Exhibition Notebook: Re:Address at Kingly Court, London

Last week, I attended the private view opening of Re:Address, an exhibition, curated designed and produced by London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion Curation 2011-12 cohort, under the course directorship of Shaun Cole.

Installation view, photo via dazedigital.com

The exhibition was on public view from March 22 through 27, and was held in two vacant retail spaces within the multi-level Kingly Court shopping arcade off Carnaby Street. Although the exhibition was on for a regretfully limited time, you can learn more about it from the project website here.

Re:Address as an exhibition, took on a topic that inevitably grows larger every minute; the phenomena of wearing, collecting and preserving vintage clothes in archives, museums or in personal daily or occasion wardrobes. This exhibition presented a considered look at some of these modes, and displayed well-selected vintage pieces according to their ability to typify the styles of a period, and also for their resonance when re-imagined as part of contemporary wardrobes.

Tommy Nutter suit, 1970s, photo by Luke Laichena

The garments were largely borrowed from the archives of London College of Fashion and Central St. Martins, as well as from the personal archives and/or wardrobes of some key collectors and vintage aficionados. I was particularly pleased and curious to see pieces belonging to Professor Amy de la Haye and Alistair O’Neil, both faculty members of the University of the Arts; a clear and intelligent example of students tapping into the resource and expertise of some of their academic mentors.

In particular I was delighted to see on display Amy de la Haye’s own 1920s swimsuit she purchased and wore in the early to mid 1980s. A quote from Amy tells how she likened the piece to the silhouette and ethos of avant garde Japanese fashion of the time. A closer look into a series of photos displayed taped to the inside of vintage luggage reveals some photos of Amy from the 1980s, showing her sporting teased hair and ruby red lips. Imagine that with the swimsuit for a truly creative re-imagining of a vintage garment. For contrast and indeed context, Amy’s snapshots are juxtaposed with vintage archive photographs showing similar swimwear worn on the beach in its day.

Display of vintage garments with period furniture, photo via dazeddigital.com

The display of the vintage garment and photos was just one of a number of poetic and informative devices of the exhibit’s design and curation that belied the innovative thinking and research behind the show. The exhibition’s graphic identity; its logo, typographic design, labels on brown paper and video invite were all well-devised and executed. The inclusion of displays of haberdashery and trims in jars, text printed on brown paper labels, and use of vintage furniture as display fixture, were orchestrated to create thoughtful vignettes that resonated as a shorthand of traditional museum period rooms.

The overall installation felt both nostalgic as well as organised in the manner of more restrained traditional museum style display. This subtle combinative aesthetic distinguished the exhibition space from the look of both cluttered vintage stores, and minimal boutiques, cleverly situating this exhibition somewhere in between. The design as well as the content showed a consideration of audience and footfall in the area. Both texts and objects were presented in an accessible fashion with a seeming focus on educating a public perhaps unfamiliar with dress history, but engaged with contemporary fashion. However, even for vintage wearers and collectors like myself, the exhibition provided new insights, information and delightful images. The labels give clues to what dress historians glean from looking at material artefacts and also introduce key concepts in fashion history for those lesser versed in the topic.

A remarkable result of the research foregrounding the exhibition was displayed on an info panel which presented a vintage timeline. The timeline a map of vintage fashion in Britain from the Second World War until now that cleverly shows the ethos and motivations behind the wearing of vintage in different times, from ‘make do and mend,’ to the aggressive DIY aesthetic of London’s punk subcultures.

This panel was displayed in the exhibition’s separate second part a gallery, which had film, period music, photos and interviews with vintage fashionistas and shop owners. This room on opening night was a lively social space, populated by sharp looking vintage-styled guests.

photo by Luke Laichena

The MA Curation students themselves were all well turned out for the opening night each in their own personal vintage and hybrid fashion looks. As hosts to the private view VIP guests and serving as eager sources of more information they operated as a well-rehearsed machine of promotion; engaging with the public and expressing their whole-hearted enthusiasm for their work.

Photo by Luke Laichena

Sometimes, despite the excellent design, research and curated selections, the overall message seemed ambiguous – but indeed the richness and multitude of topics, approaches and modes of display speaks not for a lack, but rather a wealth of promise amongst what are certainly a talented, well-spoken and curatorially innovate group of individuals whom are sure to soon be working on a host of exciting future projects. I look forward to seeing their work to come, and to further engagement with this year’s group as they enter the dynamic field of fashion curating.

Thank you to the MA Fashion Curation group for supplying photos by Luke Laichena.

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