To reflect on the exhibition, four essays have been penned by Anne Farren, Ann Schilo, Christiane Keller and Kirsten Hudson. These essays examine the concepts that lay behind Beyond Garment, and explore the meaning of fashion and materials from a variety of viewpoints.
Miss porcelain, 2009, by Kathryn Bell. Photo by Penny Lane
Model: Sarah Pauley @ Viviens Model Management. Photo copyright of WA Musuem.
I have a wonderful pair of Trippen shoes that have been crafted from a double layer of soft red leather. The outer surface has a cutaway pattern fitted snugly over a layer of kid leather that together softly encase the foot like a bespoke slipper. I am not sure that they are the most flattering shoe for my foot, and with a pixie-like bow at the front, some might question their age appropriateness, but I don’t care and wear them with great pride anyway. Another favoured element of adornment is a deep indigo blue silk scarf with a delicate white grid pattern created from repetitions of a tiny floral motif; this simple piece of cloth wrapped around my neck evokes memories of the hours spent in a beautiful boutique in Amsterdam. I have days when these ‘accessories’ are an unaccountable must as the starting point for the dressing process, creating an adventure into the wardrobe to find clothes that will go with these favourite items and on occasions creating wardrobe dramas.
When thinking of dressing our focus all too often begins with the clothes that will cover the body, with shoes, scarves, handbags, jewellery and the personal connections to these items of adornment left to follow in the wake of what is conventionally seen as the main event: the garment. However, the supposed accessory items can be the driving force behind this process of dressing. ‘Today the fashion accessory is developing into a singular artefact, a vector of both identity and perception.’1 We have a need to express ourselves through the adornment of the body, using garment, accessories and manipulation of our bodies. All contribute significantly to the narrative that we communicate about ourselves.
Beyond Garment is an exploration of the objects and materials of dress and fashion that sit beyond the conventions of garment. It examines how we use these objects to express ourselves, featuring accessory and textile related practices, giving them presence, place and acknowledgement in a world where the ‘frock’ is all too often the main event. Works in the exhibition represent forms of design and art which have their origins in the consideration of dress, adornment and the body; presenting the breadth of practice from the commercial and functional designs of Martini + Coz through to the conceptual investigations into body image and manipulation explored by Kirsten Hudson. The exhibition creates a bridge between the art and design of dress, embracing the objects of designer fashion which are conventionally considered to be accessories to garment, through to the applications of cloth beyond garment.
Cloth, or textiles, is a key element in the examination of dress. It defines the ‘skin’ and materiality of garment and it is ‘fashioned’ into many forms that move beyond garment. The substance of clothing is based in textiles and more broadly in the collective term ‘materials’. The use of the term ‘textile’ originally referred to woven cloth only; however, it now refers to a broad spectrum of materials. The investigation of cloth or textiles has emerged as an art form in itself – engaging in the examination of the language of materials, objects and dress, with artists investigating the expressions of ideas and issues surrounding the relationship between cloth, body and culture.
Maggie Baxter shifts our perceptions of the relationship between cloth and the body by juxtaposing the intimate and primary experience of cloth as a body wrap with a giant ‘architectural’ tube form that pushes the structural boundaries of cloth. She explores both the essence of cloth and the sculptural potential of this material. The large lattice tube creates a protective space or environment for the body that is more architectural in its relationship to the body and places this alongside the corresponding body wrap. Both these forms are a translation of an early drawing by Maggie; presenting us with a tangible deconstruction of the weave structure of cloth which is layered with the red ‘scribble’ lines of the original drawing.
Many objects of adornment carry memories and special emotional significance. We recognise this in conventional forms such as the wedding ring, friendship bracelets, or a locket carrying a fragment of hair or the treasured image of a loved one. However, memories of the physical and emotional experiences of the wearer are transferred to the object that is worn; the cloth becomes moulded to fit our bodies; the garment becomes marked by an event or receives the emotional memories of an experience. Many of my memories of garment are held not in the form but in the cloth. I remember the red circus dress, essentially defined by the bright red fabric adorned by a horse-drawn caravan of vehicles laden with exotic paraphernalia that ran around the bottom of the skirt. The structure of the dress has long passed from my memory but the bright red patterned fabric of that dress is the key to childhood memories of place and play.
Cloth can contain some of our most precious memories, becoming a memento of special places or events in our lives. The notion of cloth as memento is embedded in the work of Moira Doropoulos, who provides us with a tangible reminder of the intimate emotional connection that we can have with textiles. She explores the relationships and memories that can become embedded in cloth through her work Moments of Preservation: a series of ‘bundled’ cloth treasures, carefully constructed and folded, miniature piles of cloth, reminding us of the rituals of life.
Our relationship to garment is closely connected to the very intimate and sensual experience of cloth against skin. Eunjeong Jeon investigates the psychological aspects of comfort in dress. She works with wool, a cloth associated with warmth and comfort, creating simple felt units that can be manipulated to meet both physical and emotional needs of the wearer. The unit can be wrapped or transformed through twisting and rotating onto the body, or simply rolled to become a cushion.
Contemporary textile artists explore the nature and language of the traditions of cloth. For centuries cloth has been the carrier of pattern and colour in adornment of the body: ‘Great cultural historical and iconographic significance is attributed to textiles as a result of their material condition and their varied surface design (colour and patterns)’.2 In the draped lengths of Louise Snook’s work Festoon, the transformation of surface is investigated through the application of the hand-painted polychromatic print. Originally trained in fashion and textile design, Louise celebrates the drape of cloth in her fabric installation and invites us to move into the space to become ‘adorned’ by the surface patterns and colours that surround the ‘wearer’.
Many of the works in the exhibition reflect the potential slippage between the functional and expressive qualities contained within the object. Jewellery is a familiar vehicle of adornment that often contains meaning and significance beyond its aesthetic appeal. It is a form commonly used to express identity, and for many artists and designers it has also become a vehicle for the communication of concepts and ideas. Vashti Innes-Brown’s shifts between the creation of wearable accessory forms, such as the bracelet, and the sculptural installation used to reinforce the ideas within her work. Vashti plays with the ‘skin’ of the tree to create small transportable landscapes. For this exhibition she has created a ‘forest’ of suspended bangles formed from curls of fallen bark, which reminds us of nature and the origins of these beautifully crafted objects. The small bangle form enables the wearer to carry a memento of this concept. These wooden forms are imbued with meaning, becoming far more significant for the wearer than the conventional experience of simply dressing the arm with a bangle.
While many pieces in the exhibition challenge the boundaries of function and the accessory, familiar and more conventional forms of the hat, shoes and bag are also an important part of the exhibition. Dress is a process often guided or constrained by the more functional cultural uniform requirement to clothe the body for activity such as work or sport. However, when given the opportunity many of us will engage in a creative adventure into adornment and the expression of self beyond function. Accessories can provide a mechanism for us to explore the creative boundaries of dress by customising and styling ready-to-wear fashion components such as the dress, skirt, blouse and pants with special elements that will express more of who we are as individuals. Commercial designer work such as that created by Martini + Coz reflects the place, need and demand for the functional in fashion design. What will be worn and perceived to be wearable is always such an individual perception. Martini + Coz produce seasonal collections that are an individual and quirky response to current trends in the marketplace, offering the consumer accessory elements to play with in the creation of their own style.
Accessories and textiles have always been an integral part of fashion culture; however, they are not always accepted as singular design and art forms but often presented simply as a complement to garment. Since the rise of street style and the democratisation of fashion in the 1960s, shifts in thinking have enabled the acknowledgement of accessory and textile forms as both design and artworks in their own right. Within contemporary accessory and textile practice, designers and artists are challenging the conventions of these forms. Beyond Garment explores the slippage between the exploration of function and the expression of ideas, presenting a genre of makers who are re-examining the objects and practices of adornment. Many of the artists and designers in this exhibition challenge the assumed roles of textile and accessory forms, leading the way in the reassessment of fashion culture.
Brand & Teunissen: 45. Brand & Teunissen: 45.
Brand, J. & Teunissen, 2008, Fashion and Accessories, Arnhem:Terra.
Loschek, I. 2009. When Clothes Become Fashion: Design and Innovation Systems. Oxford:Berg.
Anne Farren is the Director of Fashion in the School of Design and Art at Curtin University. She is the curator of Beyond Garment and also curated the fashion exhibitions, ‘House of Tarvydas’ and ‘Looking Out’, held at the John Curtin Gallery during the 2008 Perth Fashion Festival. She sits on the advisory board for the Perth Fashion Festival and is a member of the Department of Culture and the Arts Designer Fashion Panel.