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On Fashion’s Runway

As Caroline Evans discussed in her rigorous book “The Mechanical Smile,” the origins of the fashion show reveal a constellation where the body, commerce, and modernity converge. Described as a theater without narrative, fashion’s runway illuminates the paradox of irrational mutability and mechanical standardization.

The “first” runway could be understood as the practice of couturiers sending living mannequins (what we now call models) into the public boulevard sporting new designs, eliciting shock and photographic dissemination. This animation of bodies performing novelty in urban life foregrounded the format we know today: models passing along a strip flanked by their consuming onlookers. Runways express the formaldehyde of a culture in flux. While technological treatments of the runway have modified since its emergence at the turn of the nineteenth century, its underlying edifice has remained largely intact. Despite this ongoing scenographic sameness, various designers have explored the runway as a discursive site to interrogate the mechanics of fashion’s circulation. These runway experiments reconfigure the relations between audiences, arrangements of space, the carnivalesque body and the haunting of its commodity form. Leaping from Paul Poiret’s epic 1911 “A Thousand and Second Night,” the designers exhibited at Kunsthalle Bern have approached the runway-as-medium to extend and challenge ideas within their own practice as well as the fashion system at large.

Passageways curates videos of runway shows by designers that have reimagined the catwalk as an exploratory performative tool to produce fashion. Also exhibited are outfits by some of those fashion designers alongside a series of commissioned replicas that rewrite new histories of the runway as a suspension of fashion-time.

BLESS, N°0-4, Alexanderplatz, 1998

Commissioned for the Berlin Biennale, Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag of BLESS staged a “living commercial” in Berlin’s large public square, Alexanderplatz. Everyday people as models walked past an inconspicuous CCTV camera wearing pieces from collections N°0-4.

BLESS, N°25, Uniseasoners – Life vs. Consumption, 2005

For N°25, Uniseasoners – Life vs. Consumption guests were invited to a restaurant on rue Portefoin, Paris, to enjoy a light meal served by waiters wearing their latest collection. In a convivial and discursive setting, the waiter-models explained the pieces they were wearing to their guests, foregrounding the relational and everyday codes of their clothing.

BLESS, N°32, Frustverderber, 2007

Taking the form of a soccer match, BLESS left the show’s unraveling completely up to chance. Friends were invited to take part, some more active than others. Delicate objects were placed in one goal, and whether or not these would be hit and subsequently broken was not choreographed or planned.

Helmut Lang, Séance de Travail FW93/94, 1993

“I called the presentations seances de travail instead of fashion shows, as I really wanted to stress another reality on the runway and also allow myself to sometimes transfer an element from one show to the next, leading to something new in a more elaborate manner. The séance de travail concept made sense to me, as it was set up for the press, buyers, and other attendees. I introduced it by eliminating the elevated runway, promoting all age groups of models, supermodels, and friends, sending them on a ground-level runway that, rather than being center stage, had a square-shaped path with two extensions and different exits. This allowed a fast and interactive flow similar to a public space, where some models rotated one time and others walked the circuit two or three times. It was always at random and a decision I took the second I sent them out. I consider these sessions as performances because I did not only want to convey modern clothes, but also a feeling and mood of a moment in time, which, in combination with men, women, speed, and the unpredictable synergy, created a different dimension for most spectators. I consider this approach a countermovement to posing, and the press in a way defined the events at Rue des Commines as cult-like events (for lack of a better word).” — Helmut Lang quoted in Not in Fashion: Photography and Fashion in the 90s, 2011

Maison Martin Margiela, FW97/98, 1997

“For his Autumn-Winter 1997–78 collection, free promotional maps of Paris with three locations and times for the show were sent to journalists, many of whom threw them out, thinking they were junk mail rather than fashion show invitations. At 05.00 hours on the morning of the show, a bus carrying thirty-five brass band players left Brussels for Paris where it met another bus that carried thirty-five models to their first destination. This was an abandoned covered market, La Java, at Belville, at 10.30 hours. The second, at 11.45 hours, was a glass-covered loading bay of the huge Le Gibus building at Republique. The third, at 15.00 hours, was a 1930s dance school, Le Menagerie de Jerre, at Parmentier. At each venue the audience watched the models and band get out and then followed them into the show space as the band played a slow march. At the third, however, instead of going into the building the models simply paraded through the streets mingling with the public. They were accompanied throughout by Margiela’s assistants clad in white laboratory coats, a tradition borrowed from the couture ateliers. By departing from his pre-planned itinerary and allowing his models to ‘drift’ through the city streets rather than model on the more conventional catwalk, Margiela evoked two related tropes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the flux of the crowd that was central to Baudelaire’s city imagery and the Situationist concept of dérive.” — Caroline Evans, Fashion at the Edge, 2005

Walter van Beirendonck, W&LT SS98, 1997

This show, titled “A Fetish for Beauty,” explored the carnivalesque nature of gender roles, commencing with a humorously camp male line dance and ending with a dystopic re-imagining of a 1950s ball.

writtenafterwards, SS18, 2017

The two runways exhibited by writtenafterwards use the runway for narrative storytelling more than showcasing discrete collections. In these lengthy shows, makeshift props and ad hoc costumes are used in performances orchestrated by acts. The designer, Yoshikazu Yamagata, also runs an alternative open-ended fashion school, Coconogacco, which, similar to these runways, focuses on fashion as an expression for performance.

 

“Passageways: On Fashion’s Runway, curated by Matthew Linde, is on view at Kunsthalle Bern through December 2, 2018.

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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Factory of Dreams

Last year the Parsons MFA Fashion Design and Society program withdrew from the Business of Fashion’s Global School Fashion Rankings. They sited conflicts of interest, namely its combative commodification of education, BoF’s dubious initiation of their own online courses, and the ranking’s lack of geopolitical and socioeconomic variables. And yet ranking is perfectly reasonable in a world where universities are increasingly public-relations businesses.

London’s Central Saint Martins, arguably the world’s top fashion university, consistently produces impressive MA showcases. This year, two graduate collections in particular sparked intense interest: Liam Johnson and Edwin Mohney. While it’s an easy, if not lazy, task to buttress the already elite-ranked institution, I was gripped by the two designer’s distinctive approaches in reimagining the application of dress through reduction and the found object. They were also, maybe for those reasons, the bookends of the graduate runway.

 

Liam: The idea for the collection was to create a graphic statement with an emotional reaction. It was about reducing or exaggerating the line of the body to create direct vision. I approached this by using primary geometric shapes as the starting point. It’s about trying to capture a fleeting moment and most importantly offering a new visual language.

Matthew: I thought this “reduction” in your work was mesmerizing. It reminded me of Adolf Loos’s Ornament and Crime in how you were framing the body entirely through severe primary shapes. I doubt Loos would have approved of your collection, but it was certainly modernist in its mathematical approach to silhouette. Did your pieces using the spectacular transparent ductile fabric require much toiling to achieve those lines? The precision is vivid.

Liam: I can’t say Loos was a huge inspiration, but it’s funny that you made that connection. I guess it’s a kind of paradox, the conflict of something looking so clean and functional yet being totally unrealistic. The pieces themselves took a while to create. A lot of toiling was involved to get the right tension, because no stretch fabric was the same. Everything had to be created from the final fabric. Everything needed to be pitched and balanced, working with the drape of the fabric to find that middle point between the stretch and the tension. There are also other factors involved such as height. All the hoops where custom made, and things wouldn’t be able to be toiled in till last minute. I reprinted and remade the final dress twice, two days before the show, because a seam was twisted. It needed to be as pristine as possible.

Liam Johnson, backstage at Central Saint Martins 2018 graduation show.
Liam Johnson, backstage at Central Saint Martins 2018 graduation show. Photography by Asia Werbel.

Matthew: This idea of effacing excess was discussed a lot in modernist architecture in that it cleansed forms of representation. As a strange inversion you used the “smooth object” as a type of ornament when you had some models simply holding these large geometric forms in front of them. Reading your work through the flat runway image, I thought these modernist architectural shapes were almost a new form of dress, “attached” only via the wearer’s grasp.

Liam: The shapes symbolize baggage. Yes, they were very primary and very flat, but they needed to be harsh. The idea to have them carried was something I came up with early on, and originally I had five more in the collection. I liked the way they felt strong and confrontational, almost like huge boulders, yet had this contradicting factor — you could hide behind these shapes. The idea for this was never meant to be a new way of dress. It was about saying: This is what I am carrying! This is how I feel! All that was conveyed through scale, color, and texture. They look flat on images but they have a very specific fuzzy texture in reality. The triangle was made of linen. This was important, as it needed to feel like dead space amid the sharp colors. It needed to feel older and yet just as clean, almost ancient.

Matthew: Can you explain the prints?

Liam: I had created about twenty posters of different gradients, colors, and compositions. I created them as a response to some music I was creating at the time. I liked this idea of them feeling like a series of spiritual posters, the way an album cover says everything about the album before you listen to it and sometimes nothing at all. For me, they hold some familiar quality, be it a hazed zebra, skulls, something nuclear, or a saturated colorful spot. I find it hard to articulate the journey of finding all of this, as it hasn’t been a very liner journey at all. It somehow is a romanticized personal manifestation of things, situations, and characters in my life that I love, hate, admire, and find challenging. The main thing that I try to convey in the work and challenge people with is honesty and unknown familiarity.

Edwin: The collection was inspired by my own angst for the seriousness of fashion. I can’t stand the thought of taking a hem or sleeve too seriously. I take craftsmanship very seriously, but the aesthetic value of tradition places meaning in something I don’t measure. I take a more nihilistic approach to my work. To measure something in terms of nihilism is to give it less value, using craft to justify something flippant.

Further, fashion often demands the representation of commercial success as its context. I was interested in creating a late-capitalist representation of fashion through the integration of failing structures and outdated tastes. The collection is based in couture, the most unprofitable sector of the fashion industry, and is incredibly focused on craft but through the use of readymades. Can Duchamp be fashion? This is what I’m interested in.

Aesthetically, the only thread through the collection was to balance colors which were taken from products that represented freshness. For example, Evian water bottles and tide pods. This was used to counter the staleness of old-fashioned couture shapes.

Matthew: Right, I like your take on nihilism as value reversal. I would also agree that craft is historically specific. Coco Chanel reportedly spent hours laboring over the exactitude of a sleeve head — it can be funny to think sometimes how this affected, highfalutin gesture is insisted upon as virtuosity. Then again, why not vindicate the absurd? Couture is often encountered on the red carpet. Do you have a favourite outfit from the collection you would like seen there?

 Edwin Mohney, backstage at Central Saint Martins 2018 graduation show.
Edwin Mohney, backstage at Central Saint Martins 2018 graduation show. Photography by Asia Werbel.

Edwin: Yes! I completely agree. Laboring over a sleeve head is futile in comparison to open-heart surgery, but I enjoy the idea that the consumer is paying for that attention to detail with every stitch. It points to clothing as objects of beauty. I appreciate someone’s persistence in their vision of beauty if that is incredibly pristine or an absurd conundrum.

Specifically, I would love the see the simple white ruffle dress with red socks on the runway. I would die to see the chicken sister dresses be worn, but that simple dress maintains a real sense of being a cocktail dress while being just a ruffled piece of fabric. I would like to think that piece would really ride the line between the red carpet best and worst dressed — depending on the accessories of course.

Matthew: “Represented freshness” could be a great WGSN trend report on the color palette of late capitalism. It also explains the alienation of some of your outfits. I found the tandem outfits worn by the Maybury sisters the most eerie — they somehow felt more plastic than the polyurethane of the pool. What drew you to pools as fashion objects? Did you work with other bought readymades?

Edwin: Thank you! It’s something I’ve become obsessed with. Shampoo bottles, water bottles, detergents — the colors are so yummy. The pool was born out of that same obsession. I loved the color of the blue vinyl and the matte white. The pool evolved from the air mattress skirt worn underneath the mountain look. I was making understructures that would function as crinolines, but through a late-capitalist lens. I played with balloons for a long time to build volume underneath fabric. The pool was a natural progression, and I loved how impossible the idea of having a pool on a runway felt. The intention wasn’t to invoke any specific meaning other than creating a moment that focused on expectation and form.

Matthew: One of the reasons why I was so drawn to Liam and yourself is how you both speculated new concepts for the application of dress. In many ways, our imagination of fashion is still constrained by nineteenth-century industrial technologies. Until we have malleable, advanced, user-friendly 3-D printing or virtual reality, where clothes can essentially be sprayed on as readymades, we’re liable to particular hierarchies of “wearability.” You’ve worked a lot with tape in previous work, as well as in your MA collection, which is an exciting proposal for sculpting or assembling dress. Could you explain the process of making these taped fashions?

Edwin: The taped pieces are casts. I wrap objects/people and then reinforce the pieces with more tape from the inside. The casting of an object/person represents an imagined outfit or form that surrounds the body, which is then worn on another person. It came from a question of how can you wear someone else?

by Matthew Linde

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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The New Spirit of New York Fashion Week

Change was welcomed this season by the New York Fashion Week press. As heavyweights Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Thom Browne and Joseph Altuzarra left for Paris, critics such as Cathy Horyn and Anna Wintour amped up fervor for the new designer vanguard.

One could argue that this acknowledgment of emerging voices seemed delayed considering the city has been producing a cohort of young art-aligned designers since the early DIS magazine moment. Nevertheless, now that these fringe labels are gaining establishment recognition, do we need to reassess their unorthodoxy?

Is it right to analogize “emerging” with “experimental”? Eckhaus Latta, who have been designing since 2011, received accolades from Vogue for the “buzzy brand’s most coherent and accomplished collection yet.” Refinement in Vogue terms generally translates as greater buyer applicability. The label, known for an aesthetic of undoing (seams, hems, bodily fragmentation), produced their most done-up collection yet, rehashing their previous styles with less risk; look two could’ve been cut out from a COS collection. Yet unremitting is their notoriety for casting a slew of non-models — the S/S ’18 protagonist being the pregnant artist Maia Ruth Lee — rehearsing their position as a networked community of creatives.

Shayne Oliver’s relaunch of Helmut Lang was one of the most awaited shows of the week, bustling with industry professionals and an effervescent H.B.A. crowd. Since Lang’s departure in 2005, the label has operated in purgatory, producing one forgettable collection after another. Oliver dramatically upheaved the house with new fetishistic verve, one with harnesses and cock rings. It will be this verve, though, that will distance some. The brazen sloganeering that renders everything Supreme™ certainly won’t impress the essentialist Helmut Lang believers.

Telfar was one of the most provocative moments of the week, not because the designer delivered spectacle but instead thanks to his ongoing twelve-year-plus study of uniformity. Unlike other runway shows that entertained the appeal of gender fluidity through casting, Telfar Clemen’s societal investigations are grounded in what constructs a universal unisex. How does the ubiquity of the polo shirt function across gender and class? How do uniforms circumvent the temporality of themes? These are thoroughly interesting questions — questions that have placed him as a finalist for this year’s CFDA award. He also revealed the outfit he designed for the hamburger chain White Castle with the statement, “1 look on 12,000 models.” Vogue quotes him: “I want people to aspire to wear the same thing that the person serving them is wearing and to actually meet them.” An inventive proposal that expands the role of the fashion designer into new anthropological terrain.

What about the other fringe designers outside the aforementioned big three? One condition that seems to unify the new spirit of emerging design is the speed at which it can travel from the margins to the center. Learning how to work within the widening attention economy, young labels can seize global visibility through the quick assemblage of image-ready design. VFILES is good example of this system, which values the impact of the image in obvious design one-liners and gimmicks, and in doing so extracting the gains of social-media metrics. And despite Vogue’s Nick Remsen’s often scathing reviews of the cheap VFILESification of fashion, its traction can be demonstrated via the machine of clickbait fashion press, epitomized by i-D and Dazed. Within this schema of data aggregation, labels must be elementary.

Jacquemus’s influence cannot be understated here. Exaggerated silhouettes with a macro, uncomplicated design approach, appropriate for the consumption of the four-sided frame, can be seen across the likes of Vaquera, Matthew Adams Dolan and Luar. These clothes offer the quick gag of a giant sleeve or a floppy tie. Then again, at least these designers understand how to pull off clowning. The witless new collection of Adam Selman, who declares that “fashion should be fun and bold,” culminates as a banal denim and gingham Topshop spinoff series. Lou Dallas offered a nice reprieve from the macro approach with misadventures in woodland crafts. The designer’s use of dead stock fabrics, while a material practice, operated more as a conceptual gesture to remind us the lived process of cloth. The collection, presented at Bridget Donahue, felt like an exciting technical upgrade from her previous shows.

Is it crass to reference Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski’s endlessly referenced text The New Spirit of Capitalism? Then again, we’re dealing with a particularly crass fashion, one deemed bohemian through the use of non-models and gimmick virality. If emerging designers want to pursue experimentation, no longer can they simply work against standardized silhouettes; the challenge now is to frustrate the attention economy through which fashion at large is standardized.

by Matthew Linde

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Cartoon Couture / KEUPR/vanBENTM

KEUPR/vanBENTM was founded in Arnhem in 1997 by Michiel Keuper and Francisco van Benthum. Until 2001, the experimental label produced chimerical collections that followed haute-couture’s “laboratory of ideas” model.

I spoke to Michiel about the label’s reaction against thematic design and the minimalist sensibility of the late 1990’s.

I’m intrigued by your seeming disregard for the industry in how you departed from the ready-to-wear model to invent your own haute-couture framework. Did you always operate as “couture”? Why was this important?

Michiel Keuper: We graduated from ArtEz, in Arnhem, in the mid-1990s. The school was renowned for the conceptual approach. It was the time when fashion was mainly determined by grunge and minimalism. When we started to collaborate in 1997, Tom Ford’s overt sensualism at Gucci was beginning to emerge, paving the way for bling-bling fashion. Also there were the appointments of Galliano and McQueen at Dior and Givenchy, putting a renewed spotlight on haute couture. In the case of McQueen, this was an inspiring example of how a young, uncompromising designer could be picked to revive an old House.

What fashion needed was Experiment with a capital E. We wanted to go back to the once-core principles of couture, before it became a reactionary style exercise, a mere marketing tool for selling perfumes. We were convinced that couture should be a laboratory for new approaches and ideas. In that sense our approach was couture from the beginning (the addition “haute” only being allowed to houses accredited by the Chambre Syndicale). Initially we started showing during the prêt-à-porter week because of the group shows we were part of. After a couple of seasons, the prêt-à-porter frame became a bit of a strain since, despite all the editorial praise, the press and buyers inevitably started asking what the commercial value was of all these fantastical collections. Since our main drive was to present our artistic vision, it made sense to move over to the couture season, where we debuted in July 2000.

Was the label a commercial enterprise? How did you survive?

Even though we explored several ways to offer limited editions of commercial renditions of our pieces, as well as doing commissions to keep financially afloat, our main drive never was a commercial one. In our view, as a small label without infrastructure, it made more sense to invest in creating a strong design vocabulary, to hopefully attract the attention of possible financial backers.

By the mid-1990s the Fund had started supporting fashion design in a structural and strategic way. By awarding grants and stipends, that enabled individual designers to develop their work without financial pressure. In that sense, promoting Dutch fashion design became a hugely successful endeavor. Starting with the Paris presentations of the collective Le Cri Néerlandais around 1994, that laid the cornerstones of the careers of Viktor & Rolf as well as Lucas Ossendrijver, to name but a few. And culminating in 1998 in the so-called Dutch Wave, as it was dubbed by the fashion media. This also was the year when all the main prizes at the International Festival de la Mode in Hyères were won by Dutch designers, including KEUPR/vanBENTM. Part of the prize was a group presentation in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Louvre in October 1998.

Important fashion designers are those who prompt new ideas of the body. Design, paradoxically, also has a tendency to institutionalize the body. KEUPR/vanBENTM’s first collection consisted of looks that completely transformed the body from different viewpoints. What was the process of making these fantastically fragmented outfits?

“Caught in Color” was a project initially started as an application for a rather commercial Dutch design competition. We wanted to challenge our notion of what is beautiful, or useful, or wearable. We started by writing a manifesto that placed concept over wearability, inviting risk and randomness into the design process, challenging our personal good taste. (For example, “In case of doubt, always choose the ugly option/fabric/color.”)

One of the requirements was to design a complete collection, but the maximum was limited to three outfits, which we found absurd. As an act of rebellion we then decided to merge at least four outfits into one, which resulted in hybrid creations that were completely different from every angle. But apart from challenging the fashion system, foremost we wanted to challenge ourselves. If we know that technically there are no limitations, we might as well not care about the outcome, depart from the common notion of beauty, and design in a new and free way.

Despite your alternative positioning, your dedication to fashion language was impressive: the catwalks (“Evil Wrapped in Beauty,” 1998, was at the Louvre); the photo shoots (especially “Caught in Color,” 1997); the production of show invitations (for your fictional runway “Friction,” 1999). Why did you leave? Will you come back?

In the summer of 2001, after our last presentation during the Alta Moda in Rome, we decided to skip one season in order to restructure our label. In a paradoxical way the timing saved us and ended our label at the same time. September 11 happened and the mood drastically changed. Significantly, the attacks happened in the midst of New York Fashion Week. Suddenly other issues seemed more important than fashion. And as the big brands suffered, small labels without sufficient backing did even more so. With buyers reluctant to invest in new brands, sales came to an abrupt stop, and many of our peers were heavily affected. Luckily for us, skipping the season meant that we didn’t loose on a collection. But it did mean that we were facing a different world, with less space for our “Cartoon Couture,” as Vogue had dubbed it. It seemed to us that the time needed different answers.

KEUPR/vanBENTM came out of a personal need, urge and conviction. Our work was in reaction to, and in that sense a reflection of that time. We can’t deny that in some ways we were maybe too much ahead. We are happy to see the industry is changing and now embracing many of the things we were advocating back then, such as merging men’s and women’s collections, or going back to small-scale production and craft. The younger generations are picking up on that. Because of the internet and social media, ideas and alternative approaches travel much faster. We started in a provincial bubble, still pre-internet 2.0 and working pretty analog. Given that, it’s a miracle that we managed to attract the international attention that we did. This also shows the enormous craving for new ideas and alternative approaches.

Your collections stood the test of time…

It is somewhat surprising. And then again, not, since the work was never about trends. Lately we find a renewed interest in our label. Last year the Centraal Museum in Utrecht acquired the remaining key pieces from our archive to complement their collection. K/vB is in our artistic DNA, whatever we do, so maybe the K/vB universe will appear in a different form. Time and movements come and go in waves, especially in fashion. So who knows if at one point we will feel the urge or see new possibilities.

by Matthew Linde

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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Fashion is Not a Revelation: An Appeal for Critical Curation

The current exhibition at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), titled “fashion after Fashion,” promises a bold new definition of critical fashion. As curators Hazel Clark and Ilari Laamanen explain, “Fashion” with a capital F is “an inherent system of short-lived trends, idealized body types, and the presentation of gendered stereotypes, all conveyed with authority through the names of brands…”

The exhibition intends to show that fashion practice can possess intellectual value outside market forces. This hypothesis, which posits fashion criticality as a nascent reality, curiously neglects decades of scholarly and curatorial work dedicated to fashion’s various experiential, social and multidisciplinary relations. Sidestepping this vast history of critical fashion practice and theory, “fashion after Fashion” purports to show “some of the most innovative work being produced” as alternatives to an otherwise oppressive system.

The exhibition brings together six practitioners who deal with the lowercase phenomenon known as “fashion.” SSAW magazine presents a teen bedroom interior completely covered in spreads and campaigns from their past issues. Designer Ryohei Kawanishi creates a faux wholesale showroom with bought garments redolent of Zara pieces; hoping to jam the value-relationship of garment and branding, he has supplanted existing logos and labels with his own. Henrik Vibskov has constructed transparent fabric cubicles with gelatinous Ernesto Neto–style blobs suspended in them. This, we are told, points to “how bodies are enlivened by their garments” and how fashion “references the passage of time.” Lucy Jones crafts ergonomic cross sections of garments that enhance body joint movability for wheelchair users. This suggests fashion’s potential for inclusivity. Sculptural works by the collaborative duo ensæmble expose the innards of garments, highlighting their construction to illuminate our everyday interfaces with clothing. Eckhaus Latta and Alexa Karolinski’s video features downtown New York art characters responding to questions of love and identity while wearing the brand’s clothing. The exhibition claims this demonstrates how fashion can facilitate community.

Unlike the more traditional fashion exhibition approach of isolating a specific time, place, author, style or medium to position a thesis, “fashion After Fashion” denies this curatorial threshold as proof that this new “fashion” practice transcends mere collections and catwalks. While the exhibition format need not remain didactic, the act of selection is also an act of restriction, an indictment made all the more critical for a museum. The question that becomes immediately apparent is: What makes these six key practitioners so illustrative of this new “fashion” frontier? Are the above tactics of imagery, brand jamming, immersive environments, disability design, deconstruction and community truly novel to fashion? Or, have these practitioners canonized once-niche concerns into systemic industry changes?

Within the curators’ vague paradigm shift of “Fashion” vs. “fashion,” profound contradictions are evident. Take for instance the work by SSAW Magazine. The exhibition argues that SSAW is a repudiation of fashion magazines and their proclivity to “present stereotypes of beauty, gender, and age, which they [SSAW] found restrictive and unrepresentative of their interests.” Expecting an insightful shift, I instead discover the magazine almost exclusively depicts tall, youthful, waif-like models, many of them represented by major agencies, wearing the latest in luxury designer fashion. The professionally crafted visuals are virtually indistinguishable from those of mainstream fashion magazines. Fashionably alternative models may appear, but recent campaigns by corporations such as H&M, which present body diversity under the banner of brand identity, question the collusion between representation in the fashion industry and Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. Is this a highly attuned form of institutional critique? Could this be an update of Stéphane Mallarmé’s1874 La Dernière mode, an interventionist project in which the poet, acting as a ficto-critic, published a fashion magazine using a host of pseudonyms to construct a simulation of the discourse? All research points to no. Fashion remains Fashion.

Ultimately functioning as a frivolous curatorial exercise, there is a dearth of any intelligible attempt to expound a theoretical connection between these six practitioners. Yes, they all somehow challenge cultural norms or luxury economies, but this could be described as fashion tout-court. Even high-end “Fashion” designers have been historically known to subvert corporeal and corporate expectations, creating platforms for new gender roles, championing minorities, obfuscating their financial imperative though philanthropy, collaborating with artists and advocating for the individual. Why aren’t they included in the show? This lack of discernment is worrying for a museum exhibition that declaims a manifesto of the “new”; clearly the exhibition does not interrogate the complex marriage of the culture industry and the corporate world. Instead, “fashion after Fashion” offers the nebulous assurance that “fashion” is “more complex, critically informed and socially relevant.”

The fact is that this type of revelatory exhibition of fashion’s expanded field has been mounted countless times: “Biennale di Firenze” (1996), curated by Germano Celant; “Fast Forward: Mode in den Medien” (1999), curated by Ulrike Tschabitzer and Christian Muhr at Künstlerhaus Wien; “Dysfashional” (2007), curated by Luca Marchetti and Emanuele Quinz at the Luxembourg Rotonde; and “The Future of Fashion is Now” (2014), curated by José Teunissen at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, to name a few.

It has become remarkably evident at this point that fashion’s sensorium is involved in creative processes that transcend market forces (although I would argue that all fashion practice, luxury to niche, remains intrinsically entangled with the market). An exhibition declaring a new fashion must do more than explicate this fact. This is not to say all fashion exhibitions need to adhere to specific themes and cannot tackle fashion as a methodological conundrum. In 1944 Bernard Rudofsky curated “Are Clothes Modern?” at MoMA, a show that infiltrated the broad annals of fashion, challenging its genetic makeup, through Veblen and other anthropologists, as a grotesque semiology of class politics. In 2005, “Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back,” curated by Judith Clark at the V&A Museum, addressed fashion as analogous to Benjamin’s concept of the tiger’s leap, as the discursive image where past and present cyclically meet. Unlike “fashion after Fashion,” these exhibitions used pointed propositions to curatorially challenge our understanding of the fashion system.

by Matthew Linde

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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Promesse du Bonheur / ___fabrics interseason

___fabrics interseason was founded by Wally Salner and Johannes Schweiger. Since 1998, they have produced twenty-two collections, initiated a bachelor’s degree program in fashion design for Kunstuniversität Linz, and have participated in more than twenty exhibitions, including the third Berlin Biennale and Manifesta 7. The term “interseasonal,” which refers to clothing that falls outside the two major annual shows, is suggestive of design’s liminal space. 

Their work, along with labels like BLESS, has been canonical for opening new interdisciplinary models for fashion. While haute couture challenges wearability through the spectacular, ___fabrics interseason instead explores clothing codes through a sociopolitical approach to fashion rituals. Although the label ended in 2011, their nuanced criticality still echoes today, in contrast to the hyper exposure of the fashion industry.

___fabrics interseason was a curious example of a label that existed on the periphery. Your work dealt with installations, performances, music and material studies. What was your interest in anchoring this practice in fashion?

Johannes Schweiger: We had no background in fashion studies, but we both, Wally Salner and I, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. During my studies, my artistic projects already dealt with issues of clothing and fashion. It was not really about making garments or wearable props, but more about an institutional critique of the system of fashion — modes of presenting, mediating and consuming fashion.

In the beginning, ___fabrics interseason had a strong focus on the performative aspects of fashion, literally using the method and form of a fashion show as a tool to communicate social issues and phenomena. Even then the garments of our collections were not necessarily designed under a fashionable/wearable aspect. I would say this started when we founded the company and went to Paris to present our collections during fashion week and further sold them to shops worldwide. ___fabrics interseason had a broader brand philosophy, and its approach toward fashion combined design, fine arts, music, film and text in a simple and natural way.

Working from and at the periphery allows you to stay in focus. It might also mean that your gaze at the center is critical and objective, if the center represents a corporate-run brand whose only aim is to have a huge turnover by the end of the year.

The collection descriptions are often long, impressionistic explanations of cultural phenomena, functioning as ficto-critical analyses to frame the collection. Topics have ranged from Tupperware, Japanese consumerism, masculine anxiety, etc. What was one of your favorite collections/works?

That’s difficult to answer after such a long time, but it might be a trilogy of collections dealing with the subject of normality projected on the surface in different fields (Spring Summer 2002, Fall Winter 2002/03, Spring Summer 2003). The series was called “constructed normality” and had the subtitles #PromesseDuBonheur, with the focus on “New Poverty;” #ModernNervs, dealing with psychic (ab)normality; and #clubMed CHLOR, in which we concentrated on the idea of gated holiday resorts and female sex tourism in the 1980s.

Your collections often addressed a loose fabric that, as an abandonment of the anatomy, is also explored in your installation work. This provocation of fashion’s boundaries was also being tested by another label, ffiXXed, who approached fabric’s multiplicity in translating non-garment outcomes. What is your relationship to fabric in your installation work — for example the piece for Manifesta 7?

For Manifesta we continued with a project we realized a year before (tapestry #1). In this open-air installation we worked with handwoven rugs and carpets that were made of the leftovers from all the previous collections, cut into thin strips and woven in the most simple way you can imagine: warp and weft. The idea behind it was not really a recycling aspect but more the leveling of different collections (with all their concepts) into a new design product. The carpets/textiles can also been seen as a form of painting and have different dimensions, the biggest ones measuring two by twenty meters.

One of my favorite collections was “Adhocracy f/w 2004/05,” which was also featured in the third Berlin Biennale. Could you explain this work?

“Adhocracy” was conceived both as a collection and an installation piece that included a performance for the third Berlin Biennale. Then, almost fifteen years ago, the rise of smart technologies and the phenomenon of the flash mob was quite virulent, and we linked this idea of Dadaistic nonsense gatherings with the Surrealists, who handed out heads of lettuce to passersby to bring some fantasy to the course of standardized, everyday life. But do not forget: the surrealists were an elitist group. Anybody who acted against the imaginary disordered rules was quickly conjured away!

The principle upon which these ad hoc groupings came together was simple: sometime, somehow, somewhere. We questioned if this phenomenon could be the future of democracy, a kind of a high-speed variant of democratic consent-formation in the age of wireless communication. For its presentation during Paris fashion week, we organized a fake flash mob at the Louvre/Union Central des Arts Decoratifs, where the group of models lip-synched Kevin Blechdom’s interpretation of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.”

What was it like heading a fashion course at the university in Linz? What was your approach to fashion pedagogy?

Working with students is a matter of giving and taking. Of course there are specific curricula to which you have to stick to, but the most important thing with teaching is to stimulate and promote independent thinking: free thinking is for free! I am still doing design seminars in Linz and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but I mainly teach at the Technical University of Dortmund, at the Institute of Art and Material Culture/Anthropology of Textiles. Wally Salner is teaching in Munich.

Are you still interested in fashion today?

Of course, I follow fashion. I still think it’s an interesting and powerful tool to communicate with your surroundings and mediate certain issues via fabrics and garments.

by Matthew Linde

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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