Category Archives: Fashion

T-Shirts – Design & Fashion

There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.

The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.

There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).

I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.

Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.

I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.

You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).

There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)

T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.

Fashion & Dictators

Art and fashion follow the money but are the taste of the powerful and wealthy as dubious as their ethics? When French Elle magazine vote the wife of the Syrian leader, Asma al-Assad, “the most stylish woman in world politics”, they not only displayed political naiveté but a serious lack of taste. French Elle was not alone Paris Match and American Vogue also lavished praise on the dictator’s wife. (For more see Angelique Chrisafis “The first ladies of oppression” The Guardian.) Don’t these people remember Naomi Campbell’s testimony in 2010 about receiving diamonds from convicted war criminal Robert Taylor? Don’t these people remember that Imelda Marcos had 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags and 1,000 – 3,000 pairs of shoes?

The high end of couture fashion is dependent on selling products to people, many of whom have obviously acquired their wealth dishonestly, at prices that no honest person could afford. Yet these labels are never held in anyway responsible – sure a few portrait painters might fall with a dictator – no fashion house suffers. The high fashion labels keep on racking in the money from the corrupt without any implications on their character or taste.

Entertain the thought that fashion is not superficial, that it is actually the most deep and important of all cultural signifiers. We identify ourselves through our fashion, and now more than ever, it is now not just a sign of class, profession and status but of identity. This is more than just about the money – it is a question about taste. The taste for high-end fashion and for corruption and blood are obviously linked but almost never discussed. Who wants to dress like the wife of a dictator, or like a dictator? Why are their politics but not their taste in clothes questioned?

It is horrible to think of Bashar al-Assad dancing around to “I’m too sexy for my shirt” by Right Said Fred (leaked information reveals that he downloaded it from Itunes this year). He must be ignorant of how camp the song is, simply a vain and brutal criminal in an expensive shirt.

LMFF Culture Part 2 – or is it?

Wandered around the city on Saturday looking at elements in the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Culture Program. As I was near RMIT Gallery I went there and found textiles exhibitions that are not part of the LMFF Cultural Program. The LMFF Cultural Program is so large that you would think that every fashion/ textile / jewellery related exhibition in Melbourne would be in it but you would be wrong. Just as if you imagined that every good window display in Melbourne was part of the LMFF’s “Windows by Design” but more on that later.

“1st Tamworth Textile Triennial
- Sensorial Loop” at RMIT gallery is an impressive exhibition. Most impressive is the relationship that two of the pieces make of video and performance and textiles. Martha McDonald’s “The Weeping Dress” is seen in a video of a performance and in the washed out relic from the performances of a once black Victorian style mourning dress stained with a fugitive dye. (It was part of last year’s LMFF – see Vetti’s post about it.) Carly Scoufos’s “Panels from the Interlaced Manuscript” also has a video and some of the panels, part of a wall from a shed, containing two doors, onto which Scoufos has embroided with woollen thread and nails. Amongst the exhibition there are also two impressive works of post minimalist sculpture Tania Spencer’s wire donut, “Would you like some cake”, and Lucy Ivine’s black, groovy and curvy, “Continuos Interruptions” made from irrigation pipe and cable ties.

“Joyaviva: Live Jewellery from across the Pacific” and “Double Happiness: Portrait of a Chinese Wedding” were also at RMIT Gallery. “Joyaviva” captured something of the personal, magical and interconnecting aspects of jewellery with its pin board style of exhibiting. “Double Happiness” is a set of contemporary Chinese wedding fashion for the whole family.

Nicholas Bastin’s “The Sleepless Hero” at Craft Victoria is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Bastin’s funky mixed media jewellery is beautifully installed on diagrammatic depictions of partial figures. But Bastin’s jewellery is too “hyper-real”, too much in the realm of art for the magic of jewellery to be credible. Craft Victoria’s three exhibitions are typical of its avant-garde approach to craft; the other two are more contemporary art than craft.

The NGV at Federation Square has a fashion exhibition of the work of Australian designer, Linda Jackson that is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Jackson’s designs are from a very foolhardy era of Australian fashion – the 1980s. Some might be kinder and say that these are ‘brave and bold’ designs but the kind of bravado seen in Jackson’s 80s fashion lacked any good sense.

Detail of Zambesi's window

In the windows of Zambesi we saw one of the LMFF “Windows by Design” by Marcos Davidson. The windows are full of a variety of pillars of readymade objects carefully arranged and curated. Between these pillars you can just make out some mannequins in fluorescent clothes. Shop window displays are an interesting aspect of culture. Almost every time I go past Aesop I have to remind myself that I’m not passing a contemporary art gallery but an up-market cosmetics shop. The design is so elegant and minimalist. What is the difference between a shop window display, especially those in the windows of Aesop or Alphaville, and an art installation? I always think about Walter Benjamin wrote about shop windows. For more about Walter Benjamin and shop window displays see “Speculative Windows text” by m-a-u-s-e-r (Mona Mahall and Asli Serbest).

LMFF Culture

L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program – Material Culture – Counihan Gallery – Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion – Sophie Gannon Gallery

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

Spinner at the opening of Material Culture

All the exhibitors in “Material Culture” at the Counihan Gallery are RMIT Textile Design alumni. The hanging of “Material Culture” is exceptionally well done; the exhibition looks exciting from the women spinning on the podium outside before the opening, to John Brooks “The object in flux II” hanging from the ceiling in the foyer, to Gina Gascoigne “Siphonomore” made from optical fibre and light, the exhibition enticed the visitor in. At the far end of the gallery, Plush! had set up their workshop with mannequins, loom and sewing machine with their paper patterns and yarn hanging on the wall. 785cm of Kim McKechnie’s linen and cotton “Memory Cloth (Notes from my Grandmother)” hung in a great curve. In the online information Carmila Stirling wondered if her delicate hemp and cotton piece would survive being pinned to a wall but it did and looks fantastic. Really, the curatorial team should be congratulated. The macabre skeletal knitted wool one-piece bathing suit by Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort” really appealed to my taste.

Michelle Browne “La vie, la Mort”, knitted wool, 2012

Opening of"Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion" at Sophie Gannon Gallery

The best parts “Fashion Loves Art Loves Fashion” at the Sophie Gannon Gallery are the collaborations between the artists and the fashion label, the reason for the exhibition. Del Kathryn Barton and Romance Was Born created a quilt with painted figures by Barton and material that Romance Was Born use in a very long dress that is also on exhibition. Lucas Grogan and Rittenhouse also have an impressive collaboration with clothes made Grogan’s distinctive blue and white patterns. Grogan is also exhibiting a large embroidery, “Welcome Home Babe” 2011. Julia Devila and Material By Product also have a harmonious collaboration with surreal gothic style. John Nichoson and Josh Goot take 70s heels to a new level exploring the post minimalist possibilities of coloured Perspex heels.

There are some less impressive collaborations in the exhibition. Two large photographs by Nan Goldin derelict sheik style from a series with American model Erin Wasson are used in publication by Scanlan & Theodore. Rittenhouse used Gemma Smith’s curves in fabric for a little black dress. And Something Else used digital remixes of Ken Done coral reef paintings in their fabric print.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the LMFF Cultural Program. Vetti has photos of the LMFF Windows By Design at David Jones (part of the LMFF Cultural Program).

Monsters, Divers and More on the Street

Walking around Melbourne on Thursday I saw a variety of art on the streets from street art to public art, along with some art in an art gallery that referred to the street.

In Federation Square Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” were walking around delighting young and old. The two walking machines made of PVC pipes held together with cable ties are a combination of art and mechanical engineering. Although the larger one is meant to wind powered, that was in short supply on Thursday and pneumatic power was being used instead.

Another, and in my opinion the best yet, tribute to the destroyed Banksy’s Little Diver has been placed in Cocker Alley where the Banksy once was. This is stencil piece contains many references to Melbourne street art including Ha-Ha’s Ned Kelly, Phib’s hand with an eye, Hugh Dunnit’s Pinocchico, and the infamous CTCV capping.

I spotted a couple more of Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls prowling around the laneways and drinking coffee. (For more on Steaphan Paton’s “Urban Doolagahl” see my recent post: An aboriginal art walk.)

There were fashion shoots in both Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane; given the use that Melbourne’s fashion industry (along with the wedding industry) makes of Melbourne’s graffiti covered lanes it makes me wonder if they are doing anything to support the street art scene or if they are just exploiting it. I assume that Melbourne City Council charges for the right to close down the lane for a photo shoot (more exploitation of street art).

Further up Flinders Lane I saw Pamela See’s exhibition “White Wash” at fortyfivedownstairs. “White Wash” refers to buffing in Beijing and Brisbane. Brisbane based artist, Pamela See has made paper cuts and cut stainless steel versions of the white brush marks used to cover up unauthorized material on the street. The paper cuts of the brush marks complete with cut paper drips reminded me of Roy Lichtenstein’s enlarged abstract expressionist brush strokes.

Man Style Part 2

“I think men should dress more gaily than they do now. After all, it’s one of the rare occasions in our civilization when a man can dress like a woman.” Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1974 on the occasion of being fitted for the habit vert wore by members of the Académie française. (Boutang and Chevallay, Claude Lévi-Strauss in His Own Words, 1:24:00)

“Man Style” at the NGV International concentrates on waistcoats, ties and casual male fashion. These items are a playful part of male fashion, the decorations that remain when men’s suits are no longer covered in brocade (although the punk leather jacket is decorated with studs, badges and paint). There is an extensive display of waistcoats demonstrating waistcoat lengths getting shorter and plainer then long and decorative with the fringed suede leather US flag vest (made in Mexico). Unfortunately the collection of ties and hats was less than impressive.

The best part of the exhibition was the video interviews with men about their clothes. The men included: musician Dave Graney, GOMA curator Francis Parker and restaurant critic Matt Preston. It was delightful to see Francis Parker tie his bow tie or Dave Graney talk about his leather suit. The personal style of these men is part of their self-expression. These interviews contrasted with the many couture catwalk items in the collection that have never been worn.

Although I enjoyed the outfits, there was too much from Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivian Westwood in the exhibition. Westwood’s cheeky move of the cravat to the crotch or Gaultier’s reference to military uniforms; these references are satisfying for the curator or commentator but don’t reflect fashion as it is worn. Punk was able to bring the street and art couture fashion together but this is an exception. Ultimately the exhibition is confused in its intentions: is it exhibiting a history of male fashion or couture references to the history of fashion?

The exhibition at the NGV International on St. Kilda Road did fill in some of the gaps in the examination of male fashion left by the exhibition of suits at the Ian Potter Centre at Fed Square. (I missed the information at the Ian Potter Centre the first time I saw the exhibition another reason why Melbourne needs a dedicated fashion/clothes museum/gallery – something that I’ve advocated before).

Suit Style

“Man Style” at the NGV – for those who think that men’s suits are dull, grey and boring this exhibition will change your mind. The exhibition is focused on the European 3-piece suit from the mid-18th century to the future. There are suits for formal, military, entertainment and even sporting occasions with riding pinks.

It might be a trivial observation but men like clothes that work the same way. Women will puzzle about how to get into a garment but men just want to put their clothes on the same way so it is little wonder that the basic form of the suit hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.

Although the suit does not speak as much about class as it once did it still retains that implication. The exhibition is only concerned with male fashion from high-end designers. So these are the suits of the dandies, the peacocks, the posers of the era, designer demonstrations that the suit is not dull, like Morrissey Edmiston’s 1993 snakeskin pattern suit and matching suit.

Morrissey Edmiston suit 1993

Many of the suits were made by designers to demonstrate how they were updating the suit for the current era. There is a display of future suits from different decades that look remarkably similar and could have appeared in the same sci-fi film together.

Future visions of the suit from the present, 60s, 70s and 80s

In addition to the suits displayed on mannequins the exhibition has portraits of men from the NGV’s collection to illustrate the changing nature of male fashion. One odd aspect of the exhibition is that the bases of all the plinths have b&w images of street art in Melbourne’s laneways.

The exhibition’s focus on the suit ignores other major aspects of male style that have undergone more changes: the male silhouette, shirts, underwear, hats and ties. The 1960s marked a dramatic change in the image of masculinity and formality, only briefly noted with a uni-sex style suit. Not the curators can fit much into the gallery space that the NGV has reserved for fashion on the 2nd floor of Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (so it continues at the NGV at St.Kilda Road).


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