Experimental Fashion by Francesca Granata

experimental fashion (2)

Guest post from friend of Worn Through, Francesca Granata, PhD
Director MA Fashion Studies, Assistant Professor, Parsons the New School For Design.

I am thrilled to announce the release of my book, Experimental Fashion: Performance Art Carnival, and the Grotesque Body, which was just published by I.B. Tauris, as part of their Dress Cultures series. Experimental Fashion is a study of designers and performance artists at the turn of the twenty-first century whose work challenges established codes of what represents the fashionable body through strategies of parody, humor, and inversion. The book argues that the proliferation of bodies-out-of-bounds in fashion during this period was influenced by feminism’s desire to open up and question gender and bodily norms and particularly the normative bodies of fashion. It was also tied to the AIDS epidemic and mediated the fears of contagion and the obsessive policing of bodily borders that characterized the period. 

Starting in the 1980s, the book investigates the ways designers such as Georgina Godley challenged the masculinized silhouette of the power suit and its neoliberal exhortations, while Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo questioned the sealed classical body of fashion, in part thanks to her collaboration with choreographer Merce Cunningham and artist Cindy Sherman. Fashion designer, performance artist, and club figure Leigh Bowery upended gender codes and challenged fears surrounding the bodies of gay men through the decade. The book also examines Martin Margiela’s “deconstruction fashion” of the 1990s and the way his work challenges norms of garment construction and sizing. It enters the new millennium through the work of Bernhard Willhelm, which shows the increased cross-pollination of fashion and performance art and the renewed interest in upending codes of masculinity. The book concludes by examining how experimental fashion—particularly in its grotesque and carnivalesque variety—moved from the margins to the mainstream through the pop phenomenon of Lady Gaga.

As it is often the case, the process of researching the book was the most exciting: It brought me to the costume collection of the ModeMuseum in Antwerp—made available to me thanks to the generosity of Kaat Debo—as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Through Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, I was also able to spend a year as a Research Fellow at the Met’s Costume Institute and research their wonderful costume collections. Among the most exciting research trips was a visit to Leigh Bowery’s archives in Brighton, including an interview with his widow, Nicola Bowery. Equally exciting was interviewing the British designer Georgina Godley, who also gave me access to her archival material.

It was fascinating to consult the British style press—particularly i- D and The Face, as well as Purple and Visionaire. The latter published an entire issue in collaboration with Rei Kawakubo in 1997. Comme des Garçons also published its own magazine, Six, throughout most of the 1980s, which featured Kawakubo’s work alongside that of other designers. Its entire run is in the CI Library. Equally exciting was perusing Details of the 1980s and 1990. During those independent years, Details was strikingly different from its later Condé Nast incarnation as a men’s style magazine. It was a fashion magazine featuring extensive coverage of the Paris shows, with a particular focus on experimental fashion, often exceeding 30 pages, which were both written and photographed by Bill Cunningham.

Experimental Fashion can be found on the website of the publisher, I.B. Tauris, as well as the usual suspects: Barnes and Nobles, Indiebound, and Amazon.

Francesca Granata holds a PhD from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London and is the Editor and founder of the journal Fashion Projects. Her work has appeared in Fashion Theory, Fashion Practice, and The Journal of Design History, as well as in a number of books and exhibition catalogues.

Fig. 7_Kawakubo_Body Meets Dress

Book Launch Events:
New York: Thursday March 16th at Parsons School of Design at 6:30pm in Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building 65 West 11th Street, where I will be in conversation with fashion designer Bernhard Wilhelm and art historian Charlene K. Lau. Please RSVP.
London: Somerset House Thursday April 6th , Time TBA, please consult https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on,
Chicago: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Fashion Resources Center, Thursday April 20th, 11:45-12:45 PM

Image credits:
Book cover: Leigh Bowery, Look 9, July 1989, photograph by Fergus Greer. Courtesy of the artist

Merce Cunningham, Scenario, BAM, Brooklyn, 1997, photograph by Dan rest. Courtesy of Louie Fleck at the BAM Hamm Archives

Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, padded dress, “Body Meets Dress” collection, Spring/Summer 1997. Courtesy of Firstview

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