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Present Imperfect at the Fashion Space Gallery

SEEN went to see the Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured
exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery within the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. This intriguing and thought-provoking exhibition comprised the following themes:

Object: fragile apparel framed by modular structures
Body: proposals that allude to the human form
Text: playing with format to express actual and associative narratives
Installation: configured as gallery and studio space to share working processes

This is not an exhibition about perfect finished pieces but rather an exploration of why we clothe ourselves and what with; all the ideas and historical associations of the garments on display are examined. Disorderly apparel describes garments that are badly damaged, utterly worn-out or made from textiles that have perished over time. The items exhibited in Present Imperfect are prized for these very qualities. However, similar apparel can be overlooked or suppressed, left to lie dormant or languish in museum stores, and are rarely exhibited. Present Imperfect seeks to render these seemingly awkward items of dress as compelling.

An afternoon gown by the London couture house Redfern from c.1908 which has a shattered silk lining.Image by Camilla Glorioso

Six items have been loaned for the exhibition: two Victorian kid leather gloves from the 1830s that are burned, forever contorted in corporeal gesture. SEEN liked these the best. They were beautiful and fragile, evoking a story; A cotton ballet singlet, borrowed from the Rambert Archive, was once animate but now lies limp, imprinted by repeated exertion – the texts that accompanied this were interestingly about removing sweat stains; Shattered linings are properties common to a contemporary Stone Island jacket, and an afternoon gown crafted over a century ago by leading London couture house Redfern. A template leather jacket by Alexander McQueen for his spring/summer 2005 collection features photocopied and glued pattern motifs and red felt-tipped annotation redolent of cut-and-paste zines. Surely the late designer would have approved.

An afternoon gown by the London couture house Redfern from c.1908 which has a shattered silk lining. Image by Camilla Glorioso

The apparel is framed by modular structures, designed by Jeff Horsley and commissioned from SetWorks that safeguard and actively communicate ideas about the apparel and the body. This was a good way to contain the tiny gloves, so small and dignified in their large display case, almost like a coffin.

LR -Two kid leather gloves with metal embroidery from the 1830s, which are fire damaged.image by Camilla Glorioso

Each structure proposes a strategy that alludes to the human form in its absence: a glove placed at the location of a hand; an impression of a dancer’s figure milled from a 3D body-scan by the Digital Anthropology Lab at LCF, to a representation of a pattern-maker’s measures suggests process and proportion.

jacket by Stone Island c.1996 with a reflective textile now ruptured by glass crystal components. Image by Camilla Glorioso

Text is a routine method for interpretation and engagement. Present Imperfect playfully subverts the conventions of text panel and label. The footnoted title serves to orientate the visitor prior to entering the gallery. Variously represented narratives – actual and associative – such as time, transience and trauma are suggested as possible themes for finding meaning for the fragile apparel. It’s an exhibition that bears repeated viewings, the informality of the texts and drawings invite you to browse at length.

A male dance costume worn in ‘Touchbase’ (1992, created by Merce Cunningham for Rambert) Image by Camilla Glorioso

Working processes and ideas that are usually undertaken back-of-house are shared in the gallery space so that visitors can see ideas that were considered valid but were not foregrounded in the making of this exhibition, therefore the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion will be configured as both a gallery and a studio space. SEEN will be interested to see how it changes over time.

The intention is to highlight that within the evolution of any exhibition numerous choices and ideas are explored, rejected and chosen. The garments perhaps representing the tip of an iceberg: nine tenths are usually hidden from view.

Commissioned by Ligaya Salazar, Fashion Space Gallery and presented in collaboration with Centre for Fashion Curation. The exhibition is on until Saturday 4th August 2017. SEEN will definitely visit again.

Fashion Space Gallery
London College of Fashion
20 John Princes Street


Photography Camilla Glorioso