Tag Archives: Fashion

Fashion & Dictators

Art and fashion follow the money but are the taste of the powerful and wealthy as dubious as their ethics? When French Elle magazine vote the wife of the Syrian leader, Asma al-Assad, “the most stylish woman in world politics”, they not only displayed political naiveté but a serious lack of taste. French Elle was not alone Paris Match and American Vogue also lavished praise on the dictator’s wife. (For more see Angelique Chrisafis “The first ladies of oppression” The Guardian.) Don’t these people remember Naomi Campbell’s testimony in 2010 about receiving diamonds from convicted war criminal Robert Taylor? Don’t these people remember that Imelda Marcos had 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags and 1,000 – 3,000 pairs of shoes?

The high end of couture fashion is dependent on selling products to people, many of whom have obviously acquired their wealth dishonestly, at prices that no honest person could afford. Yet these labels are never held in anyway responsible – sure a few portrait painters might fall with a dictator – no fashion house suffers. The high fashion labels keep on racking in the money from the corrupt without any implications on their character or taste.

Entertain the thought that fashion is not superficial, that it is actually the most deep and important of all cultural signifiers. We identify ourselves through our fashion, and now more than ever, it is now not just a sign of class, profession and status but of identity. This is more than just about the money – it is a question about taste. The taste for high-end fashion and for corruption and blood are obviously linked but almost never discussed. Who wants to dress like the wife of a dictator, or like a dictator? Why are their politics but not their taste in clothes questioned?

It is horrible to think of Bashar al-Assad dancing around to “I’m too sexy for my shirt” by Right Said Fred (leaked information reveals that he downloaded it from Itunes this year). He must be ignorant of how camp the song is, simply a vain and brutal criminal in an expensive shirt.


LMFF Culture Part 2 – or is it?

Wandered around the city on Saturday looking at elements in the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Culture Program. As I was near RMIT Gallery I went there and found textiles exhibitions that are not part of the LMFF Cultural Program. The LMFF Cultural Program is so large that you would think that every fashion/ textile / jewellery related exhibition in Melbourne would be in it but you would be wrong. Just as if you imagined that every good window display in Melbourne was part of the LMFF’s “Windows by Design” but more on that later.

“1st Tamworth Textile Triennial
- Sensorial Loop” at RMIT gallery is an impressive exhibition. Most impressive is the relationship that two of the pieces make of video and performance and textiles. Martha McDonald’s “The Weeping Dress” is seen in a video of a performance and in the washed out relic from the performances of a once black Victorian style mourning dress stained with a fugitive dye. (It was part of last year’s LMFF – see Vetti’s post about it.) Carly Scoufos’s “Panels from the Interlaced Manuscript” also has a video and some of the panels, part of a wall from a shed, containing two doors, onto which Scoufos has embroided with woollen thread and nails. Amongst the exhibition there are also two impressive works of post minimalist sculpture Tania Spencer’s wire donut, “Would you like some cake”, and Lucy Ivine’s black, groovy and curvy, “Continuos Interruptions” made from irrigation pipe and cable ties.

“Joyaviva: Live Jewellery from across the Pacific” and “Double Happiness: Portrait of a Chinese Wedding” were also at RMIT Gallery. “Joyaviva” captured something of the personal, magical and interconnecting aspects of jewellery with its pin board style of exhibiting. “Double Happiness” is a set of contemporary Chinese wedding fashion for the whole family.

Nicholas Bastin’s “The Sleepless Hero” at Craft Victoria is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Bastin’s funky mixed media jewellery is beautifully installed on diagrammatic depictions of partial figures. But Bastin’s jewellery is too “hyper-real”, too much in the realm of art for the magic of jewellery to be credible. Craft Victoria’s three exhibitions are typical of its avant-garde approach to craft; the other two are more contemporary art than craft.

The NGV at Federation Square has a fashion exhibition of the work of Australian designer, Linda Jackson that is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Jackson’s designs are from a very foolhardy era of Australian fashion – the 1980s. Some might be kinder and say that these are ‘brave and bold’ designs but the kind of bravado seen in Jackson’s 80s fashion lacked any good sense.

Detail of Zambesi's window

In the windows of Zambesi we saw one of the LMFF “Windows by Design” by Marcos Davidson. The windows are full of a variety of pillars of readymade objects carefully arranged and curated. Between these pillars you can just make out some mannequins in fluorescent clothes. Shop window displays are an interesting aspect of culture. Almost every time I go past Aesop I have to remind myself that I’m not passing a contemporary art gallery but an up-market cosmetics shop. The design is so elegant and minimalist. What is the difference between a shop window display, especially those in the windows of Aesop or Alphaville, and an art installation? I always think about Walter Benjamin wrote about shop windows. For more about Walter Benjamin and shop window displays see “Speculative Windows text” by m-a-u-s-e-r (Mona Mahall and Asli Serbest). http://www.m-a-u-s-e-r.net/?p=4


LMFF Culture

L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program – Material Culture – Counihan Gallery – Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion – Sophie Gannon Gallery

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

All the exhibitors in “Material Culture” at the Counihan Gallery are RMIT Textile Design alumni. The hanging of “Material Culture” is exceptionally well done; the exhibition looks exciting from the women spinning on the podium outside before the opening, to John Brooks “The object in flux II” hanging from the ceiling in the foyer, to Gina Gascoigne “Siphonomore” made from optical fibre and light, the exhibition enticed the visitor in. At the far end of the gallery, Plush! had set up their workshop with mannequins, loom and sewing machine with their paper patterns and yarn hanging on the wall. 785cm of Kim McKechnie’s linen and cotton “Memory Cloth (Notes from my Grandmother)” hung in a great curve. In the online information Carmila Stirling wondered if her delicate hemp and cotton piece would survive being pinned to a wall but it did and looks fantastic. Really, the curatorial team should be congratulated. The macabre skeletal knitted wool one-piece bathing suit by Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort” really appealed to my taste.

Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort”, knitted wool, 2012

Opening of"Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion" at Sophie Gannon Gallery

The best parts “Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion” at the Sophie Gannon Gallery are the collaborations between the artists and the fashion label, the reason for the exhibition. Del Kathryn Barton and Romance Was Born created a quilt with painted figures by Barton and material that Romance Was Born use in a very long dress that is also on exhibition. Lucas Grogan and Rittenhouse also have an impressive collaboration with clothes made Grogan’s distinctive blue and white patterns. Grogan is also exhibiting a large embroidery, “Welcome Home Babe” 2011. Julia Devila and Material By Product also have a harmonious collaboration with surreal gothic style. John Nichoson and Josh Goot take 70s heels to a new level exploring the post minimalist possibilities of coloured Perspex heels.

There are some less impressive collaborations in the exhibition. Two large photographs by Nan Goldin derelict sheik style from a series with American model Erin Wasson are used in publication by Scanlan & Theodore. Rittenhouse used Gemma Smith’s curves in fabric for a little black dress. And Something Else used digital remixes of Ken Done coral reef paintings in their fabric print.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the LMFF Cultural Program. Vetti has photos of the LMFF Windows By Design at David Jones (part of the LMFF Cultural Program).


Goodbye Bus

A post-minimalist jellybean on pin installation, “one jel-ly bean, two” by Natalie McQuade, covering all the wall space in Bus’s foyer. It was so beautiful, so minimal and so fun with the red and orange jellybeans pinned in a modernist grid.

Continuing the fun there was a kitsch over-load of plastics and cleaning products of  “The Lodge” by Bree Dalton, Sarah Lynch, Cherelyn Brearley, Sarah Oldham in the Skinny Space. Not all of the artists seemed to be on board with this eccentric program and the paper cuts works didn’t work with the rest of the installation.

Then there is the blackness of “The Garment-Body” by Sarah Berners in the Main Space. “The Garment-Body” is part of the fashion festival, part PVA sculpture, part photography, part ugly, part stupid and all fun. Black is used with playful and magical effect; in one photograph the model’s legs are the only things visible amidst the blackness. I loved it partially because I wear black a lot of the time.

“Days Of Our Lives” by Melanie Chilianes is a quadraphonic soundscape, a condensed version of the TV soap opera. It is installed elegantly in the Sound Space with a single small tapestry of a man’s face by Michelle Hamer pinned to the wall. It didn’t really do much for me but I was impressed with the quadraphonic effects.

This is the last show for Bus Projects, “an independent art space”; I will miss the space, whatever it is called: “gallery”, “projects”, “art space” or “artist run initiative”. I’m not going to gush that I loved all their shows; sometimes I was disappointed after hiking over to the boring northeast side of the city, walking along Little Lonsdale Street and climbing up the wooden stairs. It wasn’t the best space for art, but they fitted in as many exhibitions as they could with all the various spaces and there is a surplus of exhibition space in Melbourne. I started this blog because I thought that there were exhibitions in spaces like Bus that were worth reviewing – good or bad. One of my favorite recent exhibitions at Bus was an exhibition of Indonesian art (Indonesian Art @ Bus); Bus may have been a small gallery but it had a vision of its place in the world.

Goodbye Bus.


Grab Bag

2009 Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program part 2

By Mark Holsworth with Catherine Voutier

The design and editing of the Fashion Festival Cultural Program was obnoxiously bad without any organization alphabetical, geographical or thematic, just a random list. And it is on two sides of a four-fold sheet with the bright pink printing making it almost impossible to use. The exhibitors who paid to be included in this program did not get value for their money (according to a recent comment it did not cost anything, that explains a lot). Fleur Watson, the Cultural Program Manager, appears to have done nothing more than copy and paste information from the events that paid to be included. That this grab bag of events had a theme, ‘Cause and Effect’, is curatorial balderdash.

The Fashion Festival’s Cultural Program is a random selection of fashion related events. In Bloom, at RMIT’s First Site Gallery was a good fashion exhibition exploring floral themes with work from RMIT students and graduates. Unfortunately it closed before the opening of the Fashion Festival. Why Bus Gallery paid to have Skin and Bones 09 in the program and then ran different exhibitions I don’t know.

Everyone need fashion accessories and there were, of course, a many of Melbourne’s jewellery designers were included in the program. There was Leah Heiss’s hi-tech jewellery at 45 Downstairs. It was nothing special to look at, new materials like heat sensitive wires are interesting but it failed to be made into anything attractive. In the other direction at Glitzern in Crossley Lane there was plenty of jewellery from recycled and found material with a nautical theme. There were bracelets of brass buttons, a hat like a ship, a black sequinned lobsters and fun eye patches with sequins and netting.

The Stiches and Craft Show at the Melbourne Show Grounds was also part of the 2009 Fashion Festival Cultural Program. Taking fashion back to its basics. This featured an exhibition of women’s dresses the 1890s to the 1960s, one from each period. The dresses were not couture but handmade or made by local dress makers. Also bringing fashion back to the grassroots, craft bloggers had their own spot at the show.

Also taking fashion back to its roots Craft Victoria had Chicks On Speed, and it looked like it. It is a fun packed exhibition, a mash-up of workshop, performance space and installation. Visitors had to carefully pick their way between all the stuff. It had rock’n’roll levels of energy – not surprisingly Chicks On Speed are a punk rock band with several CDs of music and they take the little old lady out of embroidery. Poking critical fun at the fashion industry Chicks On Speed have a funky, punk do-it-yourself style. Rock’n’roll has always been an adjunct of modern fashion as Chicks On Speed are effectively demonstrating.

On the other hand Prostitution Institution by Trimapee at No Vacancy Gallery looked impressive with black figures like ninja’s hanging from the ceiling, large extreme contrast paintings of women, decorated Doctor Martens Boots and photographs in light-boxes. However, it didn’t have any depth and wasn’t doing anything new.

“Black is the new red, again.” Read the acetate lettering in the light-boxes in Brad Haylock’s installation, Everything you never wanted to know about fashion  (but were too afraid to ask) at Vitrine in the Degraves Street Underpass. This should have been included in the Cultural Program but obviously they didn’t pay to play (or didn’t get his application in on time, see comment below).


Couture Exhibitions

2009 Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program part 1

By Mark Holsworth and Catherine Voutier

The blockbuster exhibition of the Melbourne Fashion Festival was out of Melbourne at the Bendigo Art Gallery. There has been an average of 2 thousand visitors daily and a long wait in the queue to gain entry. The gallery’s staff and facilities couldn’t cope with the avalanche of people and Bendigo is experiencing a boom in tourists.

This was all for The Golden Age of Couture – Paris & London 1947-57 that featured dresses from Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga. Other items included tiny travelling mannequins about 40cm tall that the French couturiers would bring over to England to display to clients. There were some fascinating British & French films from the period including one showing a model being dressed in the extensive underdress that the New Look form required (corseting, girdles, padded bras, extra padding attached to hips and shoulders). The films also revealed more men attending shows than would be the case today – the men at this time were the ones buying the clothes for their wives. There were also photographs by Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Erwin Bloomfield. Bloomfield’s free Dadaist experiments in photography were not always successful but always adventurous and ambitious. Previously, fashion photographs were taken in studios. With the New Look, models were photographed in the real world showing the clothes as they would be worn in everyday situations.

The National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibition Remaking Fashion deconstructs the process of making fashion. And even in a modest way the way of exhibiting fashion had been deconstructed with the raw wood back frame. A series of Christian Dior toile versions of dress designs showed the structural basics and introduced the rest of the exhibition. This included Westwood’s experiments with traditions updating them to contemporary life, dresses and a slashed jacket by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, and an impressive women’s dress remade from men’s garments by local fashion label SiX.

Fashion boutique Marais, located on the 1st floor of Royal Arcade, had a small exhibition of the work of designer Annie Valerie Hash. There were lots of beading and others quirky details. Some of Annie Valerie Hash’s dresses showed the distinct influence of Coco Channel. And on the 2nd floor of Royal Arcade, Don’t Come has cool street clothes and a one room gallery with Drella New York, photographs by Maripolarama. These are mosaics of enlarged snapshot-style photographs of the cool glamorous of NYC. Look there is Andy Warhol eating with Keith Haring, And there’s Madonna, Grace Jones, and hey, there’s Jeff Koons! But this isn’t couture anymore this is street d.i.y. fashion; the subject of our next entry on the 2009 Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program.


D.I.Y. culture

In trying to explain street art it is not enough simply to provide a history of graffiti. Graffiti and ‘street art’ are part of contemporary D.I.Y. (do it yourself) culture that includes zines, music bands, fashion, raves and art parties. A D.I.Y. culture is a culture that is not inherited by tradition, it is not imported and is not purchased off the shelf. It is a culture requires some assembly (often cut and paste culture) or modification and interactive participation. It is hardly really a culture, but a proto-culture, a mutant culture, a dynamic evolving culture.

D.I.Y. culture is in direct competition with traditional culture, with mass produced consumer culture. It is engaged in a political-cultural battle with the powers that support traditional culture. For this reason it is frequently demonized, criminalized and otherwise suppressed because of the threat that it represents to traditional culture.

In the past great art followed the great empires; art followed the money and served as a symbol of power. It was the Dadaists who made a break from creating culture to serve homicidal empires and creating a D.I.Y. culture complete with zines, collages, fashion and haircuts. The Nazi’s and World War II cut short Europe’s early D.I.Y. culture; Hitler’s identification of the Dadaists as a danger to German culture is the first of many concerted attempts to eliminate D.I.Y. culture. The post-war baby boomers rediscovered the Dadaists and D.I.Y. culture flourished again.

D.I.Y. culture is a democratic culture, in that it is from the people and by the people. D.I.Y. culture is not, necessarily popular, it may even be an unpopular and minority taste but that doesn’t make it undemocratic. The distinction is that D.I.Y. culture is democratic rather than popularist; it is individual freedom of expression and opportunity rather than the rule of majority to praise or censor.

Democracy may appear difficult to reconcile with art and good taste, as much popular taste is definitively bad. Contemporary fashion is a good example of the democratization without a loss of style or taste. For example, the distinction between the classes in fashion is not as apparent it was a century ago. Society is no longer so concerned with suits and ties.

In most countries that call themselves democratic freedom of speech is effectively silenced by media ownership. The Chinese ‘democracy wall’ is an experiment that has not been repeated until blogging. In this respect some graffiti is a rebellion, an attempt to covertly exercise free speech. Graffiti groups, like Buga-up’s anti-tobacco advertising vandalism in the 1970s were a direct attack against the power of corporate advertising.

D.I.Y. culture should be distinguished from pop culture, in that pop culture is manufactured and popularist. But there are many points of confusion as D.I.Y. culture references pop culture, for example in stencil art, in lyrics and collage material. And D.I.Y. culture may become pop culture, for example, hip-hop or punk.


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