The word vulgar invokes mixed feelings of unease and shock, a word that you would not necessarily partner with fashion, perhaps Vivienne Westwood’s Punk Rock Style comes to mind, but not a natural marriage. Yet the Barbican created a whole exhibition around the subject.
The exhibition was a collaboration between fashion curator Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Philips and looks at 500 years of fashion across 20 eras. The Vulgar exhibition is an opportunity to learn about the development of fashion and our relationship to it. Embellishment, excess and exhibitionism are all addressed in the show as differing facets of the vulgar and it is intriguing, and admirable, to see top fashion designers exploring their own relationship with this very touchy subject.
‘To describe something or someone as vulgar is to do something to them: to mock them; to expose them; to reprimand them’ – Adam Phillips
Philips wanted to invite people to really think about what makes something vulgar and why it is such a sensitive and opposed word. The Vulgar explores the challenges and compelling notions behind the fashion and design industry from the renaissance right through to the 21st Century. Showcasing historical collections, to couture and ready-to-wear looks from designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Elsa Schiaparelli and Philip Treacy to name a few.
The exhibit questions how fashion celebrates, exploits and overrides the prevailing limits of taste and examines the constant evolution of vulgarity.
Through wigs, manuscripts, textiles, costumes, photographs, film and video, fashion, we see is changeable. What was once the height of vulgarity appears today to be entirely tasteful. Vulgarity does not exist. It is merely a matter of perspective.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is on view through February 5th, 2017 at the Barbican art gallery.