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Fashion Icons an arts-tourism coup for SA


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Fashionistas from all over the country are expected to visit the Art Gallery of South Australia for its spring exhibition, Fashion Icons – Masterpieces from the Collection of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

Mitchell Oakley Smith, fashion author and curator of the events program for the exhibition, says gallery director Nick Mitzevich had great foresight in bringing the international show exclusively to Adelaide.

“It was very clever of Nick to commission a fashion exhibition of this stature to the gallery; one that is unique to the gallery and one that won’t be travelling anywhere else in the country,” says Oakley Smith.

Fashion Icons - Dolce and Gabbana

Fashion Icons – Dolce & Gabbana, Spring-Summer 2007, from the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo: Jean Tholance – Les Arts Décoratifs.

“It is a great piece of tourism.

“Where art in the traditional sense requires a certain knowledge or understanding, fashion speaks to a universal audience. A lot of people will travel to see this exhibition.”

He adds that the exhibition also reflects a change in attitude towards fashion as an art form.

“There is no longer a boundary between fashion and art – in the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen fashion stake a claim on the hallowed halls of art galleries.

“Fashion was once relegated to the costume department of a museum, but now we’re seeing blockbusters – the Alexander McQueen 2011 exhibition Savage Beauty held at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, had record attendance with 650,000 visitors.”

Oakley Smith says Fashion Icons is one of three major fashion exhibitions running this year in Australia. “We’ve never seen this before. Gaultier has already had 1.5 million visitors.”

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is an international travelling exhibition which opens at the NGV on October 15.

Fashion Icons will also capture the attention of wider audience because it presents a fresh approach to fashion exhibitions. Rather than focussing on a single designer or “house”, instead it examines the main design players through the decades, questioning how they changed fashion and how their designs reflected society.

The exhibition has been produced by the Paris Musee des Arts Decoratifs chief curator of fashion and textiles of the 20th and 21st centuries, Pamela Golbin, who is responsible for one of the three largest collections of dresses and textiles in the world. In putting together the Fashion Icons exhibition, Golbin has drawn upon the museum’s legendary couture garments spanning eight decades.

Fashion Icons - Popy Moreni

Popy Moreni, evening dress, Autumn-Winter 1983-1984, Les Arts Décoratifs, Mode et Textile collection. Photo: Thierry Dreyfus for Eyesight Group.

The exhibition runs chronologically, starting with the elegance of the 1940s and ’50s, moving through to the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, to the power-dressing ’80s, to the celebrity-driven ’90s and early 2000s, with designs from Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Chanel, to Yves Saint Laurent, Andre Courreges and Emanuel Ungaro, to Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana and Azzedine Alaia, to Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen, to Dolce & Gabbana, and more.

It is an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful garments created in the 21st century by some of the most famous haute couture designers in the world, but when these pieces are presented on mannequins behind glass in an art gallery, how will visitors get a real feel for the fabric, the construction, the designer, the context and the inspiration behind them?

The Art Gallery of South Australia has no permanent fashion curator of its own, so Brisbane-based freelance art curator Alison Kubler was brought in alongside Oakley Smith to design a highly interactive events program which will run over the course of the exhibition, from October 25 to February 15, 2015.

Oakley Smith and Kubler have worked together before, co-authoring the book Art / Fashion in the 21st Century, published last year by Thames and Hudson.

“We were brought in to translate the exhibition for the Australian public and make it more accessible,” Oakley Smith explains.

“For the general population, haute couture is unattainable and people are so removed from it, but like art, haute couture has an impact on our everyday aesthetic. The Fashion Icons events program is designed provide a link between these garments and fashion today.”

There are more than 50 associated events, including workshops, films, lunchtime talks, panel discussions and after-dark events, many of which are free, but most require registration to secure a place.

Fashion Icons - Paco Rabanne

Paco Rabanne, Spring-Summer 1968, from the collection of Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo: Jean Tholance – Les Arts Décoratifs.

Some of the Australia’s brightest fashion identities will share their skills and secrets in workshops, including fashion illustrator Kerrie Hess, fashion designer Toni Maticevski and photographer Georges Antoni. Special screenings of the fashion documentary Premiere, about Kym Ellery’s debut at Paris Fashion Week, will be held followed by a live discussion with the Australian designer. A trailer of the film by Patrick Pearse can be viewed here.

Australian fashion editors Edwina McCann and Glynis Traill-Nash, and designers Carla Zampatti and Liza Emanuele, will give talks. Oakley Smith has men’s fashion covered with his discussion The Return of Male Sartorial Elegance.

But the highlight for Oakley Smith, he says, will be Pamela Golbin speaking at a special event giving insights into the exhibition and her work as curator of one the greatest fashion collections in the world.

Fashion Icons is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. Not only is it one of the greatest fashion resources in the world, but it’s a great social and cultural history, and a creative collision between art and fashion.”

The Fashion Icons program can be viewed here.

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