Last night was the opening party for Toronto’s Design Exchange (D/X) new exhibition Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics. The Fashion History Museum loaned 9 items to D/X – three hippie outfits, two mini dresses by Quant and Beene, and four paper dresses from the 1960s.
I debated about whether I should blog about this show because although there are great artifacts to look at there are some issues with the message and venue that are problematic. First of all, the D/X is located in one of the most difficult places to find, drive to, and park in the city. It is no where near Toronto’s other cultural attractions and I once spent 40 minutes in a traffic jam travelling 2 blocks to get to its parkade entrance.
Fashion journalist Jeanne Beker is the show’s guest curator. The D/X approached Beker to curate a fashion-theme exhibition and she came up with the idea of political messaging in dress. But the meaning of ‘political’ is being used in its broadest sense. There are actual garments worn by Prime ministers Harper and Trudeau, a copy of the dress worn by Michelle Obama on the night of her husband’s presidential election win, an Oleg Cassini dress and Brooks Brother’s suit represent the influential style of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. My favourite in this section is Margaret Trudeau’s 1970 wedding dashiki that she made herself from a pattern – can you imagine that happening today?
The more figurative meaning of politics is showcased in a series of islands, some of which depict a bouillabaisse of political causes, from anti-fur campaigns to disaffected youth. Other islands feature designers who have infused political meanings into their collections such as Hussein Chalayan’s Burka dress and Vivienne Westwood’s punk. Other islands represent revolutionary ideas in dress that changed fashion, such as 1980s Japanese designs by Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. There are the inexplicable inclusions of Moschino and Patrick Kelly – I guess Kelly is there because he was the first black Parisian haute couturier… I also don’t understand why the inclusion of stage clothes from androgynous performer Klaus Nomi and drag queen Ru Paul – stage clothes are not fashion, they are performance dress and gender bending performance dress dates back to before Shakespears. The ‘politics’ meaning gets stretched thinner and thinner with the inclusion of four chairs with covers, and a telescoping table, all of which can be transformed into dresses and suitcases. This tableau was created by Hussein Chalayan but I can not see any political message in it whatsoever.
The show tries to do too much – is everything about politics? I thought everything was supposed to be about sex, except sex, which is supposed to be about power… I’m confused.
If you can find the D/X go, enjoy the artifacts – Klaus Nomi’s black vinyl outfit, two spectacular Alexander McQueen outfits (God I love that man’s work), and some clever pieces by Miyake and Chalayan, as well as Margaret Trudeau’s wedding dress are worth the price of admission. The show runs until January 25, 2015.
The Chairs and table by Chalayan — is there a political message?