Women Fashion Power at the Design Museum

From Elizabeth I to Margaret Thatcher, Coco Chanel to Lady Gaga, the clothes women wear have always been a powerful form of self-expression and part of a sophisticated visual language. Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition currently on show at the Design Museum in London, looks at how influential women have used fashion to define and enhance their position in the world. The exhibition celebrates exceptional women from the spheres of politics, culture, business and fashion – forward thinkers who have had an impact on our wardrobes and the world stage.

Women Fashion Power examines the last 150 years of women’s fashion with an immersive visual timeline which takes the visitor from the restrictive boned corsets of the nineteenth century to the statement Louboutin heels of today. Alongside archive photography and film footage, pieces on display include: a 1920s beaded ‘flapper’ dress, 1930s clothes and accessories owned by Elsa Schiaparelli, a 1941 handbag designed for carrying your gas mask in style, a ‘Le Smoking’ suit designed by Yves Saint Laurent in 1966, the blue Mansfield suit worn by Margaret Thatcher when she was elected leader of the Conservative party in 1975, a punk wedding dress from Zandra Rhodes’ 1977 ‘Conceptual Chic’ collection, a pair of bubblegum-pink 1980s Reebok Hi Tops and the Jacques Azagury dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on the occasion of her 36th birthday.

As more women are holding office and being recruited into society’s most powerful leadership roles, Women Fashion Power asks whether it is time to reassess the role of fashion in the public sphere – not a frivolous distraction, but an essential component of the working woman’s toolkit. Colin McDowell, the curator of the exhibition, said ‘This exhibition shows how women have used different approaches to dress in order to make statements which are unique to them and their personalities. Few of the women in this exhibition would see themselves as fashion plates or even strong fashion followers. They create their own wardrobes, not to be fashion plates but to demonstrate who and what they are.’ Women Fashion Power will run until April 26th 2014 at the Design Museum in London.

Rujana Rebernjak 

Farewell, Mr. de la Renta

There is something poetic about capturing old fashion elegance through modern eyes; a beautiful sartorial contradiction that one could not but hope to last forever. Yet, Oscar de la Renta represented so much more than just his clothes.

Oscar de la Renta was born on July 22nd 1932 in the Dominican Republic. His childhood home was filled with exuberant flowers and vivid colors, an environment that must have formed a window into future inspiration. When de la Renta was 18, he left the Caribbean island to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. His goal was to become an abstract painter; however he was quickly enticed by fashion design. He was soon awarded a position with Cristóbal Balenciaga which allowed him to observe a great master at work while honing his skill. After a few years at Balenciaga, de la Renta moved to Paris and obtained a position with Lanvin, which would introduce him to the world of haute couture. Predicting the hit of ready-to-wear fashion, de la Renta leaves Paris for New York where he establishes his name while through working at Elisabeth Arden. In 1965 he opened his own house which, to this day, remains one of the most high profile American brands.

In the years to follow, de la Renta would have great impact on both the fashion world and society itself. In 1973, as the president of CFDA he created the CFDA Awards making the organization independent of Coty sponsoring. In the year of 1990, he received the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award and again in 2000 he is recognized by the organization as Womenswear Designer of the Year. Continuing his fashion career by becoming head couturier at Balmain and over the years expanding his own brand to include clothes for children, accessories, home and much more, Oscar de la Renta became a starlit success story in his home country. The admiration Oscar de la Renta had for his heritage, has been made cleare throughout his life: whether expressed through a song, his clothes or simply in warm words, the native Dominican always said it out loud.

On the 20th of October the world of fashion grieved the loss of a man and an icon. The impact he had on the industry and society itself will be forever remembered and revered.

Victoria Edman 

David Armstrong’s Eternal Youth

An ode to youth, beauty and love, David Armstrong’s work is both ethereal, fleeting and subtle, yet almost unbearably truthful, timeless and sincere. Part of the so-called Boston-school, for the most of his life Armstrong was known as one of Nan Goldin’s best friends and assistant rather than an artist in his own right. Appreciated for his delicate portraits of young men, Armstrong was only ever able to capture the essence of people he loved or felt connected to, which, perhaps explains why he found it difficult to engage with the fashion sphere of which he only recently became a universally appreciated member. Unfortunately, Armstrong’s newly re-discovered career as a fashion photographer was interrupted last Saturday, when he died at the age of 60. While the youthful characters portrayed in his images cannot escape the passage of time, David Armstrong’s life and work most certainly already have.

Rujana Rebernjak 

Andrea Branzi: Pleased to Meet You

To understand Andrea Branzi’s work, one simply needs to ponder upon his own words: “The link that connected me with my Archizoom friends was a huge creativity. A creativity resulting from the crisis of ideologies, rationalism, and modernity. Our creativity came from that huge void produced by the collapse of the certainties upon which the whole of our society had been founded. In a way, the youth culture of the day, which we were part of, was a vitalist and instinctive reaction to the erosion and breakup of the value system that had come into being in the postwar years.” Andrea Branzi, born in Florence in 1938, is an Italian architect, designer and theoretician, who, as one of the main actors of the Radical Movement, challenged the way we understand the design sphere today.

Perpetually critical and unapologetic, Branzi gave voice and shape to issues concerning the role and core meaning of design, through projects that spanned architecture, critical design, crafts or everyday tools. His work with Archizoom Associati, founded in 1968, the year he graduated in Architecture at the University of Florence, and, later, with Alchimia and Memphis, broke the myth of functionalism and the idea of design-for-all in favour of a practice that was centered on the human condition, with its contradictions, difficulties, passions, realities, inherent beauty and sometimes messy poetics.

Spanning over 50 years and different media, Andrea Branzi’s career is currently celebrated with an exhibition organized by the Museum of Decorative Art and Design in Bordeaux titled “Andrea Branzi, Pleased to Meet You. 50 Years of Art”. Split over two different venues outside of the museum itself, the former church of Saint-Rémi and Arc en rêve, centre d’architecture, the show is divided into seven sections that narrate the story of Branzi’s career from the initial, radical, experiments until today. Though different in terms of media and subject matter, these sections – chosen and arranged through a dialogue between Constance Rubini, the curator of the show, and Branzi himself, aim to make a clear point: they show Branzi not only as designer, architect or theoretician, but as a thinker capable of re-imagining the human condition through the humble yet unbearably powerful means of design. The show will run until January 25th 2015.

Rujana Rebernjak 

Cape: A Fall Revelation

During the Fall/Winter season, one cannot avoid speaking about coats, yet this year offers a pleasant alternative to the usual outerwear: a cape, seen both in the casual poncho, as well as a more elegant version. Long before it debuted on catwalks and shop windows, the cape was used on the streets of medieval Europe. At that time, a cape would have a good, often decorated with beans and crochet-like detailing. In collective memory, the cape is also remembered as the typical vêtement of Roman Catholic clergy as well as one of the recognizable dresses of bourgeois or noble women.

The inspiration for this contemporary Fall version of a traditional cape comes from different spheres; Valentino followed two paths, one focused on leather and optical prints, and the other on embroidery and tighter silhouettes. Barbara Bui, on the other hand, oriented herself towards huge shapes and monocolour – almost exclusively ivory and black – while the knit-work gives the outfits a warm and comfortable feel. Yet, the real fashion surprise of the year could be seen on Burberry Prorsum’s runways, with capes of an entirely new form becoming the show-stoppers. The brand’s blanket-like capes were rendered in interesting patterns and combined contrasted colours for a casual yet unbearably cool appeal.

Francesca Crippa 

Style Suggestions: Olive

Deep green and khaki tones are back with a vengeance this Fall/Winter so replace boring black with a touch of olive. From accessories, knitwear to woolen coats olive green is a colour that will transcend the trends.

Hat: Federica Moretti, Coat: Valentino, Pants: Andrea Incontri, Booties: Gianvito Rossi, Bag: Giorgio Armani

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 


Sophie Calle | Make Your Life A Masterpiece

For those who don’t know her, Sophie Calle (b. 1953, Paris) is one of the most celebrated French conceptual artist of our time, even though it would perhaps be more accurate to define her one of the few active “total artists”. Indeed, there isn’t any division between Calle’s personal life and her works, which come from a complete symbiosis between all aspects of her existence. Since the end of the 70s, the artist’s poetics and the resulting projects arise from her everyday, where intimate life is turned into open narrations that people can experience and embrace as theirs own. Through the use of different media – from photography to video accompanied by writings (what is recognised as Narrative art) – art and life are blended and become indistinct, and are exhibited regardless of the issues of privacy that their deep autobiographical inclination may prompt.

Sharing the secrets of her soul and the ones of people close to her, Calle looks without filters into the issues of private feelings, confidentiality, death and separation from beloved ones, whether they are parents on the brink of passing away or fed up lovers. In “L’Hôtel” (1981), Calle asks to be hired in a hotel to photograph the rooms left by clients thus collecting their traces, while in “La Filature” (1981) she hires a detective to photograph her and at the same time keeps a personal diary in order to compare the two points of view on her everyday life. When called to represent France at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, she surprised and intrigued the viewers by displaying an installative work with a strong emotional effect entitled “Take care of yourself”. Once again exploiting different media, Calle invited 107 women from diverse fields to analyse, interpret and comment a letter (ending with the words “take care of yourself”) addressed to the artist by her then boyfriend who wanted to break up with her. The role of bonds and the value of memories are present in “Raquel, Monique” as well, where Calle eulogizes the life and death of her mother, Monique Sindler (Rachel was another name by which she was known.), while in “Voir la mer”, the artist catches the feelings of happiness and dismay of people in Istanbul, led for the first time to see the sea despite living in a city surrounded by it. The works of Sophie Calle, though characterised by a clean and essential style, tend to cause a sense of voyeurism and intrusion – a sense that has become ever more common in our present time.

While getting closer to its 30th year of activity, Castello di Rivoli, the museum of contemporary art of Turin, devotes a huge exhibition to the French artist. In MAdRE – the show curated by Beatrice MerzSophie Calle features two of the above mentioned long term projects (“Rachel, Monique” and “Voir la mer”), meant to dialogue with the historical, amazing spaces of the castle. Calle offers a good excuse to visit one of the most beautiful (even if recently a bit snoozing) art venues in Italy. The exhibition will run until 15th February 2015.

Monica Lombardi 

Biennale Interieur: “SMQ, The Quantified Home”

Founded in the little Flemish town of Kortrijk in 1968, Biennale Interieur has a distinctive place in the fast-growing multitude of international design fairs. Mainstream, yet sophisticated, it is often considered as one of the most avant-garde destinations for design trade-show enthusiasts. Its unique positioning is the result of a fine-tuned combination of commerce and culture: the offer of the small-scale expo, in fact, is enhanced by a wider exhibit programme, which takes place in the city centre and has the ambition, since the very establishment of the Biennale, to tease its audience with a provocative concept about design’s state-of-the-art.

For the 2013-2014 period, the task to anticipate new domestic imaginaries was assigned to British architect Joseph Grima and his Space Caviar team. The choice to label their curatorial effort with a smug and ironic payoff, the “The Home does not Exist”, is mainly due, according to their accurate research, to the explosion of social media in domestic storytelling and to the recovery of real estate financialization. Nevertheless, the headline has a subtle charm: if a trade-show is meant to encourage people to buy stuff and renovate their interiors, the denial of the home nullifies not only our emotional common sense, but also the very meaning of organizing and attending the trade-show itself.

“The Home does not exist” program’s explosive semantics, however, oversteps the boundaries of the expo and infects the fair off with the same incendiary spirit. That’s the case of “SMQ: The quantified home”, the very epiphany of the whole Interieur curatorial programme. Set up in an abandoned school, the exhibition is all about a sequence of rooms that are saved from the burden of objects. The first glance is the most sensational one: the room is almost empty, the furniture and the cases that we instinctively search are missing, and the only element that gains our attention is a tiny caption informing us about the first guide to home management, written in 1861 by François Hennebique, of which two millions copies were sold. The progressive timeline continues in the following rooms, retracing the history of modern domesticity without disappointing the same taste for rarefaction.

The space is distinguished only by the ephemeral traces left by the school’s past life, while little construction and demolition interventions, the result of a workshop conducted by Space Caviar, intensify their echoes through unexpected formal compositions. Would the visit to “SMQ: The quantified home” be the same without a wider semantic recall to a home that no more exists? Probably not. If this Biennale Interieur has a virtue, it is that of creating a cohesive net of captivating cross-references.

Giulia Zappa 

The Future of Fashion is Now

Is it time to change the fashion system? An industry which is built on the idea of novelty and a system which is moving faster and faster in the hunt of being the first with the latest, has made many designers questioning the rules and ideals of the fashion system. In the fashion exhibition “The Future of Fashion is Now” (on show since the October 11th 2014, running until the 18th January 2015) at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, young and innovative designers are presenting interesting alternatives.

The exhibition focuses on four current themes – the exploration and development of innovative materials and production, sustainability, body ideals and fashion activism, that all are portrayed by pieces from both established and young designers from all over the world. Among the many talented designers whose work is being exhibited (Viktor&Rolf or Hussein Chalayan, to name just a few) is Pauline van Dongen who has used portable solar cell when creating prototypes of clothes. In opposite to other wearables, she is using the many possibilities of the solar cells in the creation of different structures and finishes – which results in the solar cells improving the design of her items instead of simply becoming items with cool effects.

Another completely different sort of fashion study exhibited, is the Biolace project from Textiles Futures Reachers Center in London. They are studying possible solutions for the task of dressing a world population which is predicted to become nine billion within a couple of decades. The solution could possibly be a strawberry plant called Fragaria Fusca Tenebris which, besides growing black strawberries and being a great source of vitamin, produces black lace from its roots.

The fashion system is not separated from the challenges the rest of the world is facing, even if we sometimes pretend it were. This exhibition is therefore an important eye-opener to some of the challenges of today and tomorrow – as well as their possible solutions, showing that the fashion system maybe not have to change, but it might have to become better in adapting itself.

Hanna Cronsjö 

Foulards for Men?

Who said scarves were only for women? The last Fall-Winter catwalks have proved the opposite, by showing a proud idea of a man wearing scarves with elegance, ease and class. The French term “foulard” usually indicates a smaller or bigger cut of silk, adorned by pattern and illustration. While we already saw urban men sport the trend some seasons ago, this time the vibe is completely different.

Prada, for example, took inspiration from the Seventies, choosing a contrasting color palette, comfy and casual – in a way typically masculine – silhouettes and, to add a sort of an eccentric detail, she created tight, color-blocking scarves.A completely different approach was the one seen on Burberry Prorsum’s runway. Here the foulard was particularly large, with models walking along the catwalk wearing them fiercely, laid on the back and tied with a knot on the front; resulting in an overall girlish yet masculine aesthetics.

Although the alternative uses of the accessory proposed by these brands are still not very common, its traditional use still very much persists. In fact, the season’s runways showed the original pocket-handkerchief revisited by Andrea Pompilio in strong and impact colors, or that rendered in a typically West Village mood, created by Yohji Yamamoto. In whatever way men should decide to style them, the foulards will always remain a synonym of timeless elegance.

Francesca Crippa