Fashion has always had a place in art history, as the Art Gallery of South Australia’s exhibition Fashion Icons majestically showcases.
Influential designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Dior and John Galliano and fashion houses such as Comme Des Garçons and Alexander McQueen, have been creating works of wearable art for manyyears. With four major fashion exhibitions opening in Australia this year, we talk to the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Director Nick Mitzevich about Fashion Icons and the collision of the fashion and art worlds.
Mitzevich says fashion has been staking a claim on the hallowed halls of fine arts museums around the world since Diane Vreeland’s exhibition of then-living designer Yves Saint Laurent’s creations at the Metropolitan Museum in 1983.
“This growing trend, of course, was crystallised with the Metropolitan Museum’s 2011 exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which was seen by more than 650,000 people, a phenomenal number for any exhibition. For many more traditional art institutions, an exhibition like that of McQueen demonstrates the incredible popularity of fashion – in that people are willing to pay and line up to see it – in contemporary culture. It points to fashion’s universality; fashion is something that we can all understand and appreciate.”
Fashion can be democratic, a conversation in which anyone can have a voice, much like contemporary art. Mitzevich sees the development of public programs and education activities in galleries contributing to the growing appreciation of contemporary art in the wider community.
“Exhibitions like the recent 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art demonstrate audiences are open to engaging with big and difficult ideas presented by contemporary art. Contemporary art in the 21st century blurs the boundaries between film, design and politics and I think this condition encourages curiosity and engagement,” he says.
Fashion Icons: Masterpieces from the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris features 90 couture garments spanning 70 years. Curated by Pamela Golbin (the Chief Curator of Modern and Contemporary Fashion and Textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs), the exhibition reveals modern fashion’s incredible and fascinating journey. With an extensive program involving some of the best in the Australian fashion industry, Mitzevich worked closely with event program curators Alison Kubler and Mitchell Oakley Smith.
“Having both worked as journalists, authors and curators in the fashion-art world, they were uniquely placed to craft this series of more than 100 events, engaging some of the Australian fashion world’s best and brightest, like Toni Maticevski, Kym Ellery, Georges Antoni and Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edwina McCann. While this exhibition predominantly presents the work of French haute couturiers, many of them historic, we hope these series of events add an additional layer to the exhibition through which local audiences can understand and appreciate the garments on show,” he says.
Mitzevich describes his most memorable moments in contemporary fashion design.
“I think again that the Alexander McQueen show at the Met is particularly significant in that it demonstrates the cultural importance of fashion. But there are so many more: Raf Simons’ debut at Christian Dior, restoring the French house to its former glory; Marc Jacobs’ spectacular final show for Louis Vuitton, a collection riffing on his most iconic garments and themes for the house; or Hussein Chalayan’s electronic shape-shifting dresses that presented an historic timeline of fashion – you could hear a collective gasp from the audience.”
For Mitzevich’s own fashion icons, he looks to Lapo Elkann an Italian sartorial icon who is known for his playful approach to classic dress, and Hamish Bowles, editor of American Vogue.
Mitzevich also shares his thoughts on the surprising recent announcement of infamous designer John Galliano as new creative director of Maison Martin Margiela.
“Galliano is a masterful designer with an incredibly unrivalled knowledge of historic dress, and so it will certainly be interesting to see how this is translated at Maison Martin Margiela, a house which has crafted its own unique history. Many people are divided given the aesthetic differences between the designer and the house, but that contrast might be just the platform for creative greatness. Only time will tell.”
Mitzevich hopes people will walk away inspired, creatively nourished, and informed.
“Haute couture is an industry that really is shut away from the world – there are very few of us that will ever experience it in our lifetimes – but through an exhibition like Fashion Icons we can witness first hand these incredible garments upclose and see the hand stitching, the beading or embroidery of talented artisans, the innovative prints and cuts. More than that, Fashion Icons takes the viewer on a journey from Christian Dior’s revolutionary New Look (1947) right through to today, and as you wander through the exhibition space it’s as though you are travelling through time: through the 1950s, with its sumptuous, post-war glamour, the eclectic, free-spirited 1970s, the heady excess of the 1980s… it’s as much an exhibition of social and cultural history as it is of gowns.”
Fashion Icons: Masterpieces from the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris Art Gallery of South Australia
Continues until Sunday, February 15
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