Design Exchange to launch Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics

Last year, when Jeremy Scott unveiled his Arab Spring collection – complete with leopard-print burkas and crop tops embellished with dangling machine guns – it affirmed the designer’s unabashed approach to fashion. When Michelle Obama graced the stage for President Barack Obama’s victory speech in 2008, the red-and-black sheath dress she donned, designed by Narciso Rodriguez, sparked instant debate. And when in 2000, Chloe included a furry jacket actually made of glass, plastic and linen on its runway, it underscored then-head designer Stella McCartney’s ethos of natural opulence. In each instance, the medium is certainly the message.

Fashion has been said to be a mirror of society – a reflection of the times in which we live. Throughout history, clothing has been a vehicle of identity and platform for communication, telling the world who we are and sometimes, articulating what it is that we stand for. For decades, fearless and passionate designers have used this forum as a tool to express their own ethics and ideologies, as well as to create a wardrobe for like-minded people to do the same.

Celebrating fashion as a powerful medium of expression, Design Exchange (DX), Canada’s Design Museum, has partnered with Canada’s own Jeanne Beker to present Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics. Opening September 18, 2014, this exhibition is informed by Beker’s 25 years as host of the internationally renowned television series, FashionTelevision. Spanning six decades and presenting over 200 pieces, it will explore the numerous ways fashion has helped ignite political awareness and at the same time, how politics have dictated style through the decades.

“I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Design Exchange on this fascinating and timely exhibit. Fashion has become such an integral part of our pop vocabulary, and has the ability to help communicate such a wide variety of ideological notions. While many perceive fashion to be mere decoration, some of our culture’s probing and creative minds have come to regard fashion as a vibrant platform for a variety of political messaging. Whether or not fashion has the power to change the world may be questionable. But it certainly has the power to change the way we see the world, and ultimately ourselves,” says Beker.

Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics, curated by Beker in conjunction with DX curator Sara Nickleson, will guide visitors on a thematic journey of video, photography, and garments from the archives of the world’s foremost designers and collectors. Canadian fashion designer Jeremy Laing will partner with Beker and Nickleson to design the exhibition’s overall display, ensuring that it will be as irreverent as it is beautiful and sentient.

“With our second major curatorial pursuit, we’re seeking to evaluate the symbiotic nature between politics and fashion, and how this can act as a tool for change. This is undoubtedly a topic worth surveying and sharing, and illustrates just one of the many ways design can act as a transformative agent within society,” explains Shauna Levy, President, Design Exchange.

The exhibition will cover 1960 to present day. The social and political issues faced at the beginning of modern dress will be evaluated alongside those we’re facing now, provoking us to examine where fashion is positioned on the road to further progress. Visionary works from the archives of Hussein Chalayan, Jeremy Scott, Moschino, PETA, Rad Hourani, Christopher Raeburn and Jean Charles de Castelbajac will be on view alongside items loaned by collectors of Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, Mary Quant and Rudi Gernreich.

The exhibition will be organized into five sections: ethics and activism; war and peace; consumption and consumerism; campaign and power dressing; and gender and sexuality.

The following iconic garments, amongst others, will be on display in DX’s Exhibition Hall: 1960s paper dresses made from disposable cellulose fabric (on loan from the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario); a unique dress by Jean Charles de Castelbajac created in the 1980s composed of two pieces – a silk sheath hand-painted with Jackie Kennedy’s likeness and a black chiffon mourning veil overlay; Vivienne Westwood’s 1977 God Save the Queen T-shirt and 1987 Harris Tweed crown; a Moschino “Peace” dress that uses the iconic symbol to create the strap pattern for the back produced in the 1990s; Stella McCartney’s Plastic, Glass and Linen Jacket for Chloe in 2000, an alternative to fur and leather; pieces from Hussein Chalayan’s Between collection from 1998 that explore how we define individual identity and our territory through dress; garments worn at pivotal points in the careers of iconic presidents, first ladies and prime ministers, including pieces from the archives of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau and a Narciso Rodriguez dress worn by Michelle Obama in 2008 on the night Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States; androgynous designs from Montreal designer Rad Hourani’s Unisex Haute Couture collection – the first-ever unisex designer accepted by Paris’s La Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture; and select items from Jeremy Scott’s 2013 Arab Spring and Right to Bear Arms collections.

The exhibition runs from September 18, 2014 to January 25, 2015.

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