Finally, redemption – in the form of juices, yoga, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Klein’s image condenses many of the themes the exhibition sets to unpick: the camera as record of an art performance, the photographic image as the site for which the performance is conceived, and finally the photographic document as proof – conscious or unconscious – of a performed identity, whether part of the work itself as an intentional act of self promotion for instance (Koons’ magazine advertisements) or as an attempt to create a seemingly authentic (artistic) persona (Klein’s suit). This last aspect is not overtly addressed by the exhibition but lingers over it, as artists dress or undress for the camera.

Artistic authenticity comes in the form of nudity, or so it seems considering the vast number of images of naked performance on display. The subversive quality of nakedness seemingly ensures the authenticity of the performing artist, literally stripped bare of ‘superficial’ signifiers. Costume, as a sort of manifest addition to the body, appears to stand as another strategy used to subvert identities, highlighting their contingency, yet one that also retains or marks the distinction between the performed role and the ‘true’ identity of the performer.

It is precisely the boundaries of costumes and theater that allow Sarah Bernhardt to flaunt a more liberated body, both through dress (clad in male attire) and her comical poses. Nadar’s studio is made into an extension of the theater stage, in which actresses such as Bernhardt embodied a wide array of identities, yet upheld her image as ‘the eternal feminine’ in the eyes of critics. From Nadar, the exhibition takes us to an endless archive of images from big names (Andy Warhol, Hannah Wilke, Joseph Beuys, Cindy Sherman etc.) to a younger bunch, among them Romain Mader (featured on the show’s poster) and Amalia Ulman.

Jeff Koons advertisement in Art in America, 1988-9; Sarah Bernhardt in ‘Pierrot Assassin,’ 1883

Jeff Koons advertisement in Art in America, 1988-9; Sarah Bernhardt in ‘Pierrot Assassin,’ 1883

In Ulman’s shot, the distinction between artistic self and performance blend. In an interview, Ulman reveals that a gallery had concerns over her credibility before the artist revealed the spoof, namely that the shots of herself were part of a performance. ‘I was acting, it wasn’t me.’ The need to emphasize those boundaries exposes the necessity for an ‘authentic’ self to exist outside of what we are caught easily judging as inappropriate or superficial (as Simon Baker notes, the comments on her Instagram feed are as much part of the performance as the images). Perhaps more than confronting us with our daily selfie routines, Ulman’s performance draws attention to our own highbrow assumptions of what constitutes an ‘appropriate’ display of the self.

Performing for the Camera is on display at Tate Modern until June 12, 2016

 

Mary Louise Roberts, Disruptive Acts, The New Woman in Fin-de-siècle France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/performing-camera

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/is-this-the-first-instagram-masterpiece/

Posing the Body Conference: Stillness, Movement & Representation

Please join us May 6 & 7, 2016 for Posing the Body, a conference on Stillness, Movement & Representation organised by The Courtauld Institute of Art and The University of Westminster.

Gazette-du-bon-ton

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art

Posing has been central to art, dance, and sculpture for thousands of years. In recent years, the growing interest in fashion media and modelling has also focused attention on questions of pose and posing. Incorporating notions of movement and stillness, posing can be understood in terms of historical modes of representation, as well as contemporary media and rapidly evolving relationships between bodies, subjects, and technologies of representation. Posing incorporates symbolic and semiotic meaning alongside embodied action and feeling. Recent coverage of the work of choreographer Stephen Galloway in 032c magazine, and new publications such as Steven Sebring’s Study of Pose: 1000 Poses by Coco Rocha testify to the growing interest in the cultural significance of posing and the pose – yet both remain under-researched areas with little discussion of their significance.

This symposium will assert the importance of pose as both a creative practice and an emerging area of critical inquiry. It will bring together multi-disciplinary academics and practitioners to discuss and develop new ways of understanding pose and posing in a historical and contemporary context. We encourage proposals for papers that address pose from global and diverse perspectives.  This event represents a potentially fruitful and exciting moment to bring these strands together to the benefit of researchers within practice and theory-based media, historians of dress, photography, art and film and allied disciplines.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by David Campany, internationally recognised writer and curator, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster.

Please click through to the conference programme to find details of speakers and papers being presented, and follow this link to book your place! We hope to see you there.

Contemporary Reliquaries and Utopian Fashions

Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

Held just before London Fashion Week in February, the International Fashion Showcase (IFS) is a series of installations organised by the British Council and British Fashion Council that feature the work of emerging designers from different nations. This year’s setting was Somerset House, where each country’s exhibit responded to one theme, Fashion Utopias, in the context of Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility at Somerset House Trust, the Courtauld Institute of Art and King’s College. Through thematic exhibitions and connections to cultural institutions, the IFS showed how fashion could signify more than Fashion Week runway shows or commercial practices. It illuminated makers creative processes, broadened to connect to various interpretations of ‘utopia.’ This unexpected merger of commerce and curation worked to heighten viewers’ questioning the definition, and artistic and cultural significance of dress. Further, through the participation of Courtauld Dress History research students in a study day, the IFS sought to explore the historical and theoretic resonance of contemporary design.

Traces of history were what drew me to Isabel Helf’s wooden bag display (from her collection “Portable Compulsion”) in the Austria installation, as I walked through the exhibition before my talk at the study day. The bags recall medieval reliquaries, in that they house precious hidden contents and are precious containers themselves. Like the many reliquaries that were imitative of architectural spaces, such as a 13th-century reliquary shrine of St. Martial, the bags were conceived to relate to architectural space and furniture. Some affix neatly onto tabletops or, through their 90-degree-angle bases, rest atop flat, stepped surfaces. Helf designed these coordinated interactions to function in the cramped spaces of contemporary city life. In contrast to narrow spaces, I found that through their very miniaturization, they communicate the possibility of human potential. Likewise, Cynthia Hahn has noted that portable reliquaries promise to, in the words of Susan Stewart, “open […] to reveal a secret life […] a set of actions and hence a narrativity […] outside the given field of perception.” As I experienced at the IFS, the bags too elevate wearers beyond the mundanity of daily life through an intimate handling process.

Once opened, the possibility of narrative or creation is offered through the bags’ contents, built-in writing implements and other everyday objects, which are designed to fit perfectly in removable slots, all made from the same wood. Helf worked with a carpenter to learn the traditional joinery techniques such as dovetail and finger joints that hold the bags together. She explained to me that when two things fit together, whether in terms of the bags’ placement against architecture or their own construction, individuals experience satisfaction. For Helf, this feeling also results from the bags’ ability to “order” belongings in small spaces. Echoing the ideas of Frank Davis, they could be seen to work as sartorial solutions that counter the confusion and ambivalence of modernity. Thus, while harking back to distant moments, they reveal contemporary problems and offer a psychological and spatial utopia in their miniaturization and capacity for precision, multifunction and order.

Isabel Helf, Bags from "Portable Compulsion" collection, Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

(Above) Isabel Helf, Bags from "Portable Compulsion" collection, Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

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Isabel Helf, Bags from "Portable Compulsion" collection, Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

(All above) Isabel Helf, Bags from “Portable Compulsion” collection, Austria Installation, International Fashion Showcase, Somerset House, February 2016.

Sources:

Davis, F. (1992) Fashion, Culture, and Identity, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago.

Hahn, C. (2012) Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-circa 1204, University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University.

Stewart, S. (1984) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University.

 

Modes Pratiques

Mode pratique: a magazine published in France at around the turn of the twentieth century.

Modes pratiques: a new history of dress journal first published in November 2015.

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Modes pratiques. Revue d’histoire du vêtement et de la mode  is the product of collaboration between the Duperré School of design, fashion and creation, and the Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion at Lille 3 University. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of the history of dress, the journal was conceived, according to the editors Manuel Charpy and Patrice Verdière, with the aim of filling a gap in the often overlooked discipline of the history of dress in France.

‘Norms and Transgressions’ is the theme of the first issue, certainly a very current topic, although perhaps not ground-breaking in itself. However, the journal and its contributors deal with its subject in thought provoking, and often unexpected, ways. Articles (all written in French) include discussions about the relationship between teenagers and fashion, transvestitism and vogueing; but also about the significance of the colour white in female monastic dress and the norms of the nineteenth century worker’s shirt. More standard-format academic articles are joined by interviews, for example concerning the uniforms of people working in the airline business, extracts from nineteenth century magazines and a detailed glossary of terms, rather humorously titled un glossaire partial mais chic, related to the journal’s key themes.

Inside #30001

Perhaps partly because of the art school influence, the creativity of Modes pratiques extends to its visual format. In fact, the editors had initially envisaged printing the journal on degradable paper that would have disappeared, along with its contents, within six months. It is probably a good thing that this wasn’t put into practice, though, as it is certainly something one would want to hang on to. Flicking through, nearly every double page spread bears at least one image. All in black and white, these include photographs, copies of archival documents and specially commissioned illustrations inspired by the text.

Inside #60001

I am looking forward dedicating some serious reading time to the journal and with a second issue already promised, it will be interesting to follow its development.

 

For further information:

http://www.lalibrairie.com/tous-les-livres/modes-pratiques–revue-d-histoire-du-vetement-et-de-la-mode-normes-et-transgressions-9791095518006.html.

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus’ recent show explored masculinities – through fabric, cut and adornment. The collection played with recurrent elements in Kawakubo’s work – ways to reconfigure familiar garments – trench coat, tailored suit, motorbike jacket – and by so doing make us look again at what we thought we knew, what has become invisible because of its continual presence. Textiles are equally mutable for Comme des Garçons – shirt fabrics and lining materials crept onto the exterior of the body, forming jackets that, while traditionally tailored, broke boundaries between inside and out. Waistcoats fused to the outside of jackets, and, most notably, garments were articulated like armour – asserting the two sides of the collection’s heart – soft and hard, war and peace – masculinity queered and remade.

1 Comme des Garcone Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

Comme des Garcone Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

At first this was done quietly – a tiny sprig of bright flowers on the first jacket – a hint of colourful nature on inky black. Quickly this spread and grew – elaborate headdresses blossomed and caressed the models’ heads, framing their faces, seemingly entangled with their hair. Some outfits were all black – armoured with eyelets and buckles that split bodies into parts like machines. These divisions were echoed in more traditional suiting fabrics that incorporated flowered fabrics – a nod to 18th century elite dress and masculine ideals, which revelled in lush embroideries and colours and praised sentiment and emotion.

 

Comme des Garçons brought together multiple images of men with flowers – Oscar Wilde’s green carnation, Vietnam soldiers with blooms tucked into their helmets, hippies’ floral crowns, Morrisey’s gladioli. Art historical references also abound – perhaps most notably Caravaggio’s Bacchus of 1595, with his decadent vine leaf headdress. In each case foliage and flowers disrupt stable masculine ideals and suggest complexity – slippage between masculine and feminine, sexual ambiguity.

2 Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595 : Comme des Garcones Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595 / Comme des Garcones Homme Plus, A/

The show’s finale saw models carrying huge bouquets of vibrant flowers, dressed in their black warrior suits – but these were melancholy heroes – trapped in a small space, continually trying to avoid crashing into each other. Clothes, accessories, styling and performance were all carefully calibrated to unsettle. The designs were beautiful, as were Julien D’ys’s hair and headdress combinations, but they were made to question not to appease.

3 Oscar Wilde : Morrissey

Oscar Wilde : Morrissey

 

 

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.

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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 Vogue.com. ‘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.

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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.

Sources

Find all of K-HOLE’s reports on their website – http://khole.net

http://artreview.com/opinion/summer_2014_opinion_mark_sladen/
http://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/mar/26/mission-creep/
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/sep/27/chaos-magic-normcore-fashion-trends-eva-wiseman
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/06/from-normcore-to-chaos-magic-the-people-behind-fashions-biggest-buzzwords
Joanne Entwhistle, The Fashioned Body (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000)