Looking North

Open Eye Gallery withVirgil Abloh and Ben Kelly’s installation

For the past few years, London’s galleries have been hosts to some incredible fashion exhibitions, luring visitors from every corner of the world to pore over their sartorial treasures. With the dawn of a new year, however, a new city is emerging as the latest fashion destination. From January 6 until March 19 2017, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery is showcasing North: Identity, Photography, Fashion, an exhibition curated by SHOWstudio’s editor Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Prompted by the impact the North of England has had on fashion, music, design and art the world over, as well as the clichés associated with the area, the exhibition explores and challenges these dominant themes, asking the visitors to come to their own conclusions. The heritage of the North is unpicked through photography, historical films, interviews with its artists and designers, garments, fashion magazines and music, highlighting the impressively far-reaching influence of the region, one which is seldom acknowledged, ignored even, in the capital city oriented fashion world.

“Liverpool is tiny, but it has a lot of impact.” – Christopher Shannon, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

With Stoppard and Murray not being full-time curators, the organisation of the space is free of restrictions and preconceptions of seasoned professionals, allowing for a fresh take on the potential of exhibitions. The rooms have a relaxed vibe, a coolness about them, which one can already sense getting off the train at one of Liverpool’s stations and walking through its streets to reach the gallery. It feels very authentic, honest and respectful in its representation of England’s North, a much welcome relief from the sometimes derogatory mentions the area gets in the media. Walking through the exhibition, admiring the prints by fashion’s favourites Jamie Hawkesworth, Alasdair McLellan and David Sims while being slightly amused by Alice Hawkins’ genius portraits of Northern teen girls or perusing the editorials in i-D, Arena Homme+, Vogue and The Face, all inspired by the visuals of the region and displayed in custom-made Sheffield steel vitrines (not a single detail escaped the curators), one starts to question the lack of credit given to cultural centres outside of London. Even musical legends such as Morrissey, The Stone Roses, New Order and Oasis, who have conquered the world with their sounds, (and who rightfully have their own pride of place within the exhibition) grew up and formed within the North’s energetic environments. No one can dispute that the talent which hails from and is inevitably profoundly influenced by the North of England enjoys great stature worldwide, yet their origins are often forgotten. Fortunately, North brings the talent home again.

“There’s tons of beautiful girls in Liverpool that aren’t WAGs with caked on make up.” – Thom Murphy, stylist | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

The magnitude and the wealth of visuals the North provides the world with becomes even more apparent upon entering the fashion gallery. Garments from the Belgian Raf Simons, German adidas and American/Milanese/Ghanaian Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh all clearly show signs of the North, emphasising its crucial and international role. On display are various versions of the adidas Samba and ZX trainers dedicated to Northern cities. Elsewhere, an Off-White knit pays tribute to the Gallagher brothers, while a Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 03 parka with a print of New Order’s ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ album cover designed by Peter Saville hangs nearby. The parka can still be bought online, though it does fetch $20,000. Who said the North wasn’t fashionable? Add the giant steel columns created by Abloh and Ben Kelly, the designer of Manchester’s iconic Hacienda nightclub, interior of which was a starting point for this installation, which, complete with Abloh’s signature chevron, dominate the facade of Open Eye Gallery, and the North of England is firmly secured on fashion’s radar.

“The most Northern part of me is my sense of humour. That more than anything is the thing that has endured and what I use in my way of dealing with people. But I’m not a professional Northerner.” – Simon Foxton, stylist | Raf Simons parka from ‘Control’ Autumn/Winter 2003

“Some things I explore in my collections relate to my life in the North-East. There’s a sense of real life, because things aren’t so aspirational.” – Claire Barrow, designer | Mark Szaszy, Corrine Day – Diary (Extract) (2012)

There are many other gems scattered around the exhibition space. A small Panasonic TV from decades past screens an extract from Corrine Day’s diary, where the late photographer reminisces about her shoot for Dutch magazine in 2001 titled ‘A British Summer: Blackpool 2001’ featuring Kate Moss, George Clements and Rosemary Ferguson. A 1939 short film named ‘Spare Time’ documents the people of Sheffield, Manchester, Bolton and Pontypridd in the in-between times when they are not working in the towns’ famous industries. Watching the movie sat on a park bench, headphones on, you get sucked in, almost feeling as though you are in the film yourself, observing the goings on, being a part of the daily Northern life. Yet the biggest surprise is upstairs. The room is transformed into an old, seventies maisonette, complete with lace curtains, a floral print armchair, a bed with an embroidered throw, a giant wooden cross, shaggy carpet and old rotary dial telephones prompting the visitors to pick them up, revealing sound bites by Northern creatives such as Stephen Jones, Christopher Shannon, Claire Barrow and Gareth Pugh in which they look back at their upbringing and the importance of the North of England in their life and work. It is a charming corner to relax in, take a trip down memory lane, meet the locals and ponder on the importance the North of England has on the country’s image. Perhaps just this little refuge in a twenty-first century city is a reason enough to return for another visit. As Gary Aspden remarks in his interview upstairs, “all roads lead back to the North.” This exhibition is a testament to that. So do yourself a favour, brave the almost five hour long round trip from London and visit the Open Eye Gallery. Believe me, it is worth it!

“I still think that people from down South don’t understand people from up North. And it is this huge cultural, class and every-which-way divide.” – Stephen Jones, milliner | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion)

“I feel still very much connected to where I grew up… it’s a huge part of who I am. And I think in that it’s the Northern work ethic, that’s also something that is quite important.” – Gareth Pugh, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion 

Sources:

‘North’ on SHOWstudio.com

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Musings on ‘Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Following an incredible visit to the archives on Monday, we returned to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York on Tuesday for the exhibitions – we simply could not miss out on the opportunity of seeing more of FIT’s work. One of these was Proust’s Muse- The Countess Greffulhe which is based on a show previously held in Paris entitled La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe. The exhibition focuses on Countess Greffulhe’s style and fashion and aims to highlight her role in inspiring the character of Oriane in Marcel Proust’s In Search of a Lost Time.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT

Located in the basement of FIT, the exhibition was separated into two rooms. One of these was a long entry hallway. Here, the show was introduced through photographs of the Countess and some of her contemporaries as well as by means of a video. This was extremely useful in setting the tone of the exhibition. Narrated by Valerie Steele, FIT’s Director and chief curator, it highlights the thinking behind the exhibition and outlines some of the key dresses on display. The exhibition itself was located in a large hall, which allowed for the clothes to be spread out generously. The black wall colour, high ceilings and dim lighting helped to highlight each garment, although some of the colours of the fabrics were a little lost as an effect. The exhibition showcases a selection of Countess Greffulhe’s clothes and accessories over the course of her lifetime, enabling the viewer to gain an overview of her personal style. House of Worth, Fortuny and Babani are just three examples of her choice of designers. Particularly insightful into the Countess as a style icon is the “Byzantine” House of Worth dress from 1904, which she chose to wore for her daughter’s wedding. The viewer is told that in it, she outshone the bridal dress of her daughter, having arrived at the wedding venue with enough time to spare to showcase her dress to any guests and bystanders.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Countess Greffulhe, as an exhibition and as a person, seemed a perfect fit for our course as it reflects the breadth of the role that fashion can take. It sums up the personal element of style, reflecting questions of identity and representations as well as using dress as a mediator to express these. This is applicable to both, the Countess’ clothes as well as her staging of dress in photographs. As Steele sums up, ‘the Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion. And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant.’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe will be on display at FIT New York until January 7, 2017.

 

Sources:

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe Exhibition Handout

http://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/prousts-muse.php

https://flic.kr/s/aHskJYFyX2 

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center

The current exhibition on show at the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the MET has been given the title Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion. Rather than exploring a theme, as Judith Clark has so brilliantly done with Vulgar at the Barbican Centre, the MET’s assistant curator Jessica Regan presents viewers with a mix of fashion with no unifying theme or trend or feature other that the 50 pieces were acquired over the last decade, and that each may be termed a ‘masterwork’.

HOUSE OF WORTH (French, 1858-1956) Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856-1926) BALL GOWN, 1898, haute couture | Light blue silk satin brocaded à la disposition with yellow and ivory silk; embroidered with silver sequins, clear rhinestones, and clear and silver seed beads; trimmed with ivory cotton lace, black silk velvet, and light blue silk mousseline | Brooklyn, Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1965 (2009.306. 1324a, b)

A decade since the MET’s last acquisitions show, blog.mode: addressing fashion, in 2007, Masterworks marks a shift in the collecting strategy of the museum when it comes to fashion. The phrase ‘Unpacking Fashion’ speaks to this. The set of the exhibition is formed from crates, suggestive of the archives in which the garments are stored to best preserve them, from which they are then unpacked for display. But the term also refers to the academic practice of unpacking an idea, a point, a proposition in order to understand its significance. Why is a sculptural, slashed tulle gown by Viktor and Rolf worthy of being exhibited in a museum? What makes it seminal, important, a masterwork?

The dress in question is not part of everyday dress trends seen on women walking down the street; it was not mass produced, indeed it was worn by only a handful of people. It may not warrant a significant space in an encyclopaedia of Western fashion, but the challenging design and painstaking skill of its construction make it worthy of celebration. No one else, quite simply, has made anything like it.

VIKTOR & ROLF (Dutch, founded 1993) Viktor Hosting (Dutch, born 1969) Rolf Snoren (Dutch, born 1969) BALL GOWN, spring/summer 2010 | Blue polyester tulle, and black silk-synthetic moiré embroidered with white plastic sequins | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2011 (2011.8)

The main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery is organised chronologically, with each garment accompanied by an in-depth explanation, or rationalisation, of its presence in the exhibition. Designers represented range from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The design advances of new names – Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga – and less widely known – Noritaka Tatehana, maker of the extraordinary heel-less shoes favoured by Daphne Guinness – are acknowledged.

Left: MADELEINE VIONNET (French, 1876-1975) EVENING DRESS, 1929, haute couture | Dress: pink silk tulle, embroidered with pink rayon floss; slip: pink silk gauze and crepe de chine | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2009 (2009.248a, b)  Right: JOHN GALLIANO (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) EVENING DRESS, spring/summer 1999 | Peach nylon lace | Gift of John Galliano, 2000 (2000.168)

HOUSE OF BALENCIAGA (French, founded 1937) Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish, 1895-1972) DRESS, 1967, haute couture | Green silk gazar | Gift of Judith Straeten, 2015 (2015.711)

The Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery at the end of the exhibition features ensembles donated by designers on the occasion of the retirement of long-serving curator Harold Koda in January this year. These represent specific masterworks long and especially admired by Koda and include a design, re-made for the occasion, from Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel. This stands alongside an intricately embroidered frock coat by Raf Simons for Dior, across from a screen featuring tributes from the great and good of today’s industry.

Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) DRESS, 2015; original design: spring/summer 1983, haute couture | Black silk crepe embroidered with pearls, clear rhinestones, and red, green, gold and orange beads | Gift of CHANEL, in honour of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.632)

HOUSE OF CHANEL (French, founded 1913) Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) SUIT, spring/summer 2011 Jacket and skirt: navy and cream cotton-acrylic nylon-polyester tweed with ivory nylon net; blouse: ivory rayon twill | Gift of CHANEL, 2013 (2013.157.1a-e, h)

Left: HOUSE OF DIOR (French, founded 1947) Raf Simons (Belgian, born 1968) ENSEMBLE, autumn/winter 2014-15, haute couture | Coat and waistcoat: black silk faille embroidered with polychrome silk and metal thread, silver plastic sequins, and clear and iridescent glass beads; blouse: black brushed-wool twill; trousers: black wool flannel | Gift of Christian Dior Couture in honour of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.256a-d)  Right: HOUSE OF DIOR (French, founded 1947) Christian Dior (French,1905-1957) “MYSTÈRE” COAT, autumn/winter 1947-48 | Black wool melton and dark green silk taffeta | Gift of Irene Stone, in memory of her daughter Mrs. Ethel S. Greene, 1959 (C.I.59.26.2)

The lingering question posited by Masterworks is that age old debate: is fashion art? It is clear what the MET believes. The first work you see as you come down the stairs into the exhibition is an expertly crafted Viktor and Rolf dress which resembles a painting smashed over the head of a mannequin – an attempt, surely, to reinforce the point that each garment should be viewed with the same attitude as that afforded by a Van Gogh upstairs. Andrew Bolton, curator-in-charge, has commented on the Costume Institute’s renewed mission ‘to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art.’ It is a vow restated by this thoughtful exhibition, with extraordinary skill and innovation displayed and emphasised by curious pairings and dramatic exchanges – no more so than in the vivid red of a John Galliano for Martin Margiela coat in conversation with its 18th century inspiration.

Left: MAISON MARGIELA (French, founded 1988) John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) ENSEMBLE, spring/summer 2015, artisanal | Coat: red brushed wool needle-felted with red silk chiffon trimmed with red rayon velvet; bra top: black nylon net embroidered with gold metallic thread and gold plastic sequins; briefs: black polyester rib-knit embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold plastic sequins, and gold glass bugle beads; shorts: black cotton denim | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Insititute Gifts, 2015 (2015.541a-f)  Right: French COAT, 1787-92 Red wool broadcloth Purchase | Irene Lewisohn Trust Gift, 1992 (1992.65)

ISSEY MIYAKE (Japanese, born 1938) BUSTIER, autumn/winter 1980-81 | Red moulded polyester resin and cellulose nitrate  | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2015.61)

Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 5 February, 2017.

A Visit to the V&A

For viewing fashion from 1920-1960, there is no better place in London than the Fashion Galleries, Room 40, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So, off I went to South Kensington to see the displays which cover the highlights of fashion from 1750 to the present. The display cases are lined along the perimeter of a large circular gallery which allows one to choose whether to follow a chronological path or to travel against time as one wishes. These are some of the highlights of the exhibition.

The 1920s and 1930s are emphasised as a time of increased bodily ease and comfort in fashion as designs became more fluid and less ornate than before World War I. No longer defined by the waist, fashions of the 20s were tubular in shape and hemlines were raised to below the knee, allowing for a wider range of motion benefitting popular dances such as the Charleston. In the 1930s, attire for sporting activities became important and influenced fashion which is represented in a display of a tennis dress, two bathing costumes, and a beach walking suit. The active body and increased independence for women were key aspects of modernity reflected in the fashions of the time. Fashionable sportswear presents such activities as tennis, bathing, and dancing as appropriate and even desirable for women.

va

Wartime austerity in Britain is represented by a Utility Suit from 1943 with a gas-mask bag worn cross-body as many handbags are today. Restrictions on clothing circumscribed that skirts should be knee-length without pleats and folds that would require an excess of fabric and jackets could not have more than three buttons.

va1

The close tailoring of the 1940s, imposed upon women, lasted until 1947 when Christian Dior famously showed his collection featuring longer, voluminous skirts and nipped-in defined waists dubbed the ‘New Look.’ To help women embrace what was a sea-change in dressing, magazines such as Vogue promoted the new silhouette heavily, which eventually became an icon of the 1950s. A display devoted to Dior’s ‘Zemire’ dress from 1954, made for Lady Sekers, showcases the elements of the ensemble. The undergarments reveal how the silhouette of a sculpted bodice and full, circular skirt are achieved. The close narrow shoulders and wasp-waist jacket contrast with the skirt’s volume to create the extreme hour-glass figure reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth century, a source underscored by the mirror and fan in the display. The Dior case is a clear highlight of the gallery, at once deconstructing and celebrating the designer’s signature look.

dior-va

Childhood Unveiled at the Museo Nacional del Prado: Spanish children’s fashion from the reign of Isabel II

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Whilst in Madrid I had the opportunity to visit the recently opened special display La Infancia Descubierta (Childhood Unveiled) at Museo Nacional del Prado. With this exquisite display, el Prado recalls the importance of the children portrait genre in the nineteenth century by focusing on two key locations during Romanticism: Madrid and Seville.

The recent purchase by the Prado Museum of an almost unknown canvas by Antonio Maria Esquivel and Suárez de Urbina (1806-1857) that portrays a pair of brothers might be one of the reasons for the organisation of this exhibition. This would be the first time the piece is presented to the public. Javier Baron, Chief Curator of 19th-century painting at the museum, has used the painting as a centrepiece to articulate a small sample of eight works dated 1842 to 1855. Collected from Madrid and Seville and dated to the reign of Isabel II, each child portrait is now part of the museum’s collection. From the eight pieces exhibited, only one, the portrait of Federico Florez and Márquez by Federico de Madrazo and Kuntz (1815-1894) – a great representative of the court’s painters – is part of the permanent display; the other seven canvases are usually kept in storage, so this exhibition is the perfect opportunity to see them in person.

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

These portraits, commissioned by middle-class, aristocrat and bourgeois clients, reveal different interpretations of childhood, a theme that became particularly popular among Romantic painters as a reflection of their clients’ new interests.

Baron explains that child portraiture emerged in Spanish painting at the end of the 18th-century and further developed in the 19th. It did so in relation to the ideals that emerged with the Enlightenment, particularly childhood purity espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This idea stated that children had their own interests and autonomy, rather than childhood being simply a stage that led to adulthood. The virtues associated with childhood – spontaneity, grace, innocence, purity versus the negative aspects of civilization – were highly valued. We can see them reflected in details such as the outdoor settings of the paintings.

Through this display, we have a glimpse at children’s fashions in Spain during the reign of Isabel II. During this period, Spanish children’s fashion followed the canons of the French style. Mothers copied models  from figurines seen in Paris, and girls wore miniature versions of their mothers’ attire: long dresses on top of several layers of petticoats, to give the desired shape to their skirts. It was very common that mothers ordered small crinolines for their daughters so they would lighten the weight of so many petticoats.

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Younger girls wore shorter skirts, revealing their white cotton undergarments that were trimmed with delicate lace or English embroidery. At the age of six girls would begin to wear small corsets similar to adult models.

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós. Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Kid leather ankle boots were the most common everyday footwear. For more formal occasions, boots usually had decorative satin embroidery to match the dress. In wintertime, outerwear included gloves and coats made of woven fabric for everyday fashion. Cotton velvet and fur were used to make ensembles for special occasions, accompanied by lined hoods for girls and hats and caps for boys. As we can appreciate from the selection of paintings, boys and girls wore the same fashions regardless of gender until approximately the age of five. As for the fabrics used, the most popular were velvet, taffeta, organdy and tarlatan.

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Fashion for boys was more comfortable and functional than girl’s fashions. From the age of 6 – 7, boys would start to wear long trousers, and their outfits were very often jacket and trouser sets made of woven fabric in one colour; the addition of hats, badges and military inspired golden buttons created a more formal look.

Source
Video commentary of exhibition by Javier Barón, Chief Curator of 19th-century Painting (Spanish with English subtitles)

Louis Vuitton Series Three

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 14.38.14

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 14.39.38

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 14.37.57

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 14.39.20

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 14.38.39

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.

Installing ‘Winter Mode’ at Somerset House

1 - An empty vitrine

An empty vitrine…

2 - Objects and condition reports

Objects and condition reports

3 - Conservator Frances Halahan and co-curator Alexis Romano look over condition reports

Conservator Frances Halahan and co-curator Alexis Romano look over condition reports

4 - Co-curator Alexis Romano arranging the display

Co-curator Alexis Romano arranging the display

5 - Under glass! The final display awaiting wall text…

Under glass! The final display awaiting wall text…

I must admit, rather unprofessionally perhaps, that I was like a child on Christmas day during yesterday morning’s installation of Winter Mode, a display that I am curating with Dr Rebecca Arnold and Alexis Romano for Fashioning Winter at Somerset House. We had decided on our object list, approved labels, wrote condition reports and even devised a ‘dress rehearsal’ (see Alexis’s blog post from 4th November) well in advance of installation, but we had never seen all of these components come together.

We started our day by going over the contents of our to-do list, which we proceeded to tick off one by one. The two book cradles that Kate Edmondson, The Courtauld’s paper conservator, kindly made for us were ready. They were waiting for us at the studio, along with the two books they were designed to hold. We headed back to Rebecca’s office where we very carefully laid out all of the objects, to go over our sequence and arrangement one last time. This gave us the opportunity to make sure that we had the right viewing dynamic, with the different illustrations’ subjects connecting with one another through the direction of their gaze and body language. All of the fashionable ladies featured in the display are engaged in the act of looking, either at themselves, at art objects or at a winter scene, as if illustrators sought to remind their viewers of their own tendencies. We aimed to highlight this and to animate the display through their interaction.

At two o’clock we headed to the East Wing of Somerset House with boxes in tow, to find the empty vitrine waiting to be filled. Once Shonagh Marshall and Susan Thompson (head curator of Fashioning Winter and Somerset House exhibitions organiser, respectively) had arrived, we began by placing the textile panel, bound in a lovely Christopher Farr fabric, in the display case. Conservator Frances Halahan then carefully cleaned the surface so that no dust or microscopic insects would endanger the magazines once under glass. We then proceeded to arrange objects according to our well rehearsed plan and matched them up with their respective condition report so that Frances could verify our details’ accuracy.

Once the object labels arrived we reached the penultimate stage of installation; all that remained to do was meticulously review every arrangement before placing the glass over the display. We commissioned captions to look like vintage price tags in order to emphasise that, for many viewers, looking at these illustrations was like window-shopping. They are labelled according to one of three themes: Fashion, Sport, Battling the Elements. These refer not only to the scenes depicted, but also to the sense that each illustrator tried to convey to viewers: the thrill of ice-skating or the comfort of a warm coat on a frosty winter afternoon, for example.

With everything in position and checked, technicians expertly lifted and placed the glass over the case. As Shonagh pointed out, there is something quite satisfying about this final stage of installation. The glass seals and protects the objects, which will stay in place until the exhibition closes. Visitors are now welcome to move around, lean in close, and inspect the display. We hope you will enjoy Winter Mode!

We would like to thank the staff at Somerset House and at the Courtauld Institute of Art for their generous help on the day and leading up to the exhibition.