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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