International Fashion: London Fashion Exhibitions: Andrea Zittel and Garance Dore

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While in London last month for the Global Fashion Conference, I had the pleasure of seeing Andrea Zittel’s “Smockshop” exibition at the Spruth Magers Gallery on Grafton Street (September 19 – October 3, 2009). After touring the Dover Street Market (which was itself a sartorial exhibition of delight), I headed to Spruth Magers to see the smocks, all of which were designed by a variety of artists including fashion designers, handbag designers, and even cooks.

Andrea Zittel has been playing with the idea of environment and daily routines for many years. In fact, the Smockshop itself is a project initiated in Los Angeles in 2007. However, the most recent manifestation of her pop-up gallery/sweatshop/retail space continues to remind us of her original intention – prompting viewers to question the dividing lines between art, fashion, and commerce.

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But along with these ever-present questions, it seems that her exhibition highlights the notion that rules in fact make us more creative. The freewheeling liberty that we often crave, whether in art, or in constructing our own appearances, is often contrary to actual creativity. Sometimes it is only within certain confines (think variations on a theme) that creative expression can stand apart – in harmony with, or in contrast to, a set of boundaries.

Through establishing the theme of smocks, Zittel allows for a kind of uniformity amidst diversity. The garments demonstrate how we might struggle to maintain our own individuality through dress within the constraints (and commonalities) of the human body. And each smock successfully illustrates the multitude of unique possibilities one could achieve – even when given specific design guidelines. In such diverse fabrics as blue plastic tarp to knit jersey to denim to wool gabardine to crochet, there were smocks to fit anyone’s fancy. And they were all for sale for about 200 pounds each.

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The smocks themselves certainly harken to an essential craftiness. In a sense, they represent craft within a craft. So the exhibition itself is “meta-craft” – artists making smocks for other (presumably) artists.

Questions concerning function and creativity, or rather, creativity that functions, will always go hand and hand with fashion. How dress, a material object that we “need” for simple covering and protection, begins to approach the purely creative is a topic that fashion exhibitions will continue to explore as long as galleries and museums open their doors to everyday design.

Garance Dore at GAP pop-up shop

Garance Dore at GAP pop-up shop

Just a quick word about another exhibition I was REALLY excited to see in London. I’ve been a long time fan of Garance Dore (who actually photographed me several years ago in Paris.) Her blog has exploded in popularity (perhaps due to her celebrity romance with none other than the Sartorialist himself), so the Gap recently approached her to create a exhibition of sorts for their London pop-up store at King’s Court.

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The exhibition was in a small space on the basement level of the Gap pop-up shop, but I definitely felt like I was getting an inside view into her studio. The exhibition really felt more like an expanded inspiration board, with Garance’s sketches and scribbled notes all over the walls, but there were also blown-up images from her blog as well t-shirts that she specially designed for the Gap. I especially appreciate the magazine collages that referenced her favorite style icons. Overall, it was an unpretentious, intimate, creative, and sophisticated space that very much reminded me of Garance Dore herself.

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