October fashion exhibitions

London and New York are spoilt for choice when it comes to fashion exhibitions opening this October. MoMa’s much awaited Items: Is Fashion Modern? takes the 1945 Are Clothes Modern? exhibition as its starting point. Photography exhibitions that explore identity and style are on display at The Somerset House as well as Fashion and Textiles Museum in London and  The New Museum in New York. In Paris, Fortuny, a Spaniard in Venice opens at at Palais Galleria.


 

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Installation view of ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Items: Is Fashion Modern? at MoMa (New York)
until January 28, 2018

Items: Is Fashion Modern? explores the present, past—and sometimes the future—of 111 items of clothing and accessories that have had a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries—and continue to hold currency today. Among them are pieces as well-known and transformative as the Levi’s 501s, the Breton shirt, and the Little Black Dress, and as ancient and culturally charged as the sari, the pearl necklace, the kippah, and the keffiyeh. Items will also invite some designers, engineers, and manufacturers to respond to some of these indispensable items with pioneering materials, approaches, and techniques—extending this conversation into the near and distant futures, and connecting the history of these garments with their present recombination and use. Driven first and foremost by objects, not designers, the exhibition considers the many relationships between fashion and functionality, culture, aesthetics, politics, labor, identity, economy, and technology.


 

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Delphos dress (c. 1940s). Source: Collection Palais Galliera

Fortuny, a Spaniard in Venice at Palais Galleria (Paris)
until January 7, 2018

A museum in the heart of La Serenissima bears his name. He was a venetian by adoption, but spanish by birth, famous for his fine pleats… The man in question is Mariano Fortuny, and the Palais Galliera, City of Paris Fashion Museum, is devoting a retrospective to his work. With over a hundred pieces from the Galliera collection, Madrid’s fashion museum the Museo del Traje and the Museo Fortuny in Venice, the exhibition will reveal the full diversity of his inspiration. The famous ‘Delphos gown’, designed in 1909, is the quintessential illustration of his originality and inventiveness. It is made entirely from plain silk, and is so finely pleated that it can be rolled up into a ball and still maintain all its flowing lines when unrolled.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949) was the son of the Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874) and, like his father, he started out as a painter. He moved to Venice in 1888 and his name has always been associated with that city. His highly eclectic tastes encompassed engraving, photography, furniture and lighting design, as well as stage design and stage lighting. In 1906, he turned his attentions to fabrics, with his “Knossos scarf” made of silk, printed with motifs inspired by Kamares pottery from the Minoan period. His dress designs liberated the female form. He reinterpreted the styles and motifs of Ancient Greece, the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance, and he created timeless, unwaisted pieces with soft, straight-hanging lines.

Mariano Fortuny features prominently in the works of Marcel Proust. At one point in Remembrance of Things Past, the painter Elstir tells Albertine: “But I hear that a venetian artist, called Fortuny, has recovered the secret of the craft, and that before many years have passed women will be able to walk abroad, and better still to sit at home in brocades as sumptuous as those that Venice adorned, for her patrician daughters, with patterns brought from the Orient.”

Fortuny would turn every fabric into a uniquely magnificent piece with subtle reflections of light. In the gowns worn by such legendary women as Countess Greffulhe and her daughter Élaine, Eleonora Duse, Ellen Terry, and Oona Chaplin, visitors can admire his carefully researched prints made from metallic powders on silk velvet, with their Byzantine, Japanese and Persian influences. The Mariano Fortuny exhibition is an invitation into the soft, shimmering world of a prolifically inventive designer who was a zealous advocate for liberating the female form, and a believer in the ultimate luxury: comfort. A total immersion in timeless elegance.


 

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Louise Dahl–Wolfe: A Style of Her Own at Fashion and Textile Museum (London)
until January 21, 2018

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) is one of the most important women fashion photographers of the first part of the 20th century. This is the first major retrospective of her work in the UK, and a key focus of the exhibition is Dahl-Wolfe’s 22 years as leading contributor to Harper’s Bazaar. Considered a pioneer of modern fashion photography, the exhibition highlights how Dahl-Wolfe defined the image of the modern independent post-war woman.

‘From the moment I saw her first colour photographs, I knew Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted,’ declared editor Carmel Snow. Credited with 86 covers for the magazine, 600 colour plates, and over 2,000 black-and-white photographs, Louise Dahl-Wolfe often photographed on location and mainly outdoors in the then exotic locales of Cuba, South America, Spain and Mexico. Her work appears fresh and spontaneous but was always carefully planned. The exhibition features over 100 photographs spanning three decades, from the 1930s to the 1950s, and presents the work of couture designers Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior, as well as American fashion innovators Claire McCardell and Clare Potter. The models, whose looks set the style for the decade, include Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Evelyn Tripp, Mary Jane Russell, Lisa Fonssagrives, Lizzie Gibbons and Liz Benn.

Dahl-Wolfe also created a significant body of portraiture capturing literary figures such as W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Colette and Carson McCullers; fashion designers and a major portfolio of Hollywood stars from Bette Davis, Carole Lombard and Vivien Leigh in the 1930s to Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake in the 1940s. A key focus of the exhibition is Dahl-Wolfe’s 22 years as the lead photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, from 1936 to 1958, working with Snow, fashion director Diana Vreeland and the designer Alexey Brodovitch. The exhibition highlights the influence of Dahl-Wolfe on photographers Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. In addition, the Museum will stage a display of other photographic highlights celebrating Bazaar’s 150th anniversary.


 

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Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane at The Somerset House (London)
until January 7, 2018

Born and raised in Larache, Hajjaj moved to the UK aged twelve, but has spent much of his life travelling between the two countries and cultures. His artworks reflect his nomadic lifestyle and the relationships he has formed with a variety of characters along the way, from musicians to artists and athletes to street performers. These individuals inspire Hajjaj’s diverse artworks from photographic portraits to video installations, sculpture, music, design and handcrafted objects.

Infused with a bold palette, the materials Hajjaj uses include patterned textiles, furniture, clothes and props often made by the artist to influence our understanding of the person in the image. All of these elements, including the frames made out of everyday items in which his images sit, are chosen deliberately to highlight these individuals’ identities.

He is perhaps best known for his colourful photographic portraits, including the Kesh Angels series, from which there will be several new works in the exhibition. Blending the glossy aesthetic of a fashion shoot with Moroccan tradition and street culture, these witty and poignant images, although outwardly light-hearted, challenge Western perceptions of the hijab and female disempowerment.

Another new body of work in the exhibition is My Rock Stars: Volume 2, a nine screen installation of distinctively dressed musicians. Each musician occupies an individual screen and takes it in turns to play their instrument, while the other performers turn to watch. The clothes and brightly patterned backdrops in each screen have been carefully selected by Hajjaj to highlight each player and their individual performance. Visitors are provided a seat on a customised sofa to watch the performance and listen to the music which travels throughout the whole exhibition.


 

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“Nobody Knows My Name” (2015) Troy Michie

Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon at The New Museum (New York)
until January 21, 2018

Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon investigates gender’s place in contemporary art and culture at a moment of political upheaval and renewed culture wars. The exhibition features an intergenerational group of artists who explore gender beyond the binary to usher in more fluid and inclusive expressions of identity.

The New Museum has been committed to urgent ideas since its inception, devoting many exhibitions and programs over the years to issues of representation with regard to gender and sexuality: “Extended Sensibilities” (1982), “Difference” (1984–85), “HOMO VIDEO” (1986–87), and “Bad Girls” (1994) are just four notable examples. Following in this tradition, “Trigger” extends the conversation around identity, considering how even a fluid conception of gender is marked by ongoing negotiations of power and cannot be understood outside its complex intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. The exhibition’s title, “Trigger,” takes into account that word’s range of meanings, variously problematic and potent; the term evokes both traumatic recall and mechanisms that, set into motion, are capable of igniting radical change.

The exhibition features more than forty artists working across a variety of mediums and genres, including film, video, performance, painting, sculpture, photography, and craft. Many embrace explicit pleasure and visual lushness as political strategies, and some deliberately reject or complicate overt representation, turning to poetic language, docufiction, and abstraction to affirm ambiguities and reflect shifting physical embodiment. Representing no single point of view, and in some cases presenting productively contradictory positions, “Trigger” assembles artists for their singular efforts in considering gender’s capacity to represent a more general refusal of stable categorization—a refusal at the heart of today’s most compelling artistic practices.

The artists in “Trigger” share a desire to contest repressive orders and to speculate on new forms and aesthetics—a desire to picture other futures. For many, developing new vocabularies necessarily entails a productive reworking of historical configurations. A number of artists in the exhibition—including Josh Faught, Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, Ellen Lesperance, Mickalene Thomas, and Candice Lin—return to archival materials in order to critique, build upon, and explore longstanding debates around intersectionality, alliance, and the project of world-building. Beauty is not supplemental to politics here, but central to the process of positing and building new social structures. The exhibition brings together a range of practitioners, some with a longstanding commitment to activism—such as Nancy Brooks Brody, an original member of the collective fierce pussy, and Vaginal Davis, who has long critiqued systematic oppression tied to gender, race, class, and sexuality—alongside emerging artists such as Sable Elyse Smith, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Chris E. Vargas, whose works variously plumb mechanisms of regulation.

The exhibition includes a number of commissioned works, including a major new braided sculpture by Diamond Stingily that snakes through gallery floors, trailing from the Fourth Floor all the way down to the Museum’s Lobby, and alludes to the racial dimensions of beauty conventions as well as to Medusa, the mythological snake-haired woman whose gaze could turn men into stone. Nayland Blake has produced a life-size suit of their “fursona” named Gnomen, which the artist periodically inhabits and activates throughout the course of the exhibition. Tuesday Smillie continues a recent series of textile works that both refer to significant historical protest signs—such as those associated with Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and other members of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries—and present new slogans. ektor garcia presents a series of site-specific, readymade sculptures that evoke S&M fetish gear and Mexican housewares while suggesting movement away from definitive gender and sexual roles.


 

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