The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of surplus fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.

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>> My first port of call when it comes to Graduate Fashion Week isn’t necessarily the fashion design students.  It’s the University of Salford course of image making and styling headed up by Christine Ratcliffe.  The photography that emerges from this progressive course can hold its own up there with images in style titles and mainstream publications, so much so that for the past two years, they’ve branched out from their stand at Graduate Fashion Week to exhibit in the nearby Herrick Gallery.  If you had wandered in on the night, you would not have thought these images came from barely graduated 21 year old BA students.  Then again, it’s their youth and energy that contributes to these images that express the things that somehow affect you deeper at that age – isolation, not fitting in, confronting sexuality, feeling both wanted and unwanted.  All of those elements bristle in bedrooms and bucolic landscapes and are captured with a grounded sense of reality.

A quick glance through the Tumblrs and the collective course blog Uossaim and you might be thinking that you have seen this all before and that the root of all that film-derived grain and lo-fi styling of course leads back to Corinne Day or Nan Goldin.  But truth isn’t a trend.  It resonates no matter what generation of photography, and matters whether it’s a picture of a boy in a Man United shirt or a girl sitting on a hay bale obscured by her hair.  Ratcliffe seems to have a knack of coaxing layers and nuance out of her students and the result is a group of young photographers and stylists, who go beyond fashion’s framework.  It’s how a fashion image can go deep without losing out on aesthetics.  Long live Uossaim!

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”  Susan Sontag, On Photography          

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jodiecox2Jodie Cox


AbbeyJB_1

AbbeyJB_2Abbey-Jade Birden


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emilyburkitt2Emily Burkitt


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jessicagwyneth3Jessica Gwyneth


Ashleigh_Cunningham_copyAshleigh Cunningham


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kristinalaisney1Kristina Laisney


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laurenjadekelly3Lauren Jade Kelly


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sharenat3Shahrenaz Tavakolynik


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stephwoods2Steph Woods


zigourniej1

zigourniej2Zigournie Jarrett


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vickychambers1Vicky Chambers

>> For my birthday on Saturday… I saw some exhibitions and had a lovely nice dinner and was back by 10pm with a cup of tea in my hand. Welcome to my thirties. Ok, I omitted the fact that I did go out on an all-night rager in Tokyo the night before and was still recuperating from jet lag. Still, the quiet birthday did give me a chance to attempt to chug through the clog of style and fashion related exhibitions that London is enjoying at the moment. It’s not drudgery when everything is worth the trek and the crowds. I’ve still yet to see the excellent Women, Fashion Power at the Design Museum, Knitwear from Chanel to Westwood at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Horst at the V&A and Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts.

I attempted two in a day to compare two very different photographers of different eras, who both have distanced relationships with the products they are photographing. First was Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House and the second was Viviane Sassen’s Analemma: Fashion Photography from 1992 to 2012 at the Photographer’s Gallery. There’s no superlatives that hasn’t been said before about Bourdin’s work and specifically this exhibition. It is the biggest exhibition of his work with plenty of unseen images, films and other visual material that reveal sides to Bourdin that the fairweather photography or fashion fan may not know. A series of photographs taken around Britain for the shoe brand Charles Jourdan (for whom Bourdin shot many advertising campaigns) in 1979, for instance opens the exhibition as we discover a humourous and detached oddness – a world away from the glossy-lipped hyper sexy femmes of his editorial work.

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On display are plenty of those famously surreal images as well where sense of proportion is distorted as well as many where the female subject is obscured and shrouded in sex-tinged mystery, namely shot for Paris Vogue, with whom Bourdin collaborated with extensively in the sixties and seventies.

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More revealing were the sketches on display that mocked up the shot that Bourdin wanted to create as well as magazine layouts with meticulous notations about dimensions. These were examples of Bourdin’s exacting approach towards his photographs. Nothing was spontaneous or haphazard. This evidence of planning and eye for detail only adds potency to the final image.

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I especially enjoyed the showreel of Super-8 films which Bourdin shot. These were less about precision and more about the energy on set that you can’t quite glean from the resulting photography.

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I also loved seeing Bourdin’s early paintings (they’re undated by probably date to the 1950s) and how they would directly correlate with his photographs.

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But of course the exhibition isn’t a complete tell-all. You still leave wondering what exactly is Bourdin’s relationship with the fashion and women he photographed so extensively. It’s not as simple as calling it out as “sexual objectification” because it feels so much more complex than that. The image leaves you hanging and that tension is difficult to explain in an exhibition. Perhaps that’s why he shunned books, exhibitions and even awards.

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Over at the Photographer’s Gallery, one of my favourite contemporary fashion photographers Viviane Sassen has taken over the top floor, not with static hung frames but with a moving “analemma” of 350 of her fashion photography looped into a video projection, moving across the walls and floors. You’ll see there’s a slight graininess to the images below. They don’t need to be crystal clear though to convey Sassen’s pre-occupation with disgured forms and using clothes and background to sculpt an image. The body is always manipulated somehow either with the clothes themselves or the angle which Sassen shoots from. Sassen has said herself that she has a love/hate relationship with fashion. That shows in her photography but you wind up being intrigued by the new form that she has created be it an inside out skirt pulled over the head or a shadowy figure striking an abstract pose.

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I was going to be longwinded about recapping my brief trip to Tokyo for Dior and do it all in one big hella long post.  Despite having only spent two days in the city, it warrants more.  We experienced Dior’s history and Japan’s tradition by day and then Raf Simons’s vision of the future for the house and a look at Tokyo’s in-flux present by night.  I therefore want to be extra careful to separate the “experience” from the “show.  The former ran the course of how these “far-flung” maison shows normally operate – the experience was about giving us a flavour of the locale we’re in – in other words, Japanese culture of our collective imagining.  The latter though ran far, far away from cultural cliche.  For the show, officially called “Esprit Dior Tokyo”, Raf Simons presented a collection filled with nuanced observations and layers (literal ones too) connected with his own personal experiences of Tokyo.

That had nothing to do with irresistible details like Dior grey taxi seat covers inside specially branded Japanese taxis or the beautifully decorated restaurant where we had a lengthy kaiseki lunch complete with New Look printed lanterns and origami table pieces.  The collection also throttled away from the gowns and occasion wear that made up the majority of the Esprit Dior Tokyo exhibition in Ginza that is open to the public (for free!) until 4th January.  It felt like a familiar book, immersing oneself into Dior’s history.  The facts and the images and many of the silhouettes felt textbook.

What was newly emphasised in this particular exhibition was Monsieur Dior and the house’s specific connection with Japan.  He was enamoured with Japanese culture and art, and once likened Japonaiserie heroes Hokusai and Utamaru to his Sistine Chapel, hence why he’d give dresses name like “Jardin Japonais” and feature cherry tree motifs.  The Dior-Japan connotations don’t stop there as we’re treated to photos of Margot Fonteyn in a Dior costume for Madame Butterfly and Princess Michiko wearing Dior for her wedding in 1959.  In Dior’s successors of course Japan came alive most notably in John Galliano’s stupendously lavish spring summer 2007 haute couture collection as well as in Raf Simons’ autumn winter 2013 haute couture collection.  The contrast couldn’t be more stark when you see the silhouettes in situ as Hokusai waves flourish over voluminous opera coat with pleated bodice and collar by Galliano next to Simons’ pared back interpretation of kimono and obi folds and shibori techniques.

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The rest of the exhibition ran the gamut of Dior 101.  The bar jacket and its architecture was exposed with digital skeletal analysis.  A showcase of the petites mains that work behind the scenes in Dior’s atelier demonstrating pattern cutting.  From a commercial perspective of course, Miss Dior and J’Adore Dior took centre stage too to add a more tangible aspect to the exhibition.  Cue Dior workers busy tying up ribbons and gold thread around perfume bottles.

Running throughout the entire exhibition were new and unseen photographs by Patrick Demarchelier, who has created a second volume of portraits of iconic Dior haute couture looks from Christian Dior to Raf Simons, out now on Rizzoli.  They breathed life into the space when used as the backdrops to mannequins and display cases but also much credence to Raf Simons’ tenure at Dior.  His work for the house isn’t so much a straightforward continuation on from his predecessors but a fresh chapter that returns to the qualities, which underlined Dior right from the start – the new and the modern. That’s what I’ll be talking about when I get on to part two of this Tokyo sojourn.

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