16 June 2018

Fashioned From Nature Preview


CreateVoice member, Maureen Kargbo reviews the Fashioned From Nature exhibition.

The new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum opened with a bang at the star-studded event on a Wednesday evening. ‘Fashioned from Nature’ marks an iconic moment for sustainability within the fashion industry as it stands as the first UK exhibition to explore the relationship between fashion and nature, from 1600 to present day.

The exhibition does an amazing job of educating its visitors on how the environment and its natural resources have historically aided the fashion industry since, what seems like, the beginning of time. Shedding light on the history of timeless fabrics such as cotton and wool, a variety of natural products are explored. Many of which are now extinct. The exhibition accurately depicts when and why materials were used within each period but it also highlights the ignored environmental harms which its production was creating.

Beautiful garments and clothing pieces spanning back centuries dressed the windows all around the venue. However, the information on each garment served as a juxtaposition, exposing the realities behind the creation of such prestigious regal costumes. The Canadian Pine Marten Fur Hat and beautifully-detailed Turtle Shell Ostrich Feathered Fan no longer seemed so glamourous as we are informed about the tragedies behind their production. This also served to the long going discussion on the lack visibility within production in the fashion industry and its detrimental focus on just the aesthetics of a garment or pricing.


Spanning across two levels, the bottom entrance level does an excellent job in informing the past ways of the industry while the top level breathes new life into fashion; moving forward with more regards to sustainability. Examples of breath-taking garments and pieces of art beautifully portrayed how environment fashion can be a reality. The whole floor is submerged with work by the likes of knitwear designer Katie Jones and fashion designer Gareth Pugh. Homage is also paid to legendary designers, Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood who have strongly fought for sustainability within the fashion industry throughout their respected careers. 

All in all, the V&A have exceeded themselves with this exhibition and it is definitely worth a visit or two. For only £12 a ticket, each visitor is guaranteed to walk away more informed and inspired. Fashion from Nature creates confidence that the future of Fashion and Sustainability is in good hands and the best is yet to come!

The Fashioned From Nature exhibition is on from 21 April 2018 until 29 January 2019.
Katie Jones will be speaking at CreateInsights on the 20th of July

06 June 2018

Imagining the Future


CreateVoice member, Zoë Delmer Best reviews the recent Future Starts Here Exhibition.

When imagining the future often people think of clean cut lines and architecture without the fuss, the future is often imagined as an extension of brutalism. Simplicity and convenience galore, we do not have time in the future age for beauty in the physical, that is easily replicated on screen (like Fahrenheit 451’s parlour wall entertainment system and the dawn of virtual reality). However the V&A’s Future Starts Here exhibition implores you to see the future in a different light, where trees have their own living network and manmade leaves of silk protein can absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.

The exhibition is held in the modern Sainsbury Gallery, and you descend down flights of stairs, like retreating into a nuclear bunker. The exhibition space delivers, indulging us with a futuristic layout and a colourful lighting scheme, yet still seeming familiar, it’s not all clean-cut lines and alien objects. There are everyday items that people use, like the Fitbit which has over 16 million active users worldwide and robots designed to comfort dementia sufferers disguised as cute cuddly toys.

The set itself is clearly associated to the layout of a town. As you enter you wind though brightly coloured shop fronts with ornate Bavarian styled rooftops, all displaying futuristic items that you may find in your own home in 10 years time. There’s a mirror that will read your emotions, showing you a digital map of your face (though I’d be apprehensive to use it in my own home - being told I look grumpy every morning isn’t the best start to the day).

Delving further into the exhibition space you will find yourself in an open plaza, the area focussing on public. Here, there are displays of flags UN style, showing the different choices New Zealand gave its residents on the redesigning of their flag.  There are numerous scaled architectural models demonstrating what a future society may look like, ranging from detailed plans and explanations on the benefits of largescale communal living to the Apple Park, headquarters of Apple. Nicknamed the Spaceship, Apple Park can accommodate more than 12,000 workers. Just looking at the model evokes unsure feelings, making you realise how small you really are in the world. Where is the space for individuality?



Walking out of the plaza you will find yourself in a wooded area, like a park, featuring life size models of trees with spiralling cords around the trunks transforming the trees into radio antennae. There’s even a sand pit which you can run your hands through to form hills and mountain ranges with great abysses and lakes in-between, here we are invited to shape the world collaboratively, like children in the play area.

Of course, in this fledgling future society there needs to be a solution to death, but where a cemetery or crematorium would exist there is a laboratory in its place, ghoulishly detailing the processes of Cryonics, the technology that could bring someone who died today into the future tomorrow.

The future is an unsure eventuality, the trepidation we naturally have towards the future is even more emphasised when, at the end of the gallery, you can lie back and gaze star ward into a concave dome showing a video about the prophesies of global warming and the danger we have put our own planet in. It’s strange to view something so shockingly true this way; looking towards a concaved dome it almost seems like we are looking at our troubled world from outer space, it’s like we are detached from the reality of what we are doing to our earth.



The whole experience is immersive as if you had suddenly walked into the pages of a dystopic novel or woken up after being frozen for cryonics. When inside the gallery the future is real, its proximity is astounding, frightening and compelling. It’s there right in front of you, ready to be grasped like the sand in the sandpit and made into what you want it to be.  The Curators of the exhibition, Mariana Pestana and Rory Hyde invite you to question the future, to find your own relevance to it. This is an exhibition that truly makes you think. It’s something that can leave you with that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach, asking why are we here on this earth? What is our purpose? Does there even have to be a purpose?

The Future Starts Here runs until the 4th of November. Join CreateVoice at the upcoming CreateInsights Meeting on the 15th of June to hear from Zara Arshad who worked as the Research Assistant on the Future Starts Here.

24 May 2018

Ocean Liners


CreateVoice member, Himarni Moonasinghe reviews the recent Ocean Liners Exhibition.

Witnessing the extent of late Victorian/ 20th century jingoism and exoticism as presented in the ‘Ocean Liners’ exhibition is shocking for a contemporary viewer. Liners were bluntly titled ‘Imperator’ and expressly given a male gender as opposed to the traditional ‘feminine’ vessel, and there was an inexhaustible obsession with the word ‘Orient’, with the list of Ocean Liners named after derivations exceeding: ‘Oriana, Orian, Orcades, Orontes, Oronsay, Orama, Ormonde’ - names of star constellations, islands, and rivers or an exotic title given to an English Queen (Elizabeth I). And the sight of a poster for the ‘Empress of Britain’ liner triggers an involuntary shudder at the thought of the other English Queen who gave herself the incongruous title ‘Empress of India’.


Keen to parade the novel sights and materials from the then colonies, the interiors are carved from and furnished with ‘exotic’ veneers and depictions: menus decorated with illustrations of Parakeets of Australia and tapestries embroidered with flowers growing in the then French colonies. But beyond this the mythical is evoked – panels depicting sea-monster fish the length of ships - the sense of danger, adventure and discovery was very much desired and marketed despite much of this wonder and mystery having been simultaneously dispelled by the cataloguing and reduction of knowledge and beings in a way that was understandable to colonial scientists.


However when the conquering confidence is meted by fear and confusion the homesick tourist can turn to the comfort of Merrie England resurrected in the form of paintings of bucolic country scenes and homely pub murals complete with familiar symbols like the Tudor rose and a friendly cycling Royal Mail post boy.

 Poster for Canadian Pacific Railway featuring the Empress of Britain (Steam Ship), Victoria and Albert Museum 

Or instead dress up as an exotic princess as this is fun escapism no matter the decade and Lanvin’s 1920’s Salambo dress was popular at a time of renewed inspiration from ‘oriental themes’. It draws from Flaubert’s 1862 novel Salammbô – an entirely fictional and most exotic Carthaginian priestess. Not only was she beautiful, exotic and embellished: ‘her hair was crisped so as to simulate a cloud’ and, imaginatively, ‘powdered with violet sand’; and more predictably ‘her mouth… was as rosy as a half-open pomegranate’/she wore a peacock feather headdress/ ‘Tresses of pearls were fastened to her temples’ etc etc etc.; but she was also perfectly pious and pure ‘She had grown up with abstinences, fastings and purifications, always surrounded by grave and exquisite things, her body saturated with perfumes, and her soul filled with prayers. She had never tasted wine, nor eaten meat, nor touched an unclean animal, nor set her heels in the house of death’ and is ineffably connected to the moon (‘during an eclipse she nearly died’), representing nebulous mystical Eastern spirituality and closeness to nature. -  As she cannot speak and is only a costume she provides the perfect void to be filled by the orientalist’s fantasy.


The most alarming piece in the collection was the mural, designed to hang in the ‘luxury apartment 22’ aboard L’Atlantique, styled after ‘The Story of the Adolescent Girl of the Island of Crystal’ by Dr Joseph Charles Mardrus (who translated the A Thousand and One Nights from Arabic to French and decided to insert much of his own homoerotic material). The scene depicts the viewer journeying along a river in a ‘virgin’ rainforest, the girl stands at the helm at the top of a narrow boat, framed by a thicket of tropical plants, and an antelope prancing along a cliff face. The fantasy of the title ‘Island of Crystal’ seems childish and the scene is particularly disturbing in the context of colonial-voyeuristic Ocean Liner tourism. – So while rich white tourists enjoy dressing up as her, the ‘Eastern’ woman is barricaded from sight except for when she flits into the luxury apartments as exotic wallhanging to stimulate the imagination. The fact that she is conveniently only an adolescent further cementing her power imbalance with the presumably adult explorer-viewer who is invited to dream that this lost civilisation is being unveiled before an outsider for the first time.

However extreme, we can see how this commodification and exoticisation has simply shifted forms to today. (Being called Princess Jasmine and being confidently told by a white passer-by that he is going to ‘come to your country and marry you’ is a normal occurrence).
For travel and voyaging today much of the same questions remain. Who is travelling and tourism for? Who is it packaged up for? Who gets to dress up as the bohemian traveller, feigning poverty and luxuriating in a type of freedom only available because we have the right passport? Whose thirst for adventure, discovery and conquering is still acceptable and vocalised? Who can unashamedly study locals in different countries, absorb their knowledge as a quirk or a fancy dress, but not a valuable source that is equal to their own.
The exhibition mentions that ocean liners carried migrants seeking asylum or a better life, but only touches on how hundreds of Jewish refugees escaped aboard ocean liners during the Nazi regime to seek safety in other countries. It would have been more balanced to see how the Ocean Liners serviced these people, what was their journey like? And were there other non-white migrants aboard the Ocean Liners? The curators totally gloss over how Ocean Liners were used as tools to perpetrate colonialism - in sanitised terms only briefly mentioning how they were ‘essential to the administration of expanding empires’. The exhibition charts the journey – but it raises questions - what about the destination, the new power imbalances. What was tourism like in that time?


I was as riveted as anybody else to the vintage Louis Vuitton Secretaire Linge wardrobe trunk, grand gold leaf murals, romantic depictions of winter gardens and aviaries on board, and pastel-y paintings of playful sunlit decks – people enjoying deck sports, sunning themselves and relaxing in the deck pool, surrounded by miles and miles of sea. But the most palpable impression was: clearly this exhibition is not intended for a viewer like me. – So how should we view the exhibition as a BME young visitor to the gallery when the closest we look to a subject in any of the artworks and objects are as the Asian workers in the stokehole, working in dangerous and stifling heat, or indeed the Exotic Adolescent girl? I would have liked for the curators to at least have posed these questions so that they can be thought about within the space of the exhibition, we are instead directed to dream of the opulence that was the exclusive right of the wealthy white tourist aboard the ocean liners.

This piece of Orient Line advertising makes very clear a still prevalent attitude: all the world is ours to snap, to amass, to feel entitled to. 


Ocean Liners runs until the 17th of June.

11 May 2018

Ocean Liners


CreateVoice member, Ria Lilley reviews the recent Ocean Liners Exhibition

The term ocean liner is an intensely evocative one. On the one hand, it conjures up the faded sepia glamour of bygone days; of stacked Goyard trunks, haute couture, and champagne coupes spilling liquid gold. On the other hand, it evokes the devastation of war, strict social segregation, and the cramped indignity of migration. The strength of Ocean Liners: Speed and Style is its exploration of the ocean liner through a multiplicity of lenses: both aesthetic and cultural, political and historical.

            Through clever spatial structure, the exhibition’s curators create a compelling atmosphere of life on board. Moving through a winding succession of rooms filled with period furniture and designs, I felt as though I myself was walking the hushed inner passages of a ship. Beginning with a historical- political context, the first few rooms of the exhibition establish the ocean liner as a multi- faceted symbol. For the liner has never been simply a mode of transport, but rather the embodiment of contemporary societal values and aspirations. For nineteenth century migrants, the liner symbolised the hope of a new life. For the wealthy in a burgeoning age of tourism, it promised all the trappings of luxury. For the nation- state, it embodied political power in an age of nationalism and war. I was intrigued by the exhibition’s perspective on the ship as a microcosm of society, which did not offer an escape from social realities, but rather re-enforced its prevailing norms. It was fascinating to see the designs on board evolve in response to changing societal mores, with later ship design reflecting eroding class boundaries and an increasingly globalised world.

            While the historical political context of the exhibition is engrossing, it was the history of on- board design which truly enchanted me. As the optimism and freedom of the inter-war years manifested in the Art Deco, I was submerged into a lavish world of gold lacquer, embroidered silk, and polished wood. This geometric elegance was epitomised by the magnificent furniture and artwork of the 1935 SS Normandie. The most impressive part of the exhibition is when visitors emerge, blinking, from a dimly lit engineering room into a vast, dazzling re-creation of life on deck. To the sound of lilting 1930s jazz, I floated through a long- forgotten world of glamour and luxury. I marvelled at a time when travelling did not entail a generic airport lounge, an over-priced meal- deal, and the attempt to cram one’s liquids into a small plastic bag.  Instead, it involved Louis Vuitton luggage; a Cartier diamond tiara; and a bewildering array of dainty glass and gleaming silver tableware. I gazed most wistfully at the clothing; a scarlet bias-cut Lucien Lelong evening gown, a neat wool Dior suit owned by Marlene Dietrich, a duck egg silk Lanvin dress glinting with thousands of fragile glass beads. I longed to reach through the glass and touch them. To prove to myself that people truly once lived like this.


Silk georgette and glass beaded Salambo dress, Jeanne Lanvin, 1925

The final room of the exhibition pays heed to the lasting cultural significance of the ocean liner in art and film. Its power to evoke emotion is powerfully embodied by the final object in the exhibition; a fragment of a door panel from the Titanic, its first appearance in Europe since the ship sailed. I am confident that the liner will continue to resonate in the public imagination, as a poignant symbol of modernity, of romance, and the capacity to hope.

Ocean Liners runs until the 17th of June.

11 April 2018

Schiaparelli’s twisted ‘Circus Collection


Create Voice member, Patricia Roberts reviews the Circus Collection.


Elsa Schiaparelli is credited by many as the designer who invented modern women’s fashion, and her 1938 ‘Circus Collection’ is written in history as the highlight of her career. Her celebration of the duplicitous nature of the circus – its simultaneous joy and darkness – paved the way for McQueen.

The collection was without a doubt joyful. Described by Schiaparelli as one of the most ‘riotous and swaggering shows’ that Paris had ever seen, the collection show saw performers gambolling down the staircase, models swinging from the windows, clown hats, balloon-shaped bags and colourful flowing prints with buttons in the form of tumbling acrobats.

Schiaparelli Acrobat Buttons







































A detail of acrobatic buttons on a pink silk jacket. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

But the pieces that have really gone down in history from the Circus Collection are the darker pieces, particularly two dresses. The Skeleton Dress and the Tears dress were jointly created with Dali. The classic circus drips with a mastery of mortality, and an exploitation of the female form. The two couldn’t have found a richer inspiration for their dark surrealism that found shape in these dresses.

Schiaparelli Tears DressThe Tears Dress and gloves. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Tears dress is printed with tears of pink and dark purple, outlined in such a way that the flesh appears to hang limply from the model. The gloves show arms cut open, flesh flowering out. The Skeleton dress was padded to create an exaggerated ribcage, leg bones and spine. The black silk crêpe clung to the curves of the female form but accentuated its grotesque mortality.

Schiaparelli Skeleton DressThe Skeleton Dress. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

It’s difficult to replicate circus style without appearing tacky or costumey. But by acknowledging the inherent darkness of the performance, Schiaparelli and Dali used the circus to inspire a seminal collection which changed fashion forever.
“Schiaparelli is above all the dressmaker of eccentricity. Has she not the air of a young demon who tempts women, who leads the mad carnival in a burst of laughter? Her establishment in the Place Vendome is a devil’s laboratory. Women who go there fall into a trap, and come out masked, disguised, deformed or reformed, according to Schiaparelli’s whim.”
Jean Cocteau, 1937

Dali and SchiaparelliElsa Schiaparelli with Salvador Dalí, 1949. Collection of Meryle Secrest.

The Performance Festival runs at the V&A from the 20-29th of April and celebrates 250 years of Circus. Join the CreateTour to find out more about the Theatre and Performance Galleries from a member of CreateVoice. The group leaves from the Sackler Centre at 8pm on the 20th of April. 

06 April 2018

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion


CreateVoice member, Aneshka Orme reviews the recent Balenciaga exhibition.

This exhibition examines the work and legacy of influential Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, with over 100 pieces crafted by ‘the master’ of couture, his protégées and contemporary fashion designers working in the same innovative tradition.

Evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This exhibition allows an exploration of Balenciaga’s work, a man who was more successful in his time than Christian Dior but, due to his shyness regarding press interviews, is much less widely known. It takes the visitor through the whole process of designing, with sections focussing on workrooms, front of house and Balenciaga’s legacy.

Balenciaga was a true craftsman, starting what would become an extraordinary career as the apprentice to a tailor at the age of twelve. Therefore, through all his creations, he understood every part of the production process, from designing through to tailoring. In uncovering his masterpieces in the exhibition, the challenge of overtly displaying this craftsmanship had to be overcome. This encouraged collaborations to enhance the experience of the exhibition. Nick Veasey worked with the V&A, x-raying some of the pieces to display the internal structure of the design, previously not visible to the viewer. These x-rays are found around the exhibition and reveal the incredible amount of detail that went into designing these products, such as dress weights and tailored bodices without which the dresses would hang completely differently.

Most importantly, the exhibition highlights the importance of this designer and his effect on fashion today. Collaborations with contemporary artists such as Molly Goddard and Gareth Pugh describing how Balenciaga has helped shape their own designs, reveals how relevant his designs are, even now. After all, he was described as “the master of us all” by Christian Dior and as “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word” by Coco Chanel.

I found this a very eye-opening exhibition as it very quickly became clear how much Balenciaga has influenced fashion today and how much he is and was respected as an incredibly skilful craftsman. This was particularly interesting because of the contrast between him and other designers such as Dior who are now better known but actually who were less successful than Balenciaga originally. As a student who does not study fashion, I found this exhibition guided me through the process of the designer’s work with the perfect amount of detail and it has encouraged me to discover more about the fashion industry and other iconic designers. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in art and design, even if not particularly in fashion, because, as this exhibition shows, Balenciaga had to use all sorts of skills, from the very beginning to the end of  the production process in order to create such an amazing legacy.

Evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Victoria and Albert Museum, London



CreateVoice meets at the V&A on the 3rd Friday of each month. Join us at the next CreateInsights meeting in the Sackler Centre at 6:30pm 20th of April to hear from Fashion and Food Blogger, Amy Everett.





17 November 2017

Alim Kalif: Bringing Back Mens Heels!




 
Hi Derby Black, Roker SS18 Collection

For Durham born shoe designer Alim Latif, the most influential piece of advice that he ever received came from his mentors Tim and Fiona Slack - owners of T&F Slack shoemakers in Notting Hill:
 
Look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.


Latif was unsatisfied with the selection of styles that mainstream fashion had to offer anyone gender nonconforming. For men heels came five sizes too small and androgynous shoes were for the most part limited to brogues. So earlier this year Latif founded Roker, a shoemaker that creates gender-neutral shoes using traditional handmade techniques alongside modern practices.


AS Charlie Blue, Roker SS18 Collection
 
Even though it is a very young company, Roker has drawn attention from across the fashion world and with numerous celebrities. Latif collaborated with Charles Jeffrey for London Fashion Week on the Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY Spring/Summer 18 show, with the club kid fantasyland results being shot by Tim Walker for an editorial in i-D magazine. Latif has also found his shoes splashed across tabloids and television, with Harry Styles commissioning bespoke heeled boots to wear during red carpets events, album launches and music tours. His favourite pair that he’s ever made for Styles were even borrowed by James Corden to wear on his talk show.
 
Latif’s gender-neutral heeled boots clearly reference gender nonconforming style icons like Nick Cave and Bowie . But whilst men wearing heels is nothing new, Roker has revived it in a fantastically queer and inclusive way.


Latif will be speaking to young people about how he started, his time at T&F Slack Shoemakers (formerly Walkers) and his incredible collaboration with Charles Jeffrey as part of a wider programme in the V&A’s ‘Making It: Careers in Fashion’ festival on 25th November.
Clunk Ankle Low Snake, Roker SS18 Collection


 

Quotes taken from ‘The Man Making Shoes for London’s Most Radical Designers’ (Hynam Kendall, Another Man) and a July interview with Footwear News in NYC.


Images courtesy of Alim Kalif and Roker


Words: Patricia Roberts