‘The Vulgar’ moves to Vienna

Photos: Christian Wind

Photos: Christian Wind

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is a controversial yet compelling topic of taste in fashion. Currently on display at the Winter Palace in Vienna, The Vulgar offers creations by leading designers, spanning a period from the Renaissance through to today.

Based on statements by Coco Chanel and Jonathan Swift, the underlying thesis of the exhibition organisers is that (good) taste is purely a matter of opinion. Everything here revolves around clothes… around fashion that is striking because it is too shrill, too tight, too wide or even too tasteless. This is about what is referred to as ‘vulgar’.

Conceived by curator Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, the show – which has already caused a stir in London – uses literary definitions of the ‘vulgar’ as its starting point. By means of various cate­gories, including the depiction of the relationship between fashion and the human body, the show demonstrates that vulgarity is inherent in fashion.

To show the volatility of taste, historic clothing, couture as well as ready-wear outfits are contrasted with various fabric patterns, signatures, photographs and films. What was once equated with vulgarity is being reinvented by fashion designers, which then gives it a higher ranking in the definition of ‘good taste’.

What was once equated with vulgarity is being reinvented by fashion designers, which then gives it a higher ranking in the definition of ‘good taste’

Showcased in the exhibition are creations by Walter Van Beirendonck, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe, Prada and Vivienne Westwood. Displays range from the mantua dresses with their extremely wide skirts and dramatic silhouettes, which were worn at the English court in the mid-18th century, to contemporary works by designer Pam Hogg, whose creations often play with the extremes of revealing and concealing and allude to the hedonism of the club.

The Baroque Winter Palace is the ideal venue for the presentation of opulent fashion creations through the centuries. In an interdisciplinary discourse between psychoanalysis and fashion, the exhibition makers invite visitors to question the concept of the vulgar. This thrilling combination makes this project unique.

The exhibition combines historical costume, couture and ready-to-wear fashion with every exhibit reflecting certain aspects of the vulgar, although all the objects are now sanctioned by society. This illustrates the instability of taste. What was once equated with vulgarity is reconjured by designers to become the height of fashion.

The exhibition includes loans from leading modern and contemporary designers and fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Madame Gres, Jeanne Lanvin, Christian Lacroix, Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood.

The exhibition catalogue, Verlag Buchhandlung Walther Konig, includes illustrations and essays by the exhibition makers as well as interviews with designers featured in the exhibition, including Walter van Beirendonck, Christian Lacroix and Zandra Rhodes.

The exhibition is open until June 25.

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