The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined
at Barbican Art Gallery
Until 5th February 2017
Good taste is one of those attributes, like a good sense of humour, that we would all like to believe we have. Which makes taste one of the most potentially sensitive of subjects and thus perhaps one of the least explored and understood. The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, the new exhibition at Barbican Art Gallery, takes a lingering and unshrinking look at taste, focussing on the vulgar in fashion through the ages.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined challenges our concept of taste and gets us thinking about what the term ‘vulgar’ actually means. How do we know when something is vulgar? Does the term vulgar mean the same thing to everyone? We all think we know when we see something vulgar, but are we really so confident in our ability to identify it? And should we even be attempting to? Is vulgarity always something to be avoided or are there times we should aspire to it?
Fashion is, of course, the ideal arena to assess such thorny issues. The world of fashion self-confessedly lives on the cusp of good taste and vulgarity. The exorbitant cost of haute couture pushes the boundaries of vulgarity. And you could easily argue that excess has always been at least a part of the allure of high fashion.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at the Barbican Art Gallery takes over 120 exhibits to throw light on concepts of vulgarity across 500 years, from the Renaissance to the present day. From the ludicrously exaggerated wide hips of a Court Mantua dress of the 18th century to the sumptuous folds of a 21st century haute couture gown from John Galliano for Christian Dior, vulgarity is something that has been both feared and courted throughout fashion history, alternately and sometimes simultaneously. The cognoscenti of the fashion world have the skill and confidence to knowingly break the established and accepted codes of taste and elevate the vulgar from the shameful to the desirable.
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. Designers featured in the exhibition include John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nicolas Ghesquiére, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé and Chanel, Prada, Vivienne Westwood and Yves Saint Laurent.
This is a fascinating and daring exhibition, The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is a must-see for lovers of fashion, design, history and indeed psychology and philosophy that casts some light, sensitively and intelligently, over an ill-understood and neglected subject.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is on at Barbican Art Gallery until 5th February 2017
All photographs ©The London Art File
Students 14-17 £10
Daily 10am – 6pm
Thursdays & Fridays late until 9pm
Barbican Art Gallery
Information: 0845 120 7550 or www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery