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: 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.

Alumni Interview: Elisa De Wyngaert

Antwerp based alumna Elisa De Wyngaert, graduated from the Documenting Fashion MA in 2014. Counting Helmut Lang and Pierre Balmain among her research interests, Elisa has continued to write about fashion and contributed exhibition reviews to Belgian radio since leaving the Courtauld. After pursuing further study and undertaking work experience for Raf Simons and A.F.Vandevorst, she now works as a fashion curator at the MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp.

What made you want to study Dress History at the Courtauld?

I read Art History at the University of Leuven and wrote my MA dissertation on “The House of Balmain: Before and After Pierre Balmain”. This research process was new and fascinating to me, especially as it was very different from my previous art historical research. I found it challenging to analyse proper academic sources and it took longer to determine the correct methodology. That being said, it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to specialise in this kind of research, and to find the right academic guidance to do so. I believe I Google’d something along the lines of “Academic Fashion Studies”, and the course ‘Documenting Fashion’ at the Courtauld Institute of Art seemed to offer just what I was looking for. I knew Rebecca Arnold’s name because I proudly owned some of her books – it was a perfect match.

Pierre Balmain Atelier (1952). Copyright: Vogue Paris via Tumblr

Pierre Balmain Atelier (1952). Copyright: Vogue Paris via Tumblr

What were your personal highlights from the course?

Looking back, I think the strength of the course lies in its intensity: it was an unbelievably enriching year, both academically and personally. It was a high-paced course and it is astonishing how much you can learn in just one year. Being surrounded by fellow students who are as passionate as you are about their topic is inspirational, and, it goes without saying, having Rebecca as a tutor was priceless. Not only is she an outstanding scholar who challenges her students, she also has a great sense of humour. Again a good match. 

You wrote you dissertation on Helmut Lang, what was it that inspired you about his work?

I knew Helmut Lang’s work from images in books about fashion in the 1990s. He was, however, still an enigmatic designer to me: I was not prejudiced with knowledge, nor was I a longtime admirer of his work. I thought it was interesting that Helmut Lang decided to leave his fashion house in 2005 to “move on to art”. In this narrative, it appeared that being an artist is still in certain aspects regarded as higher than fashion in the hierarchy of the arts. After leaving his house, Lang decided to shred his archive and use the shredded pieces in an art installation. This, however, only happened after he had donated a large volume of his most interesting designs to fashion museums worldwide. The idea of a designer curating his own end, leaving the fashion world infected with infinite Helmut-Lang-nostalgia, was the starting point for my research. I got to appreciate the characteristics of Helmut Lang’s sensuous work, especially after studying it closely in the archives of the fashion museum in Bath and MoMu in Antwerp.

Google search screenshot of Helmut Lang Art Installations

Google search screenshot of Helmut Lang Art Installations

Since leaving the Courtauld you have worked for Raf Simons and A.F.Vandevorst, as a personal fan I would love to hear a little more about what your work experience was like with these?

I didn’t like the idea of becoming a “fashion writer high up in her ivory tower”, so I decided to do a course in Fashion Management and to get hands-on work experience with Antwerp designers. I undertook a short internship at Raf Simons. Raf Simons’ company in Antwerp is surprisingly small-scaled but has a high impact on fashion, which is an important characteristic for independent Antwerp designers. After that, I was hired by A.F.Vandevorst, where I worked for more than a year. I learned about the logistics behind the production of a collection. We often tend to focus on the shows and the magazine editorials, but we don’t always realise that after that there is quite a long and tumultuous road before those pieces end up safely in the stores and with the customer. A.F.Vandevorst has a small but strong creative team and the energy leading up to a fashion show is incredible. You can’t compare that to anything. In general, I was happy to learn that these brands are still authentic and true to their DNA and signature.

What else have you worked on since leaving the Courtauld?

During the week I worked at A.F.Vandevorst and on occasion I gave guided tours in the evening at MoMu. In the weekends, I created time and peace to focus on what I am most passionate about: the less commercial but more reflective side of fashion. I wrote a piece for Vestoj on Helmut Lang and I wrote some shorter articles for the new Bloomsbury Fashion Photography Archive. As a fashion critic, I reviewed fashion exhibitions for Klara, a Belgian radio station. By now, I think I have reviewed more than 20 fashion exhibitions, which proved to be not only insightful, but also my favorite adrenaline kick.

From what I understand you are currently working at MoMu as a curator. What does your work there entail and what current projects are you working on?

MoMu organises two major exhibitions a year, one of these focuses on a theme and the second one on the work of a living designer. We want to expand this offer with a (rotating) permanent exhibition on Belgian fashion and an online exhibition platform. At the moment, I am researching and writing about the designers and the pieces in the MoMu collection to prepare this project. MoMu actively acquires pieces by living designers, which ensures a rich and ever-growing contemporary collection. I discover new items every day and the challenge is to make a sensible selection of pieces per designer that haven’t been displayed too often, and that are telling for the signature of the designer.

Do you have any advice for budding dress historians? Particularly for those aspiring to work within fashion curation?

I think it is important to keep thinking about fashion the way we were taught to at the Courtauld. Often people look at fashion studies, and fashion in general, as something shallow and superficial. It can be of course, but we have to keep demonstrating how it is so much more than that: fashion remains an integral part of our society and daily lives. I know, from experience, it’s hard to find work within fashion curation. The only thing I can advise is to, even when you are working another job full-time, try to squeeze in some fashion history and research on the side and to stay both critical and passionate. And then maybe some serendipity?

Photograph of Elisa. Copyright: Elisa De Wyngaert

Photograph of Elisa. Copyright: Elisa De Wyngaert

Research in the MoMu archives in preparation of a permanent exhibition - dress by Dries Van Noten

Research in the MoMu archives in preparation of a permanent exhibition – dress by Dries Van Noten