The Fashion and Textile Museum has diverged from its usual curatorial style in its current ‘Missoni Art Colour’ exhibition. Unlike the two shows that predate it; ‘Art and Textiles: Marian Clayden’ and ‘Liberty in Fashion’ there is a much stronger focus on art in a traditional sense rather than fashion – notably in 20th century European contemporary art and its undeniable influence on Ottavio and Rosita Missoni. Upon entering the exhibition, you are greeted by a corridor of modernist masterpieces including works by Sonia Delaunay, Gino Severni, Lucio Fontana and Enrico Pampolini amongst others which highlights the impact the colours, shapes and ideas futurist and cubist artists had on the Italian designers. Once you pass through this corridor, the next gallery houses over 40 mannequins, set across seven stepped levels, each dressed in a distinctive Missoni knitted yarn design (dating from 1997 – present day). This astounding display is backed by a simple translucent curtain with spotlights dimming or changing colour every few minutes, which in turn switches your focus to different garments within the display. If this wasn’t enough, this gallery displays previously unseen textile studies, paintings and monumental patchworks of knitted fabrics by Ottavio Missoni which illustrate formative works of their signature graphic style. A staircase behind this presentation leads you to the first floor gallery which contains a collection of sculptures, early digital works and other constructivist art. Each piece explores notions around art and its purpose, form and function, as well as culture and technology in the same way Missoni design did – I particularly appreciated Getulio Alviani’s 1960’s two dimension geometric work created from sixteen squares of aluminium each with a different satin finish positioned side by side, and several of the plastic Bauhaus-esque sculptures. Few exhibitions are quite so true to their title, but this one is literally brimming with Missoni, art and colour!
Vibrant colours (purples, oranges, pinks and blues), luxuriant materials (velvet, silk, felted wool and brushed cotton) and unusual techniques (ombre dying, shibori, toaster printing, passementerie and ikat) combine for an effective retrospective on British designer Marian Clayden. Using a combination of large-scale silk prints and finished garments hung on dummies, the Fashion and Textile Museum takes visitors on a chronological journey through the often overlooked designers’ career. Clayden studied art at Nottingham School of Art and taught at primary schools as well as exhibiting paintings in Harris Museum throughout the 1950’s before emigrating to Australia in 1962 where she began exploring dying techniques, despite only taking one short course in dying at college. The exhibition opens with impressive 1969 garments commissioned for the musical Hair (and produced in the kitchen!), following Clayden’s move to California and subsequent introduction to set and costume designer Nancy Potts. Things moved quickly and throughout the 1970’s Clayden participated in nine group exhibitions across America, Canada, Japan, Poland and back home in the UK. She also spent a year in Iran during this period, and the exhibition goes on to display ropes, hand dyed cotton and ripped silk influenced by her travels. The following decade saw the launch of Clayden Inc. which expanded to produce four collections each year, and the upstairs galleries showcase new print design techniques utilising clamps and a household sandwich toaster, as well as her constant experimentation with different materials. Throughout the exhibition, the accompanying text is accessible and explains complex techniques in simple terms, paralleling Clayden who despite creating high fashion garments for the likes of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Sigourney Weaver was keen to share her skills and knowledge with everyone, and even produced educational tools for that purpose. Likewise, the layout and use of clothed dummies gives each piece space and allows visitors to appreciate the materials and techniques being celebrated.
As a huge fan of the Tudor-style Regents Street store, its prints, textiles, clothes and collaborations, it would have been difficult for me not to enjoy an exhibition celebrating 140 years of Liberty! Opening with an orientation room presenting a timeline from 1875 when Arthur Lasenby Liberty founded his Oriental Bazar selling imported goods through to the present day, the exhibition immediately puts in context what you are about to see. Beginning with this relationship with the East; ten mannequins dressed in opulent kimonos created from silk, velvet and crepe de chine are set against a backdrop of Jaipur wallpaper by Zoffany. This smoothly rolls into the next gallery focussing on the ‘Arts and Crafts’ and ‘Aesthetic’ movements at the turn of the century which acted against the structured corsets and upholstery of late 1800’s women’s clothing and celebrated a more natural shape and handcrafted embroidery. From the close of the First World War onwards the delicate prints, small-scale densely patterned textiles, and peacock feather decorations that are now ubiquitous with Liberty began to emerge into the mainstream, and by the 1950’s the brand realised they had their own original William Poole archive of ‘Art Nouveau’ designs to draw from. These were revitalised in vivid pinks, blues, purples and greens in the ‘Lotus Collection’, popular across London, Paris, Rome and New York. Similarly the 1960’s saw influential designers and boutique owners such as Mary Quant using Liberty prints in trend setting collections – a theme which has continued into the present day in collaborations with Vivienne Westwood, Kenzo, Barbour and Nike to name a few. Complete garments, lengths of various prints, original packaging and boxes, working sketches and even a gallery devoted their children’s clothing and smocks make this a comprehensive and enjoyable experience – and an avid reminder of how Liberty’s “unique blend of tradition and innovation” continues to be so popular today.
C/O Berlin’s current exhibition ‘Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography’ uses Oskar Barnack’s Lilliputan camera (later the Leica) as a focal point to tease out changes, revolutions and innovations in photography from its invention in 1914 onwards. In our current selfie-obsessed digital age, it is amazing to think that there was once a time when cameras were static and producing images was slow, expensive and inaccessible to most people. However the Leica changed that, and this exhibition uses over 300 photographs, photobooks, magazines, original Leica cameras and film rolls to explore its impact. Taking a loosely chronological approach, the exhibition discuses Leica’s effect on reporting, ideology, propaganda, social and humanist issues, street photography, fashion and celebrity amongst other topics. The earlier black and white images are very evocative of their era and capture either the buzz surrounding new inventions such as airships, planes and cars or the horror of war, famine and civil unrest very powerfully. Moving into colour photography, there are stunning images on display, however I was struck by how little it added to its mono counterparts. This is not to say that things have become stagnant, and the exhibition excited me about what Leica and other photographic technology will develop next and the reverberations it will undoubtedly have. Countless iconic images are on display (including ones by Cartier-Bresson, Capa and Eisenstaedt to name a few), but a standout photograph for me was Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara which has been reproduced countless times across the globe – becoming such a familiar image, but one that up until this show I would not have been able to name the photographer responsible. This portrait is also displayed alongside negatives of the rest of the photographers’ film roll from that day, beautifully placing the moment this image was taken into greater context.
MUDE Museum – The Museum of Design and Fashion in Lisbon – is well worth exploring. I have to admit I knew nothing about it prior to visiting and was enthusiastic to discover that it is housed in the old BNU headquarters. The museum has done an admirable job of preserving the original banks’ features, most visible in the basement where the vast vaults, chunky Chubb locks, safety deposit boxes and maximum security measures remain in situ and showcase temporary exhibitions to great effect. The ground floor is dedicated to their permanent collection (Francisco Capelo’s collection) which draws out design highlights from each decade of the 20th century. This display is accompanied by recognisable music from each era and an information board comprising bullet-point history and politics of the decade, helping add context to each design. The first floor again encourages investigation and looks at design from an unusual perspective; displaying portrait photographs of architects alongside architectural drawings, quotations about, or images of their buildings and somewhat provocatively questions the culture of “design celebrity” as the majority of architects had instantly recognisable names yet the majority of their faces alluded me (and other visitors). The top floor contained an exhibition dedicated to local design produced over the last sixty years – pertinent given the fact that Portugal did not have a museum dedicated to design where designers could develop a collective awareness until this century. The exhibition is entitled ‘How do you pronounce design in Portuguese?’ and again explores topics from an unusual angle, discussing the idea of a collective national design and how the country’s geography, heritage, traditions and culture have shaped and influenced this. The whole building has an unfinished, ramshackle charm to it which encourages exploration, and in conjunction with its inspiring exhibitions made for a very satisfying visit.
On my way home from a frustrating meeting with my estate agent and surveyor on Saturday afternoon, I passed the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and decided that a step back into my childhood and the alluring world created by Lewis Caroll would be the best antidote for my adulthood frustrations. I have been curiouser and curiouser to visit ‘The Alice Look’ exhibition since it opened on 2nd May and it was just the escapism I needed… split into 4 categories comprising Alice in Wonderland’s beginnings, follower of fashion, inspiration and global Alice, it explores Alice’s relationship with fashion since her inception 150 years ago. As a lifelong fan of these books, I was surprised to learn it was Lewis Caroll himself who created the first images of Alice in a handwritten manuscript that he produced for the real ‘Alice’ (Alice Lidell – the daughter of a family friend) minus the pinafore, striped stockings and hairband we now automatically associate with the character. In the first published version she continued to be dressed in a yellow outfit worn by many middle-class Victorian children, and it was not until Through the Looking Glass was published 6 years later that she gained her hairband and stockings. And she wasn’t dressed in blue – the colour most widely associated with her – until the Disney animation in 1951! The exhibition goes on to look at the various reprints and special editions over the last century and a half, her influence on designers, stylists and photographers, as well as her various incarnations across the globe including Swahili Alice in a local kanga dress, and a Japanese Lolita-style Alice. My only criticism is that it could and indeed should have been larger, calling five or six display cases an exhibition is a little misleading and I was left craving more.
The V&A’s current blockbuster exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’ closes with Alexander Mc Queen’s own words; I’m going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible” which summarises what this exhibition has managed to achieve nicely. It is a lesson in how to take the museum visitor on a journey (when you’ve got a budget!) and immerse them in a world from Savage Beauty through to every form of Romantic (Gothic, Primitive, Nationalistic, Exotic and Natural), with a ‘Cabinet of fashion Curiosities’ and the designers vivid interpretation of Plato’s Atlantis thrown in for good measure. Each room not only showcases different collections but captures an entire mood; red, black, leather and lace from collections with evocative titles like ‘Nihilism’ and ‘Highland Rape’ immerse the visitor in Savage Beauty, a corridor of skulls and bones leads the visitor into a tribal space inhabited by mannequins with perspex tusks dressed in horse-hair and pony-skin with real crocodile heads used as shoulder pads, and expertly showcases a collection titled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There’, whilst futuristic silver horned mannequins on a white tile floor adorned with digitally created graphic prints and blaring techno music pay homage to Mc Queens last fully realised collection ‘Plato’s Atlantis’. The almost overwhelming double-height ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ focusses on the designers one-off pieces and with so many elaborate creations displayed side-by-side it is difficult for the visitor to know where to begin let alone maintain attention on one item without your eyes wondering. Clever use of Mc Queens own words to describe his collections and mirrors allowing visitors to view his expert tailoring from every angle make it a poignant tribute of one the UK’S most visionary and rebellious talents – and I’d highly recommend a visit!