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.
Bompass & Parr’s new breathable cocktail installation ‘Alcoholic Architecture’ is cloaked in mystery and those with tickets are provided with very little information prior to their experience. It is located behind Borough Market next to Southwark Cathedral (the UK’s oldest gothic cathedral and site of an ancient monastery) and certainly plays on this monastic theme… guests are greeted by robed monks who stamp your hand with a cultish symbol before allowing you to enter the basement. This theme continues with archaic signage, faux stain-glass windows, bar staff dressed in robes, and the ‘Holy Orders’ drinks menu is similarly designed to look like a church service offering Heavenly Tonics, Canonical Cocktails, Sacred Shots, Trappist Brews and Celibate non-alcoholic options. Don’t be fooled by these names – this is a dangerous cocktail list comprising absinthe and Buckfast, the fortified wine Scottish parliament is currently trying to ban from entering the country. Attendees are given a fifty minute time slot and at 9pm I was given a disposable mac before entering the ‘Walk-in-Cloud’ installation. A neon sign warns those entering to “breathe responsibly” as the cloud is composed of spirits and mixer at a ratio of 1:3 and uses humidifiers to saturate the air, allowing alcohol to enter the bloodstream through your lungs and eyeballs! The macs are certainly necessary as it is very sticky inside the cloud and my companion and I likened the experience to an upmarket version of the sweaty nightclubs you went to aged 16 (in my case pre-smoking ban), complete with sticky floors, dense alcohol permeated air, and an eclectic playlist! My only criticism is that the cloud is fairly small and once you have walked through it a few times (I couldn’t stay in it continuously) there were a couple of ‘what should I do now?’ moments where a talk or having more information available would have been welcome.