Experimental Fashion Lecture at the Somerset House, London, April 6th

Fig. 12 Merce Cunningham, Scenario, BAM, Brooklyn, 1997, photograph by Dan rest. Courtesy of Louie Fleck at the BAM Hamm Archives

Fig. 12 Merce Cunningham, Scenario, BAM, Brooklyn, 1997, photograph by Dan rest. Courtesy of Louie Fleck at the BAM Hamm Archives

by Francesca Granata

I will be giving a lecture on my book "Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival and the Grotesque Body" April 6th at the Somerset House in London organized in partnership with the Fashion Research Network.

I am particularly excited to discuss the work of Rei Kawakubo, whose exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is forthcoming. Most of my research on Kawakubo's work was, in fact, conducted at the Met's Costume Institute while I was there as a Polaire Weissman Research Fellow. Equally exciting was to research Kawakubo's collaboration with Merce Cunningham for Scenario at the Cunningham Archives, then located at Bank Street, and at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts.

For anyone interested in coming to the lecture and chatting afterwards about experimental fashion while sipping wine, please visit the Somerset House website, as advanced reservations are required.

 

Experimental Fashion's Book Launch on March 16th at Parsons School of Design, New York.

LEIGH BOWERY, JULY 1989, LOOK 9, PHOTO FERGUS GREER, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST 

LEIGH BOWERY, JULY 1989, LOOK 9, PHOTO FERGUS GREER, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST 

Please join us for the launch of Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival and the Grotesque Body by Francesca Granata, Director of the MA Fashion Studies in the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons, the New School for Design.

The author will be in conversation with German fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm and Charlene K. Lau, Parsons Postdoctoral Fellow in Visual and Material Culture.

The event details!

Thursday, March 16th, 6:30-9:00pm
Parsons School of Design
Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building
65 West 11th Street
New York, NY

This event is free to the public and a reception will follow.
RSVP by clicking here.

Experimental Fashion (published by I.B. Tauris) is a study of designers and performance artists, including Leigh Bowery, Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, and Bernhard Willhelm.

The book argues that the proliferation of bodies-out-of-bounds in fashion at the turn of the 21st century was influenced by feminism's desire to open up and question gender and bodily norms and particularly the normative bodies of fashion. This proliferation was also tied to the AIDS epidemic and mediated the fears of contagion and the obsessive policing of bodily borders that characterized the period.

Book Release—Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival, and the Grotesque Body  

by Francesca Granata

Leigh Bowery, July 1989, Look 9, Photo Fergus Greer, courtesy of the Artist 

Leigh Bowery, July 1989, Look 9, Photo Fergus Greer, courtesy of the Artist 

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my book, Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival, and the Grotesque Body  (I.B. Tauris)Experimental Fashion is a study of designers and performance artists at the turn of the twenty-first century whose work challenges established codes of what represents the fashionable body through strategies of parody, humor, and inversion. The book argues that the proliferation of bodies-out-of-bounds in fashion during this period was influenced by feminism’s desire to open up and question gender and bodily norms and particularly the normative bodies of fashion. It was also tied to the AIDS epidemic and mediated the fears of contagion and the obsessive policing of bodily borders that characterized the period. 

Rei Kawakubo, "Body Meets Dress", Spring/Summer 1997. Courtesy of Firstview

Rei Kawakubo, "Body Meets Dress", Spring/Summer 1997. Courtesy of Firstview

Starting in the 1980s, the book investigates the ways designers such as Georgina Godley challenged the masculinized silhouette of the power suit and its neoliberal exhortations, while Comme des Garçonss Rei Kawakubo questioned the sealed classical body of fashion, in part thanks to her collaboration with choreographer Merce Cunningham and artist Cindy Sherman. Fashion designer, performance artist, and club figure Leigh Bowery upended gender codes and challenged fears surrounding the bodies of gay men through the decade. The book also examines Martin Margiela’s “deconstruction fashion” of the 1990s and the way his work challenges norms of garment construction and sizing. It enters the new millennium through the work of Bernhard Willhelm, which shows the increased cross-pollination of fashion and performance art and the renewed interest in upending codes of masculinity. The book concludes by examining how experimental fashion—particularly in its grotesque and carnivalesque variety—moved from the margins to the mainstream through the pop phenomenon of Lady Gaga.

Naturally, there are countless people to thank for helping me with the book. These include Caroline Evans, Alistair O'Neil, and Elizabeth Wilson (my dissertation advisors at Central Saint Martins); Philippa Brewster at I.B. Tauris; Kaat Debo, who allowed me to do research in the ModeMuseum Collection in Antwerp; and  Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, who granted me a one-year fellowship to do research in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume. I could not be happier with the book! It can be ordered here.

For those in New York, save the date for the book launch on March 16th at Parsons School of Design at 6pm in Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building  65 West 11th Street, where I will be in conversation with fashion designer Bernhard Wilhelm.

Martin Margiela, Enlarged Collection, Autumn/Winter 2000, courtesy of Firstview

Martin Margiela, Enlarged Collection, Autumn/Winter 2000, courtesy of Firstview

A Review of ‘Mode In Flux’ at Roca London Gallery

by Alessandro Esculapio

Left to right: THEUNSEEN, ‘THEUNSEEN Swarowski’ (2014); Cheng Peng, ‘Normal-In-Normal’ (2015); Michino Koshino, ‘Inflatable Jacket’ (2015); Nikelab x Sacai, ‘Tech Fleece Dress’ (SS 2015).

Left to right: THEUNSEEN, ‘THEUNSEEN Swarowski’ (2014); Cheng Peng, ‘Normal-In-Normal’ (2015); Michino Koshino, ‘Inflatable Jacket’ (2015); Nikelab x Sacai, ‘Tech Fleece Dress’ (SS 2015).

Fashion is known for always being in flux, but the expression is commonly used to describe the fleeting nature of trends. By contrast, the exhibition ‘Mode In Flux’, curated by White Line Projects studio and on view at Roca London Gallery until the 27th of August, focusses on ‘notions of adaptability in fashion design.’ In doing so, it redirects the conversation towards design innovation and conceptual approaches.        

The exhibition includes the work of fifteen practitioners and studios from the U.K., China, Japan, Italy, South Korea and the Netherlands. The displays feature garments, images, and videos which are accompanied by explanatory text. Where garments are not available, access to additional content is provided through a QR code. By scanning the codes with their phones, viewers are able to watch videos and read in-depth information on the practitioners and their work. While this curatorial stratagem in no way substitutes the material presence of clothing, it nonetheless allows to see the clothes in movement as well as to gain an insight into the design process. This is particularly helpful as collaboration and multidisciplinarity are central to all of the projects featured in the exhibition.

Mason Jung, Sleeping Suit from ‘Transformation Series’ (2009).

Mason Jung, Sleeping Suit from ‘Transformation Series’ (2009).

‘Mode In Flux’ is divided into four sections. The first one, ‘Transformative’, presents multi-purpose garments that change according to the wearer’s needs. Among the showcased projects are Mason Jung’s 2009 ‘Transformation Series’, which includes ingenious suits that double as sleeping bags and blankets that double as trousers, both inspired by Jung’s experiences in school and in the army. The name Sleeping Suit conveys the designer’s witty approach to tailoring, which aims to ‘awaken’ the crystallised conventions of suit-making. The concept of transformation is further explored through a multi-functional polyester shawl from Issey Miyake’s ongoing ‘Pleats Please’ collection which can be worn as scarf, top or dress, and Eunjeong Jeon’s Jigsaw-Puzzle top which, as the name suggests, can be reconfigured by the wearer into different shapes. More radical approaches to the concept of metamorphosis are presented through visuals from Hussein Chalayan’s 2007 collection ‘One Hundred and Eleven’, an exercise in sartorial remembrance for which he designed transformational dresses that evoked silhouettes from various historical eras, and a 2016 project by a group of students from the Royal College of Art called Refugee Wearable Shelter, which consists in a coat that doubles as sleeping bag and temporary dwelling and is reminiscent of Studio Orta’s celebrated Refuge Wear series.

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   Signature utility-wear by London-based brand Maharishi, established in 1994 by Hardy Blechman. 

Signature utility-wear by London-based brand Maharishi, established in 1994 by Hardy Blechman. 

The following section, ‘Versatility’, focuses on clothing that adapts to different users. The military-inspired garments by Maharishi studio recontextualise functional details such as camouflage, internal carry straps and adjustable elements into modern urban garb. The concept of size-free clothing is explored by Chen Peng’s ‘Normal-In-Normal’ collection, whose oversized designs are created through 3-D body scanning and Michiko Koshino’s signature unisex inflatable jacket, a waterproof, transparent jacket in PVC that can be worn both inflated and deflated according to the wearer’s mood.

The third section, ‘Responsive’, features garments that respond to stimuli from the wearer’s body or the surrounding environment. Smart textiles dominate this part of the exhibition. Among the objects displayed are Grado Zero Espace’s prototype for their ‘Shape Memory Shirt’, whose woven titanium threads allow it to shrink up when heated and return to its original shape when cooled, Massimo Osti’s ski apparel for Stone Island, which changes colour at low temperatures thanks to thermo-sensitive microcapsules and Maria Blaisse’s 1996 ‘Moving Back’ top in EVA foam, a flexible material that stretches to create numerous silhouettes and returns to its original shape when unworn.

THEUNSEEN, ‘THEUNSEEN Swarovski’ headdress (2014).

THEUNSEEN, ‘THEUNSEEN Swarovski’ headdress (2014).

The fourth and final section, ‘Evolution: Adaptable Bodies’, explores future scenarios that challenge the limits of our body. The projects in this segment are speculative and diverse in approach, but all of them engage with the idea of an adaptable second skin that enhances, protects and expands the dermis. Ying Gao’s ‘Neutralité: Can’t and Won’t’ consists of two interactive dresses that react to the on-looker’s facial expressions. The two garments stop morphing as soon as the on-looker manifests an emotional response, thus forcing them to maintain a neutral expression if they wish to see the dresses change. The process was unfortunately shown only on video, which was a missed opportunity. ‘THEUNSEEN Swarovski’ turned the attention back to the wearer. Designer Lauren Bowker created a headdress covered with 4000 Swarovski gemstones which responds chemically to the wearer’s brain activity inducing different colour changes on the surface of the piece. The most forward-thinking project featured is perhaps Lucy McRae’s ‘Future Day Spa’, a personalised treatment that simulates the experience of being hugged by delivering controlled vacuum pressure to the body. The viewer can follow the one-hundred participants who signed up to take part in the installation in Los Angeles in 2015. Originally created to prepare astronauts for space missions, the Future Day Spa may be used in the future to help people who suffer with depression.

McRae’s project is a good conclusion to the exhibition as it brings together the many aspects explored in ‘Mode In Flux’, namely technology, the body and well-being. As a venue Roca London Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Studio, amplifies the future-oriented trajectory of the show. The dialogue between the practitioners’ shared desire to create a safe architecture for the body and the curvilinear, maternal elements Hadid is known for makes one hope that the future will be less cold and impersonal that most sci-fi fiction would have us believe. 

———

Alessandro Esculapio is a fashion writer and PhD student at the University of Brighton, UK. He holds an MA in Fashion Studies from Parsons the New School for Design. He co-authored the books Just Fashion: Critical Cases On Social Justice In Fashion (2012) and The Fashion Condition (2014). His current research looks at contemporary fashion practices that articulate the mnemonic function of clothing