From haute couture to monsters to models to Linder Sterling, Paris is currently a haven for fashion-related exhibitions and almost warrants a cheapie Eurostar weekend jaunt if you're able. If I wasn't sick of the sight of croissants, nonplussed taxi drivers and yes, even the Eiffel Towel (nine days in Paris is… dare I say, too much) I'd be well up for a trip back to the city of lights just to take in the rich cultural offerings.
I did manage to catch one exhibition before I came back to London. "Arrrgh! Monsters of Fashion" at the Gaîté Lyrique at the edge of the Marais is based on the original exhibition which was at the Benaki Museum in Athens, curated by Vassilis Zidianakis and Angelos Tsourapas of the ATOPOS CVC visual arts collective. The idea also gave way to a book called 'Not a Toy: Fashioning Radical Characters' which investigates the idea of character design in fashion. It is the first international fashion exhibition of monstrous, radical or grotesque creations inspired by the 'character design' phenomenon, presenting 55 fashion designers and artists with over 80 costumes and installations, mostly from the last decade. Whilst digital and internet culture isn't the main subject of this exhibition, it's a background context to the way these installations and costume pieces were conceived, perhaps with virtual avatar or character creation so ingrained within our culture now.
"We live in a digital age and we all have several different internet profiles and sometimes we choose not to show our actual faces, but to come up with our own alternative portraits. As far as we’re concerned, 'Arrrgh! Monstres de Mode' bears witness to this diversity of new humans, or new hybrids, new monsters, which uncover parts of ourselves that have been hidden up until now. Here, the designers and artists haven't come up with designs that could be worn in the street or when going out. their artistic intention is more along the lines of wanting to express what’s inside us and these creatures illustrate this intention. Hidden, they are looking to express themselves." Vassilis Zidianakis and Angelos Tsourapas
For the most part, these costumes aren't really scary in the genuine and chilling sense. The word original Ancient Greek meaning of the word "Monster" denotes anything that is strange or cannot be explained. Therefore as we step into the exhibition we're intrigued as opposed to being afraid, and for people like myself, who have seen a lot of the designers on display in their graduate or early collections, it was a brilliant investigation into a 21st century state of fashion that we should be embracing, rather than writing off as "unwearable" or "weird". These are early works by the designers in question, which are intentionally conceptual and impractical. They're energetic seeds of ideas, informed by a nostalgia for childhood super-heroes, cartoon characters and video-game mascots as well as a willingness to create masks and made-up identities, blurring the lines of fashion, art and performance. They make you smile, ridicule, marvel and better yet, analyse.
Questioning the established norms of aesthetics in fashion has been really put to its paces in the 21st century, despite the fact that apparently nothing "new" or as impactful as say, the miniskirt has hit us in the face. We can thank the likes of Issey Miyake, Walter van Beirendonc, Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela for being those forefathers and then later on Gareth Pugh, who have inspired the younger generation with their constant pushing for the "other" in fashion. The more homogenised and globalised we have become and as the world gets smaller, it feels all the more important to make a stamp and to roar out with a cry of "Arrrgh!". All designers here mutate the human body in some way using supernatural shapes, vibrant colours, unusual textiles and abstract elements that are visually extreme but at the least, at least attempt to confront us with the aesthetically unexplored. Whilst these ensembles may not impact what we wear on a mainstream level, they give thoughtful dialogue to the way we question what is beautiful or what is ugly and that it's all most certainly still within the eye of the beholder.
Come to the exhibition wearing any mask you like ! Come freely and with an open mind to meet the other, accept others, even if they’re very different from you!’
Stills from "Caged" - a video installation by Bart Hess