In the Maurice Verbaet Center in Antwerp there currently hangs Sven’t Jolle’s ‘Yves Saint-Lazare’ (2014): a large piece of brown cloth draped over a metal clothes hanger. It could be a shift dress, but it is tattered and dirty, and there are three large holes ripped in the fabric. It is actually an old rag from the artist’s studio, repurposed for display as an art object itself and originally created for exhibition in a Parisian gallery, located on the Rue du Grenier-Saint-Lazare, during fashion week. Textile art takes on the guise of fashion and fashion, sculpture and textiles come together in a piece that comments on art as a luxury good.
Jolle’s work appears as part of Soft? Tactile Dialogues, the first exhibition by Antwerp’s ModeMuseum to shift its focus from fashion to textile art. The show is inspired by a collection of textile works by Belgian artists that had, until now, remained hidden in the museum’s archives. To celebrate the work of their creators, curator and Courtauld alumna Elisa de Wyngaert has sought to unearth these pieces and give them the attention that they certainly deserve.
The first half of the show contains a selection of these archival pieces, produced by female artists from the ‘Textielgroep’ movement in the 1960s and 1970s. A number of large-scale works dominate, including Tapta’s twisted woven lengths and Liberta Ferket’s ‘Treurend vangnet’, its long knots of plaited rope falling heavily from the ceiling. Behind these hangs Veerle Dupoint’s ‘Alruin’, its earthy tones matched by the extraordinary musty odour that emanates from it. Historically associated with female artists, textile was embraced by these women to explore and advance the creative potential of the medium. These works are not delicate or pretty. Their appeal comes from their strength, their weighty materiality, rough textures, nubby woven surfaces, and frayed tufts. It is their tactility that seduces.
The second half of the show takes place in the adjacent stairwell and is dedicated to works by contemporary female and male Belgian artists. This unusual space is used to its advantage by de Wyngaert in an exploration of the various ways in which textile art has developed. Works include Klaas Rommelaere’s tapestries, made in collaboration with a group of local ‘grandmothers’ and Wiesi Will’s colourful installation of fine knit hangings. These artists embrace vibrant colours and a range of different media, from fabric to plastic and glass.
In both halves of the exhibition, the works come into their own when they interact with one another. When you stand at the entrance of the first room and catch a glimpse of the coarse surface of Dupoint’s work through the gaps in Tapta’s sculptural forms, the tactile qualities of the different materials and techniques communicate across the space. Similarly, the staircase provides a unique location in which the works frame and refract off one another, inviting the viewer to engage with the exciting possibilities offered by textile art.
If anyone needed persuading that a fashion museum should widen its scope to include textile art, this exhibition provides more than enough reason. It is notable that a number of the contemporary artists that are included have worked in or studied fashion. Christoph Hefti studied at Central Saint Martins and was a print developer at Dries Van Noten, Klaas Rommelaere interned at Henrik Vibsov and Raf Simons, and Laure Van Brempt and Vera Roggli, of Weisi Will, worked as designers at Christian Wijnants. Both fashion and textile art activate and explore the expressive capacity of fabric and, as the work of these artists demonstrates, there is much to be gained from recognising the dynamic that exists between the two.
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.
Want/need a break from your dissertation writing, busy city life or 9 to 5 job? With the Easter holiday around the corner (plus Brexit being trending topic again), I thought I would share some of my personal favourite fashion-related temporary exhibitions that are on in museums all over Europe during the (UK) Easter holidays.
I can’t think of a better excuse to travel and tour wonderful cities, eat delicious food, immerse yourself into the richness of other European cultures and whilst doing so, explore some of the most interesting fashion exhibitions of this year outside the UK.
MUSEE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS (Paris), from 1 December 2016 to 23 April 2017.
“Tenue Correcte Exigée: Quand Le Vêtement Fait Scandale” revisits the scandals that have marked the great turning points in fashion history from the 14th century to today. Featuring outfits, portraits and objects, it explores the liberties taken with dress codes and how they breached moral values. The robe volante, women in trousers, men in skirts, female tuxedo, miniskirt… (with examples as Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo, Elsa Schiaparelli’s jumpsuit and Yves Saint Laurent’s female tuxedo, among others).
PALAIS GALLERIA (Paris), from April 27th to August 13th 2017.
“Dalida, Une Garde-Robe De La Ville À La Scène” pays homage to Dalida with an exhibition of her wardrobe, recently donated to the museum. Dressed by the greatest designers both on and off-stage, in haute couture or in prêt-à-porter, Dalida has remained an immensely popular star in France. Her wardrobe always followed the movements of fashion, but it also reflected her artistic development.
From March 8th to July 16th 2017
“Balenciaga, L’oeuvre Au Noir”. Spanish Season – A Palais Galliera Extra-Mural Exhibition pays homage to the couturier with an extra-mural exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle. The exhibition resonates with the black tones of an alchemist of haute couture: variations of black repeated in over a hundred of pieces from the Galliera collections and the archives of Maison Balenciaga. This exhibition opens the Palais Galliera’s Spanish season, which will continue with Costumes espagnols entre ombre et lumière (‘Spanish costumes from dark to bright’) at the Maison Victor Hugo (21 June – 24 September 2017) and will finish with Mariano Fortuny at the Palais Galliera (4 October 2017 – 7 January 2018).
MODEMUSEUM HASSELT (Hasselt, Belgium), from 4th March to 3rd September 2017.
“Across Japan” features the fascinating innovations introduced by the Japanese avant-garde designers and their younger peers in combination with newer Western interpretations of the ‘Japanese’ aesthetics. At the same time, the show seeks to illustrate that this concern with Japan in the West is nothing new and has a long tradition going back to the seventeenth century, which is explored through a set of themes and a selection of silhouettes supplemented with visuals aiming at pinpointing the peculiar nature of it. The exhibition is part of the Yokoso Festival – 25 Years Japanese Garden in Hasselt.
MoMu (Antwerp, Belgium), from 31st March to 27th August 2017.
“Margiela, the Hermes Years” will display Belgian stylist Martin Margiela’s Hermès collections from 1997 to 2003 for the first time. As well as this, the tribute exhibition also explores the relationship during these years between these collections and his own label, Maison Martin Margiela. Groundbreaking deconstruction and timeless luxury – the two worlds of designer Martin Margiela – are the starting point of this exhibition.
STAALICHE KUNSTSAMMULUNGEN (Dresden, Germany, State Art Museum), 3 March to 5 June 2017.
“Women Cross Media. Photography, Porcelain and Prints from China and Japan” is a presentation in the context of the exhibition Dresden • Europe • World and is dedicated to the cross-media issue of how femininity was portrayed in images in East Asian art of the early 18th to the late 19th century – in a dialogue between objects from the Porcelain Collection, the Photography Collection of the Museum of Ethnology and from the Kupferstich-Kabinett.
KUNSTGEWEBERMUSEUM (Berlin, Germany), Until March 2017 (only for early birds, but I had to include it, looks fantastic!).
“Uli Richter Revisited – Fashion Visionary, Teacher, Inspiration” coincides with Uli Richter’s 90th birthday, and features some of the highlights of the Berlin fashion designer’s work. As one of the youngest major designers working in Berlin in the early 1950s, he played an important role in forging a ‘made in Berlin’ style. Over the more than 40 years in which he worked as a fashion designer, he succeeded in reinvigorating and consolidating Berlin’s reputation as an international centre of fashion. Clothing, design sketches, and photographs, provide the viewer with a glimpse into Berlin’s young fashion scene in the 1980s and 1990s.
WIEN MUSEUM KARLSPLATZ (Viena, Austria), from 24th November 2016 to 26th February 2017
“Robert Haas. Framing Two Worlds.” Robert Haas (1898-1997) is among the great Austrian-American photographers of the twentieth century. He began his artistic career in Vienna as a graphic designer before studying photography. In the 1930s, Haas created stirring works of social reportage and sensitive depictions of everyday life, along with portraits and object studies of subjects in the city. On the way to his exhile to New York, Haas documented the American way of life beyond the big cities as well as public figures. The exhibition presents his virtually unknown oeuvre to the public for the first time: at once an artistic discovery of the first order and a richly detailed panorama of the times.
LIVRUSTKAMMAREN (Stockholm, Sweden), from 15th September to 19th March 2017.
“Renaissance fashion in paper. The Medici family outside the frame”. Impressive costumes, opulent creations, extravagant forms and strong colours. Lace, frills, trains, rosettes and flounces. A Renaissance collection – inspired by the most powerful Renaissance family, the Medicis. The collection has been entirely made of paper by the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. Now her most extravagant collection is being presented in the Royal Armoury in the Royal Palace, for the first time in both Sweden and Scandinavia.
MUSEO SALVATORE FERRAGAMO (Florence, Italy), from 19th May 2016 to 17th May 2017.
“Across Art and Fashion”, analyses the forms of dialogue between these two worlds: reciprocal inspirations, overlaps and collaborations, from the experiences of the Pre-Raphaelites to those of Futurism, and from Surrealism to Radical Fashion. It focuses on the work of Salvatore Ferragamo, who was fascinated and inspired by the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century, on several ateliers of the Fifties and Sixties and the advent of the culture of celebrities. It then examines the experimentation of the Nineties and whether in the contemporary cultural industry we can still talk about two separate worlds or if we are dealing with fluid roles.
GUCCI MUSEUM (Florence, Italy), from February 2017.
“The Tom Ford Rooms” showcase women’s and men’s ready-to-wear in one room and accessories in another. The aim of the spaces is to remind people of the way in which Ford encouraged self-expression through developing a distinctive, sensual aesthetic for the House. The decoration of the rooms and the way in which the items on display are presented contribute to a mood of provocative sensuality that perfectly reflects the image that Ford created for Gucci while he was at the helm of the design team at the label.
CRISTOBAL BALENCIAGA MUSEOA (Biarritz, Spain), 6th October 2016 to 7th May 2017.
“Coal And Velvet. Views On Popular Costumes By Ortiz Echagüe And Balenciaga” explores the romantic vision and the aesthetic revision that Cristóbal Balenciaga, in his Haute Couture creations, and Ortiz Echagüe, in his photographic narrations of traditional Spain, make of popular costumes. It establishes a dialogue offering interpretations of a reality, that of popular costumes, which was already becoming extinct in the early 20th century and which both, through works of undeniable artistic quality, give validity and bestow on them a timeless quality.
“Cristóbal Balenciaga. Un Legado Atemporal”, 1st January 2016 to 7 May, 2017.
One of the most influential couturiers of the 20th century and a tireless perfectionist with an exceptional creative talent that inspired him to design models that were audacious in both their form and aesthetics, taking the world by storm and setting the indisputable trend season after season. His command of the craft earned him the respect of his colleagues and he reigned supreme in the international haute couture world until he retired in 1968.