Is fashion insensitive to the role it plays in seducing consumers to lust after a luxurious lifestyle?
The Vulgar exhibition at the Barbican proposes the argument as to whether excess is acceptable in a world in which there is such a big divide between the affluent and disadvantaged. What are the boundaries of good taste? Is vulgarity in fashion necessarily a bad thing?
Our definition of beauty changes all the time. Do designers react to tensions in the environment challenging proportions? Does the silhouette morph into conceptual architectural shapes to question and confront our beliefs about our bodies? How can we make judgments about what is The Vulgar?
This exhibition at the Barbican, curated by exhibition maker Judith Clark, with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, challenges the viewer to make sense of the definition of vulgar fashion and what it really means.
Fashion exhibits, at the exhibition, are drawn from public and private collections of historic dress, as well as some of the major haute couture and designer ready-to-wear brands. The exhibition is superbly curated, organised around themes that illustrate different meanings of the word vulgar. The mannequins and body forms have been chosen with care, expertly showing the dress exhibits to their full advantage.
The narrative to the exhibition explores the notion of good and bad taste, referencing Bourdieu (1994) and his theories about the bourgeoisie. Is taste something we inherit from our elders or learned from environment? Or do we simply imitate our peers? This is one of the questions fashion designers wrestle with in order that their marketers can design winning campaigns that attract the right audience.
Reimagining past fashion trends is a major source of inspiration for fashion designers. A key example is a Boucher-inspired corset by Vivienne Westwood, who is well known for referencing historical designs, researched at the V&A Museum. Walter van Beirendonck questions the very function of clothing through his “nude” Adam and Eve designs.
Interesting juxtapositions of dresses by Chloé, Madame Grès, and Sophia Kokosalaki investigate the idea of morphing classical beauty. 16th Century illustrated fans show how a luxury accessory is corrupted through satire and wit.
Vivienne Westwood’s Watteau Evening Dress appears to subvert the codes of 18th Century art. One of the unanswered questions, then, posed by the exhibition, is whether fine art masterpieces, transposed onto fabric and made into fashionable dress, are vulgar? Do fashion designers belittle high art by making them visible to the mainstream fashion world?
The Barbican offers the perfect space for this exhibition on two levels, which lend themselves to subdivisions into themes such as Exposed Bodies, The New Exhibitionism, Classic Copies and the Common.
Ground-breaking innovations by well-known designers make this a must-see exhibition, designed and curated by Judith Clark and Adam Philips.
On show till 5th February 2017