‘The Future of Fashion is Now’ exhibition

On view in Rotterdam at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from 11 October 2014 through 18 January 2015, The Future of Fashion is Now does more than just showcase the work of an incredible number of today’s fashion designers (fifty-six, to be exact). The exhibition, comprising commissions, on-site performances and an interactive website, is a large-scale conversation starter for new approaches and ways of thinking about fashion.

Viktor&Rolf Haute Couture, a/w 2013. Photo Peter Stigter

Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture, a/w 2013. Source: Peter Stigter

To say that superlatives are overused in the fashion industry would be a gross understatement. With everything easily described as the latest and absolute greatest, it’s easy to understand how one might take the exclamation ‘the future of fashion is now!’ with a proverbial grain of salt. However, when it is art activist Hans Nefkens and fashion expert José Teunissen making such a claim, you’d be wise to pay attention. Their brainchild The Future of Fashion is Now, which is on view at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam from 11 October 2014 through 18 January 2015, is more than just a fashion exhibition showing off recent advancements within the industry.

The Future of Fashion is Now picks up where Nefkens and Teunissen’s first exhibition, The Art of Fashion, left off. With The Art of Fashion they had successfully charted the territory in which fashion could exist beyond the garment. But at the closing of that exhibition, they realised that the narrative was still restricted by a linear understanding of Western fashion history. This sparked their curiosity about how fashion designers from around the world were innovating fashion in their own regions. No longer forced to show seasonal collections in one of the fashion capitals in order to catch the eye of influential editors and buyers, today’s fashion designers have the help of social media, regionalised fashion weeks and e-commerce in achieving international recognition. But what exactly are they doing with this newfound freedom?

Si Leong Chan, Hug me, 2012. Photo: Sara Pista

Si Leong Chan, Hug me, 2012. Source: Sara Pista

The first step in their exploration was to set up the Han Nefkens Fashion on the Edge award. Together with the help of sixteen fashion experts from around the world, six designers were chosen and commissioned to create a work specifically for the exhibition. The creative process of each of the six designers was documented through text, sketches, photographs and films and showcased on The Future of Fashion is Now website in the months leading up to the exhibition. The designers selected were Iris van Herpen (Netherlands), Digest Design Workshop – Dooling Jiang (China), Lucîa Cuba (Peru), Craig Green (United Kingdom), D&K – Ricarda Bigolin & Nella Themelios (Australia) and OLEK (Poland/USA).

The exhibition is divided into four themes: Materiality and Experience; The (Re)Definition of the Human Figure; New Values and New Stories; and Fashion Activism: Community and Politics. The themes serve as loose definitions of the patterns the curators found within new approaches and ways of thinking about fashion.

Slightly vague, yes. But the framework allows for the individual works to create much larger voices around critical issues faced by the fashion industry. The results of each commission are positioned alongside the work of some fifty designers representing countries from six continents. While items from some of the usual fashion avant-garde suspects have been included, such as a few lumps and bumps from Comme des Garcons, the most interesting entries are perhaps those from non-fashion practitioners.

Carole Collet, Basil No. 5 (Ocimum Basilicum Rosa), Biolace, 2010 - 2012. Photo: © Carole Collet, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, Londen.

Carole Collet, Basil No. 5 (Ocimum Basilicum Rosa), Biolace, 2010 – 2012. Source: © Carole Collet, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, Londen.

Movana Chen’s Body Container is one particularly strong entry. Chen, who hails from China, tears fashion magazines into strips and then knits them into ‘body containers’ as a poetic examination of the relationship between clothes and the fashion media. Also included is French designer, researcher and curator Carole Collet. Collet’s work on display, Strawberry Noir, fuses textile design together with synthetic biology to turn the roots of a strawberry plant into black lace.

The strength of the The Future of Fashion is Now can be attributed to the attention to detail employed at every step of both the planning and building of the exhibition. Walking through the exhibition, it feels more like witnessing the results of a mad fashion experiment than a collation of fashion’s recent history. Nefkens and Teunissen have hit a right note again.  Their definition of fashion is not one simply adorned in dreams, but rather is the kind of fashion that dreams are made of. And with three being the magic number, it is exciting to think of where The Future of Fashion is Now will lead them next.

07. The Future of Fashion is Now

Pyuupiru, Mercury, from the series Planetaria, 2001. Source: Masayuki Yoshinaga

Megan Wray Schertler
Megan is the founding editor of Varsity, fashion’s first collections magazine solely dedicated to London’s emerging talent. Originally from New York, she recently relocated to the Netherlands to undertake postgraduate work in Fashion Strategy at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts.