An exhibition at the V&A running from 16th June 2018
As a London based designer, I have at my fingertips access to some of the world’s best museums, exhibitions and shows not only to use as inspiration, but to appreciate the history and development of print making, fabrics and styles. What better way to spend a Friday than pouring over the iconic fabrics, cuts and styles of great figures, celebrities and true artists? In light of this, I was delighted to hear that the V&A would be putting on a dedicated exhibition to one of the most inspiring artists of the 20th century, Frida Kahlo. The exhibition boasts a fresh perspective on Kahlo’s compelling life story through her most intimate personal belongings. I imagine that by looking at her personal artefacts and clothing a vivid picture of her life can be visualized. I always believe that clothes tell a story, from idea conception, to design, to the production process - an article of clothing has an intended audience envisioned with their entire life implied from the get-go.
The traditional Mexican prints and designs of her clothing were intended to carry on the cultural ideals of 20th century-Mexico, with a nod of the head towards practicality for a woman of her status and lifestyle. Between these two points the entire life of a woman may be assumed; cooking, cleaning, leisure, romance and social standing. The stitching is neat, the patterns are elaborate and intricate without being overwhelming. The speak of warm, dusty days where sunlight tries in vain to fade the vibrant and alive colours. Just looking at the embroidered edging in her skirt makes me imagine a whole host of cushions, napkins and couture articles of clothing just itching to be made. I feel this exhibition will be inspirational and a true testament to the craftsmanship and dedication of pre-mass production clothes makers. And it’s always wonderful to look at vintage clothing to get the creativity and the juices flowing!
It is important to remember that so much of this woman’s life is known through her artwork, which richly explores her vivid interior life, and her love letters have been published and poured over as romantic and beautiful examples of devotion and excitement. Personally, I feel an excitement in what is not known about her and can only be told through her clothes. We may find out a lot of physical quirks she had; perhaps she tended to spill on her left side only, maybe due to the way she pulled on a coat the right side of her clothes was more prone to wear and tear. The infinite details of a person can be read in the way they wear and treat their clothes.
This is something every single designer has to bear in mind when designing and producing clothing. I design clothes and collections that are not just beautiful, sustainably, responsibly made but also are purposeful for its lifetime. My work with producing sustainable clothing and uniforms for the hospitality industry has lead to me thinking greatly about the way in which waiting on clients makes a person move, and how their uniforms must accommodate this. The way in which a person might put their hand in their apron pocket informs me how high to place it, how wide and what depth it should be. A human being is at the basis of every uniform concept that I work with. I’m fond of saying that clothes tell a story, but I think it is important to remember that real life humans are the characters in that story.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Vivienne Westwood documentary, directed by Lorna Tucker. Despite its controversial reviews I thought it was well researched and well produced; throwing light on many of the wonderful things she has achieved. I found the documentary insightful towards the industry, and was surprised to find that Vivienne’s story and views deeply resonated with my own views and beliefs.
I was particularly moved by one of the predominant themes;
that incredible people come from all walks of life.
And Vivienne was certainly incredible. At the age of 11 she started making her own clothes, I know from experience that this is a great feat indeed, to be so creative and practical at a young age is incredible indeed
There is a poignant moment in the documentary where they interview Vivienne about her life and she says: “I was this northern woman, married at the age of 21, (and had her first son, Ben, at the age of 22) was a bit stupid”. She knew that she couldn’t carry on with this marriage and being a housewife having no intellectual expansion. She had to go and broaden her horizons and learn a thing or two about the real world. A bold but true statement for many women even today. My own dreams couldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in my home town in Somerset!
I was also very impressed with the way in which the documentary took great pains to emphasise Vivienne’s ethos that:
“Clothes need to command action and engagement”
nI too have always firmly believed that clothes need to tell a story. Clothes that tell a story are timeless and that’s just what clothes are meant to be; absolutely iconic and timeless in their own right. With Vivienne you can expect the unexpected; beautiful, ornate, incredible cut, draped collections and then contrast anarchy, activism punk, rock. She creates and reproduces garments; her idea is to reduce her product offering and rework things until they are completely right. That’s what I love about dressing and style development for my own bespoke fashion collections; I create a response, I create harmony, I create connection through clothes. I make things last forever, often repaired to death.
What an inspiring contribution this woman continues to make with her activism and campaigning! She utilizes her celebrity status as one of the most iconic designers ever to make a difference in accordance with her vale and beliefs. She is at heart a rebel, looking to overthrow conformity and mediocrity in as many ways as she can.
Anyone who doesn’t love this documentary, I believe, is not only being unintelligent but unimaginative Seeing the depths that this visionary has achieved for real people, real emotion and real values was a pleasure and a delight to watch.