On archives and exhibitions: Balenciaga, Jessica Ogden, Cartier, George Rodger

Balenciaga Shaping Fashion exhibition at V&A

London is enjoying a golden age of art and fashion exhibitions. You could easily do nothing else all day but soak up one multi-sensorial orgy after another. I made Hockney at Tate Britain by the skin of my teeth and I’m currently gearing up for Matisse in the Studio (from August 5th) and Basquiat at the Barbican, of course (from 21st September). Here are some current recommendations…

BALENCIAGA: SHAPING FASHION A couple of weeks ago I went to the press preview of Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at The V&A (until 18th Feb 2018). The exhibition is split over two levels; on the ground floor is a deep dive of the couturier’s legendary cutting techniques and upstairs is a legacy space showing the work of contemporary designers inspired by the Balenciaga look.

Fashion students and design geeks will do well to allow plenty of time to study the downstairs vitrines. Curator Cassie Davies-Strodder, has done a fantastic job creating immersive ways of showing off Balenciaga’s pattern cutting techniques. There are videos of couture craftsmanship, 360-degree views of the mannequins in motion, plus selfie stations for good measure.

Cristobal Balenciaga, the son of a dressmaker, began his designs with the fabric first. There are plenty of fabric swatches to pore over, including an example of a swatch book that Harrods kept in its sewing rooms for seamstresses to make their authorised Balenciaga copies from in the 50s. (At the height of his success, Balenciaga employed nearly 500 staff of his own staff in Paris.)

But it’s the explanation of his silhouettes that is the real draw.

From his ‘semi-fit’ dress (fitted at the front, loose at the back) to his baby doll, to an evening dress cut from a single piece of fabric with no side seams, an extensive study of Balenciaga’s sartorial engineering can be seen here. Because many of the archive pieces were so fragile, the V&A enlisted x-ray artist Nick Veasey to capture some of their hidden construction details using his forensic x-ray photography. Balenciaga’s 1954 balloon hem dress actually has internal hooping to hold the voluminous layers of fabric, as well as secret straps that tie above the knee.

Don’t miss the playful elements like the do-it-yourself cutout paper patterns that you can tear off and fold to fashion your own miniature plaid coat. This is a really thoughtfully planned exhibition with loads of interactive opportunity. Bonus tip: Consider going after 30th June when the new Amanda Levete-designed Exhibition Road Quarter will be completed.

Balenciaga Shaping Fashion exhibition V&A

A lesser-known exhibition that sounds equally visit-worthy is Jessica Ogden: Still at University of the Arts. Jessica Ogden is one of those names that’s hugely influential but you wouldn’t know her if you walked past her in the street. One of the London 90s anti-fashion set, she made her mark creating upcycled pieces for Oxfam’s No-Logo initiative. A business based around her signature homespun style floundered in the mid 2000s but not before Jean Touitou (of A.P.C fame) could step in to store her archive. The current vogue for quilting and patchworking? Ogden was doing it ten-plus years ago.

The time has now been deemed ripe to delve into her past, and the result is an installation of clothes that celebrates handcraft, memory and emotion. I’ve had a sneak peek on Instagram and it looks fab, so I’m aiming to head to this before it finishes on 23rd June.
Jessica Ogden Still exhibition in Church Street London
Jessica Ogden Still Exhibition
Jessica Ogden Still exhibition in Church Street London

Over at the Design Museum, there’s a new exhibition curated by Norman Foster centred on Cartier and design (until 28 July). The early part focuses on the societal changes of Paris during the turn of the 20th century when the newly linear layout of the city itself influenced Cartier’s designs. In this section, the spotlight is on radical pioneers, engineer Gustave Eiffel and aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Santos-Dumont’s eccentric antics included raising a tea table and chairs several feet off the ground to give his guests the sense of being up in the air. The wristwatch, as we know it today, evolved from Santos’s need for a timepiece that could be worn on the body, not on a pocket chain. Louis Cartier came up with its Santos watch which, along with the Cartier Tank is now part of the Design Museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibition also draws parallels between the geometric lines of the Eiffel Tower and Louis Cartier’s new architectural jewellery. If you’re a watch or jewellery enthusiast or just a fan of beautifully designed objets, there’s plenty to enjoy. From the many examples of Tank watches to some superb feats of craftsmanship, I particularly loved the cabinet of travel-friendly miniature curiosities. Oh to be the kind of person with a need for a pocket utility kit or mini billfold with a teeny tiny watch integrated within.

The latter part of the exhibition shows the more contemporary side of Cartier. Spot the discreet product placement of a Cartier Panthere watch on Sofia Coppola’s wrist (she recently directed their ad campaign for the Panthere) and check out the posters of iconic Cartier-wearing tastemakers such as Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent. According to his quote below, Andy Warhol – forward thinking as ever – foresaw us all wearing watches as accessories rather than timepieces.

Cartier In Motion exhibition
Alberto Santos-Dumont elevated dining at the exhibition Cartier in Motion at The Design Museum 2017
Cartier Santos watch at The Design Museum
Cartier Desk set with clock 1931 Cartier in Motion The Design Museum
Cartier billfold Cartier In Motion exhibition
Andy Warhol quote on cartier Watch at Cartier in Motion exhibition
Yves saint laurent and Sofia Coppola in Cartier

* Photography buffs have a few days left to see this small but excellent show at the Morton Hill gallery in West London. George Rodger was one of the co-founders of the Magnum photo agency and after covering the Second World War, felt the need to get away to a different environment entirely. He took himself to the Sudan where, with the help of the Sudanese government he immersed himself in the day-to-day of the tribes of the Kordofan region.

This is the first time these colour works have been shown. At the time, black and white was the preferred medium, and colour its poor relation. The muted but rich quality of the colours in these prints gives them a cinematic, otherworldly cast. (You can also catch ‘Mysterious Arrangement’ next door, a fab show of Rupert Shrive’s ‘portraits’ of mixed media sculptures.) Both shows are open until 23rd June.
George Rodger – The Nuba and Latuka, Sudan, 1948-49

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is at the V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL until 18th February 2018.

Jessica Ogden: Still is at University of the Arts London, 31-33 Church St, London NW8 8ES until 23rd June.

Cartier in Motion is at The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High St, London W8 6AG until 28th July.

George Rodger – The Nuba and Latuka, Sudan, 1948-49 is at Morton Hill Gallery, 345 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 6HA until 23rd June.

Check websites for times.

*Disclosure: Mr DRG runs the Morton Hill gallery

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Balenciaga/Disneyrollergirl x 6; Jessica Ogden x 3; Disneyrollergirl/Cartier x 2; Cartier; Disneyrollergirl/Cartier x 4; George Rodger
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Taking cover in counter culture

Levis 505

I’m so conflicted about LFW! I’m forever being told by brands that consumers don’t care about catwalk coverage. They want fashion that they can relate to and often don’t even realise it’s Fashion Week. (more…)

Club to catwalk: the 80s remembered at the V&A


If you follow enough fashion movers and shakers on Twitter or Instagram, you have likely seen every piece from the V&A’s new fashion exhibition already. If not, Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s opened last Wednesday and is well worth your attention. For those who lived through the 80s and early 90s, it’s a nostalgic meander down memory lane, but I think it will have more value for 21st century kids who want to experience the creativity and fabulosity of those hedonistic times.

Arranged on two levels, the ground floor displays some of the gems by celebrated British catwalk designers including John Galliano, Wendy Dagworthy, Antony Price and Michiko Koshino. The opening display case features the very same inflatable Michiko Koshino jacket currently hibernating in a trunk under my bed – a fine example of the theatrical pieces worn not just to clubs but for everyday peacocking.

The ‘Club’ focus is up a flight of steps, which you ascend to be greeted with a mirror asking the legendary phrase, ‘would you let you in?’ (This genius touch is in reference to the oft-quoted line doled out at the velvet rope to unfortunately attired clubbers by Philip Salon/Leigh Bowery/Trojan/Steve Strange – delete according to who’s telling the tale…)


This mezzanine serves up a more contextualised display of 80s clubwear. There are outrageous swastika-print tops (by Rachel Auburn, loaned By Kim Jones), bodysuits with phallic protrusions (designed by James Montgomery and routinely worn to Tesco’s by its owner) and the sophisticated body-con dresses that managed to leave something to the imagination by dint of their long sleeves and high necklines. (Bouji’s didn’t exist in those days and if it did, is not the kind of club referred to here.)

Inflatable jacket by Michiko Koshino

John Galliano suit with Stephen Jones headdress

Printed textiles by The Cloth

A wonderful Bodymap knitted dress
Club-To-Catwalk-Bodymap 2

Rachel Auburn swastika top
Club-To-Catwalk-Rachel-Auburn 2

Christopher Nemeth jacket made of upcycled post office sacks, loaned by Kim Jones

Vivienne Westwood dress with Keith Haring print

A key part of this exhibition is the Jeffrey Hinton-curated room of stills and original 80s video footage. An arrangement of 20 screens showing scenes gleaned from the DJ-filmmaker’s personal archive of catwalk shows and clubs, the rhythm of music and visuals is fast enough paced to be exhilarating but not overwhelmingly so. They help inject life and personality to the static exhibits. Photography of this room wasn’t allowed at the press preview, but there are snippets on Instagram. As Hinton explained “I wanted to show the nuances and the fun and energy of those days so I chose tracks with a gentler rhythm.” Having always taken pictures and filmed at clubs, there was a vast archive to choose from, a slow and emotional task considering many close friends have since been lost to AIDS. “For me it felt important to hold onto and protect these visual fragments as a tribute to those people.”

Other video footage projected on to walls are a reminder of the creative and carefree spirit of 80s fashion shows London-style, a world away from the polish of Paris or Milan. As a close-knit creative community (practically everyone claims to have lived in the infamous Warren Street squat), the London fashion set would rope in whoever was around to help realise their shows. Hence Michael Clark’s unforgettable balletic routines to showcase Bodymaps’s knits and jerseywear. Or the 1986 V&A auction of customised Levi’s jackets – a who’s who of cool 80s London camping it up with delightfully amateurish charm.

1986 Levi’s and Blitz magazine customisation project, Leigh Bowery’s jacket far right is made of 8.5kg of gold hair grips!

So what does this exhibition tell us? Post-punk London fashion was more concerned with artistic expression than commerce. Where today’s new-gen designers mix creativity with business smarts, their predecessors valued creative expression for its own sake (in many cases, the designers were still students so simply made what was cheap, from available materials). Unsurprisingly, many of those labels failed to last the distance but their legacy remains. The genius of Bodymap is evidenced through the many Instagrams from the exhibition opening party, not to mention their influence on emerging and established designers today. (Buy the exclusive T-shirt here.)

It’s also interesting to note how the social sharing boom of the last ten years has affected our notion of identity and self-expression. Outfits and antics were documented for personal pleasure pre-internet, not to construct a false sense of ourselves as we often do with social media now. While it could be argued that the flamboyant ‘peacocks’ of the Taboo/Blitz years were no more than attention seekers, this was mostly limited to their immediate peer groups, not the public and media at large. Talking to Hinton about today’s culture of constant in-the-moment documenting, we wondered if it could be time to make things smaller again, giving creative movements time to grow and be discovered organically.

It’s unlikely but that might be why this exhibition is missing the digital interactivity that could have given it an added dimension. With most under-30s hard-wired to Tweet and Instagram everything in sight, a digital hub streaming the conversations around the exhibition could have been a way to share stories beyond the physical boundaries of the V&A. In the absence of an official hub, I’d recommend checking out the #clubtocatwalk hashtag on Instagram.

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s is at the V&A until February 16th 2015


Last chance to see British Design 1948-2012: Innovation In The Modern Age at the V&A

Yikes where is the time going? Just remembered to post these pics of the BRITISH DESIGN 1948-2012: INNOVATION IN THE MODERN AGE exhibition at the V&A which finishes on August 12th. (more…)