Recently i came across an interesting exhibition that is currently open in Lintz Art Museum, Austria.
“Love and Loss. Fashion and Mortality” deals with fashion´s everlasting game with transience. According to the curator of the exhibition Ursula Guttmann, dark tendencies started to appear in fashion in 1980s, before that it was a subject dealt with primarily in art and literature. Concept of beauty in fashion underwent a radical makeover, turning towards deconstruction, decay, animalism and naturalism, morbid fascination with perishability, romantic sadness and black humour.
“Fashion becomes a mirror in which we come face to face with our own mortality. It emphasizes the traces of time, praises transience and flirts with death.”
The exhibition consists of over 150 pieces of artworks of High Fashion and Street Fashion, photographs, videos, sculptures, paintings, graphic works and installations by 52 artists and artist groups. Artists incude Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen and many others.
Although the curator has looked at fashion from 1980s onwards, it seems to me the destructive tendencies started already mid-70s with explosion of the punk scene in London and New York, when street style took on an aggressive “urban warrior” disguise. Back then it was the rebel against the society and current political system, with distressed and torn clothes and bone-applique T-shirts. There is a section at the exhibiton dedicated to punk fashion.
In 1997 Martin Margiela injected eighteen articles of clothing from past collections with bacteria that reacts to oxygen, thus staining the fabric. Slowly – documented by the photographer Bob Goedewaagen – the clothes began to decay and dissolve.
Hussein Chalayan also played with the concept of decay while making his graduate collection „Tangent Flows“ in 1994. He covered the silk gowns with small pieces of metal and buried them underground for several months, so when they were dug out, they were rusty and partly dissolved.
Among other designers Alexander McQueen is famous for his (emotionally and physically) destructive approach to fashion and “reincarnation” of animalistic features, mixed with skillful craft and advantages of modern technology.
It is interesting how Japanese appreciate traces of time and wear even higher than of the new product. This has been shown in the works of several designers who celebrated the signs of time, as well as deconstruction of the silhouette.
As morbid as the exhibition sounds, there is a special corner for dark humor. Some designers prefer to confront the fact of mortality with sarcasm and life with irony, celebrating it or making fun of things some find inappropriate. Some escape to parallel syrreal worlds to avoid reality.
At last the exhibition looks at the morbidity of fashion as business itself. Nowadays attitude to fast fashion and intolerable conditions that people who produce it have to suffer. Interchangability and disaposal of clothes, fashion styles, as well as runway models. The doomed industry of superficiality that is running after a dream that in reality is the nightmare of doom.
The exhibition stays open till 7 June 2015
The question of mortality for the purpose of fashion has been quite important for me too. Firstly, because being a vegetarian and a leather accessories designer there is a slight contradiction between those two. The dilemma of how to justify these choices to myself got somehow answered one day when I visited a friend in the countryside of England. Her son had been out hunting(a pastime I do not personally approve of and would not take part of, but this is not my place to judge) and brought back two freshly shot pheasant birds, that were hanging on the wall of the house, as I arrived. The sight was so tragic and beautiful at the same time. While it made me wonder about the perishability of life as such, it also made me wish to immortalize the beauty, by creating something lasting of the magnificent bird´s feathers. It felt that if a designer or maker can “reincarnate” the beauty, once the life has run out, it would be as if giving the animals a new life as leather accessories.