Friday, 11 July 2008

Skin & Bones

Skin & Bones as in the exhibition - 'Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture' - now on at Somerset House.

This was tricky for me. There is some mind-blowing fashion in it that I love. In particular, the sculptural, fantastical yet wearable clothes from Boudicca's Invisible City collection and Alexander McQueen's Widows of Culloden - which gets points for name alone.

The Mobius strip dress by Meejin Yoon, complete with pictures of how zips transform it from an A-line cocoon to a dress to the famous strip (and there's a stripping pun in there somewhere that they all seem to have missed or turned up their noses at) is very clever.

Yohji Yamamoto's 'Secret' dress from his 1999 Wedding collection is truly ingenious - the dress is beautiful but the best part is the video of the catwalk display. A model comes in, looking around her as if surprised by all the people. As she walks, the hoops in the dress make her seem to float and sway as if walking on water. Just as you think she's made her final turn, a look of mischief comes over her face and she unzips a pocket in her skirt, pulling out a pair of sandals. She puts them on using just her feet, holding up the big skirt, with endearing clumsiness. Then there's more. She opens another pocket and extracts what looks like a complete parachute - two assistants help her don this long robe to cover her shoulders. Out comes a vast hat, and a sort of lace posy to hold. Not one of these things spoiled the original line of the dress in any way. Magic.

But what does this really have to do with 'Shelter', or any of the other rather tenuous linking themes? I can't argue that both fashion and architecture DO have to do with skin & bones, with shelter, with volume, with deconstruction, identity, pleating etc etc. But this exhibition does not provide me with any further information on how, beyond what I could have thought up for myself. The labeling is sparse - most information is saved for the (free) brochure, some items receive next to no explanation even there. In the thematic category 'Weaving' there is plenty of architecture, but no fashion at all... is weaving just too obvious for them to need to display it? I can't help but feel cheated.

The whole show smacks of very stylish laziness, relying on the genius of some of the creators to excuse the curators. I entered, ready and eager, to discover that 'This exhibition takes the early 1980s as a starting point'. But the next - the first - tangible exhibit is from the (late) 1990s - the 1980s are represented by a schoolgirl montage of pages from magazines. Most of all, the show told me nothing at all about technique. It did not, for example, show me how cantilevering can be used creatively in architecture, or how fashion designers have learned from this. Nowhere, in fact, was there the suggestion that any specific designer or architect had been directly inspired by the other discipline or tried precisely to emulate its techniques. I suppose that's just about ok given that we are examining 'parallel' practices, but I still craved at least some actual information.

The booklet explains a little about the architects and their buildings, but I get no sense of architectural history and development, of parallel movements. Yes I too could put a pleated dress next to a photo of a 'pleated' building, but so what? I could throw in some origami too, and some examples from nature, art, cookery - and it might look very pretty but it just doesn't mean very much. Also, in all honesty, the difference in fashion terms between 'volume' (ruffles in this case), 'pleating' and 'folding' is not very great.

Go and see this if you admire sculptural, clever fashion - or perhaps if you are a connoisseur of architectural drawings and photographs (I am not) - but expect to find fabulous wallpaper, not a great novel.

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