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Fashion reinterpretations Part 1

Given the richness of the Europeana Fashion Archive, which gathers material across time and space, this exhibition draws directly from the collection and showcases some of the most interesting pairs of objects highlighting the bond between past and present. Crossing many collections from a number of European institutions, the exhibition also wants to demonstrate how influences and inspirations are able to cross both physical and chronological barriers.  

(left) Doublet and breeches, slashed white satin over blue taffeta, made in England, ca. 1618, unknown, Victoria And Albert Museum, CC BY-SA | (right) Ensemble, Bernhard Willhelm, ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, In Copyright

The first image depicts a seventeenth century men attire, composed by a doublet and breeches made of slashed white satin over blue taffeta. In this period, men’s clothing was often flamboyant and usually full of decorations, especially for the people covering the higher roles at court. As shown in the second image, in 2009, fashion designer Bernhard Wilhelm gave a literal interpretation of this style in his collection, suggesting a sort of return to a completely different era, whose bodily values differed so much from the ones we are used to nowadays. Wilhelm studied fashion design in Antwerp, and during his career he assisted iconic designers Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. His designs are known for being outlandish and ironic, commenting on society and culture, often using references from the past to make statements on the contemporary.

(left) Jacket and skirt in wool and silk by Siebenmann, ca.1895-1900, Siebenmann, Jean Tholance (Photographer), Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, In Copyright | (right) Photograph of Jean-Charles de Castelbajac autumn-winter 1982-1983, Paul Van Riel (Phototgrapher), Pat Cleveland (model), Paul Van Riel, In Copyright

The first image shows a traveling ensemble made in England at the end of the nineteenth century. The checked pattern applied on wool is a very recognisable feature of clothing made to be practical and warm. The design of the textile is very characteristic of English wool production, and was considered a traditional pattern widely used both in men and women’s clothing.

The second image shows how irreverent designer Jean Charles de Castelbajac used the checked wool, a material linked to this idea of travel, to shape an oversized silhouette, which seems to drape a wide scarf around a body to create the dress. Both dresses show some common features, such as the wide shape of the sleeves and, above all, the fringes that decorate the edges of both the historical attire and its contemporary interpretation.

(left) Japanese silk dress, c.1924 , unknown, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, In Copyright | (right) Gucci silk dress, SS 1999, Tom Ford, MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda, Colecção Francisco Capelo, In Copyright

The first image shows a Japanese dress from the 1930s, while the second showcases an embroidered dress designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in 1999. The Japanese dress is made of silk and tulle, and is decorated with embroideries around the neckline and around the waist. The Gucci dress recalls the Japanese design above all in the fringes, which contribute to give movement to the overall straight silhouette of the two dresses.

With his work at Gucci during the 1990s, American designer Tom Ford pioneered the rediscovery of the heritage of an historical brand. He reconstructed the archive of the brand, updating the symbols of the maison with his references and imagery. The aesthetic that characterised his years at Gucci associated dresses to sensuality and glamour. These same features are reminiscent of earlier designs, spanning in time and space, as testifies this Japanese dress, where fringes fall gently on the body, creating dynamic and mesmerising effects.

(left) Ensemble, Paris, 1889-1892, Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY-SA | (right) Maxidress, 2005, Comme des Garçons, Jean Tholance (Photographer), Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, In Copyright

The ensemble shown in the first image, designed and made by Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger between 1989 and 1892, uses silk and chiffon in ivory and black to convey the idea of grief; in fact, it was probably a half-mourning dress, to be worn after some time from the death of a relative. More than a hundred years later, Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo used the same vocabulary of materials deconstructing their original formality to create the attire shown in the second image. Rei Kawakubo founded her iconic brand Commes des Garcons at the end of the 1960s, and arrived in Paris in 1982. Her work is characterised by a constant reinterpretation of elements from both eastern and western clothing traditions and philosophies.