How can you tell people what it is like to wear certain clothes without letting them try anything on? For curators this is a constant question – how to create an exhibition that expresses every facet of what clothes are. Frequently, the answer lies elsewhere, the focus is placed on a designer’s creativity, or perhaps on the drama of catwalk shows and fashion photography. But at the heart of fashion are the wearers – and so, how do you enable exhibition visitors to understand clothes they will probably never put on?
This question is especially pertinent when the designer has placed emphasis on the wearer’s experience, rather than the viewer’s. At Mode Museum Antwerp’s current exhibition Margiela: The Hermès Years, one way that the feel, fit and flow of the garments on the body is conveyed is through a series of short films by Guido Verelst played alongside the outfits themselves. These show models that walked in the original Hermès’ shows – moving in the clothes to demonstrate how they are worn. Rather than striding as in a catwalk, these are subtler performances that enact the garments’ key qualities, and make visible the exhibition’s themes. In one, Shirley Jean-Charles dressed in the A/W 1998-99 collection allows the supple black layers of her ensemble to slip slowly from her shoulders – the gossamer thin rainproof voile over buttery soft leather glide down her back, and as viewers our sense memories connect visual and material. While we are not, of course, allowed to touch anything, this slow motion movement evokes a multi-sensory response.
Film’s own haptic surface and constant movement mirrors what is represented – the screen makes the images material, as they flicker before our eyes. The model’s fluid gestures amplify this, and link to the way we move and feel in our clothes. Not all of us may be able to wear the incredible, high quality fabrics that Margiela used during his time at Hermès from 1997-2003, but the curators draw our attention to the details, and surfaces to allow us to appreciate his work in deeper ways.
With thanks to Elisa de Wyngaert