Traditionally a world inhabited by Amazonian beauties with svelte builds touting unrealistically lavish lifestyles, fashion has always been an industry defined by hard-to-achieve standards and less than stellar ethics. These days, however, young designers are redefining the rules of the game by rethinking the bodies they clothe as well as the societal implications of their work. Curated by Ilari Laamanen and Hazel Clark and currently on display at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, “fashion after Fashion” differentiates these two concepts with a mere capitalisation of the letter F.
“fashion with the lowercase f communicates socially inclined, artistically ambitious and collaborative practices” – Ilari Laamanen
“Fashion with the uppercase F means celebrity and star designer driven, product-based system that produces out-of-reach ideals,” explains co-curator Ilari Laamanen. “Whereas fashion with the lowercase f communicates socially inclined, artistically ambitious and collaborative practices.” Placing focus on the more contemporary of the two, Laamanen and Clark have created an exhibition of site-specific installations featuring work from young designers including Eckhaus Latta, Ryohei Kawanishi, Henrik Vibskov and more.
“The idea of the exhibition is to treat fashion as an expanded field of practice, and not to focus on the obvious,” says Laamanen. “We highlight the idea of fashion being connected to disciplines of installation and video art, performance and broader contexts of design – as these sensibilities have been typically overlooked in the museum context.”
“Martin Margiela and Rei Kawakubo are two designers who built their labels in uncompromising ways, governed by concept and atemporality” – Ilari Laamanen
In one installation created by SSAW Magazine directors Tuomas Laitinen and Chris Vidal Tenomaa, a bedroom is plastered floor to ceiling in editorial clippings, save for a few gaps revealing walls in the unmistakable shade of millennial pink. By referencing the safe haven of teenage fashion addicts worldwide, “fashion after Fashion” places emphasis on the industry’s emotional stronghold of young people. “The evolution of my teenage style went from grunge and flannels to hip-hop, trip hop and oversize everything, leading up to industrial looks paired with Dr. Martens and all-black outfits,” says Laamanen. “Clothing was definitely a strong means of self-expression for me at the time, especially as I was not an especially outspoken teenager.” Whether it was Vogue or NME, the end results were always the same, with magazines serving as a guide to style for adolescents – and SSAW’s installation is the ultimate tribute to this phenomenon.
Earlier this month, Fashion’s biggest drivers came together for the Met Gala, which chose to honour the genius of Comme des Garçons and its creator, Rei Kawakubo. There, industry figureheads sat alongside reality TV stars-turned-supermodels to toast the forward thinking Japanese designer so often considered an antidote to fashion’s commercial, product-based approach. Despite this widespread interest from the individuals perpetuating a culture that “fashion after Fashion” puts under scrutiny, Laamanen views CDG as one of the most influential labels paving the way for a more progressive definition of fashion.
“Martin Margiela and Rei Kawakubo are two designers who built their labels in uncompromising ways, governed by concept and atemporality, not trends and profit,” he says. “While their work is highly successful in terms of the market, their design philosophies are always original and ahead of the curve. Their work is based on questioning, not conformity, and this can be seen in both designers’ broader bodies of work, including installations and ad campaigns.”
“There is a growing need for genuine, real people in the industry, and many young practitioners are already on this path” – Ilari Laamanen
In an industry fuelled by following trends, maybe the Met’s celebration of one of fashion’s biggest oddballs signals a change to come. “The Fashion system has to change, as does any other system that is overheated by the laws of economics,” urges Laamanen. The idea of consuming and hiding behind highly expensive – or alternatively, dubiously cheap – goods is banal.”
When asked whether he thinks we’ll ever really move on from Fashion, Laamanen expresses optimism towards the future. “Based on what’s happening around us in terms of climate change, social injustice and politics at large, I really hope so. We are already witnessing many of the traditional boundaries and categories – such as gender binaries or distinctions between fashion and other creative practices – being blurred and questioned. I’m sure that fashion will become even more interdisciplinary, as the means of community building, communication and visual culture at large are transforming dramatically. There is no more space for growth – but there is a growing need for genuine, real people in the industry, and many young practitioners are already on this path.”
Rest in peace Fashion, but it’s time for you to go.
“fashion after Fashion” is on display at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York until 6 August 2017