What does Vivienne Westwood think is vulgar? When is a desire for excess too much? This is all explored in the Barbican's current exhibition The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, which looks at the challenging notion of taste in fashion, from the renaissance through to contemporary design.
The Vulgar showcases objects ranging from historical costumes, couture and ready-to-wear looks to manuscripts, photography and film, with contributions from leading contemporary designers such as Walter van Beirendonck, Chloé, Christian Dior, Pam Hogg, Charles James, Christian Lacroix, Lanvin, Moschino, Miuccia Prada, Agent Provocateur, Elsa Schiaparelli, Philip Treacy, UNDERCOVER, Viktor & Rolf, Louis Vuitton.
Conceived by exhibition-maker Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, the exhibition takes various literary definitions of ‘the vulgar’ as a starting point and includes a wealth of over 120 exhibits. Moving through successive rooms that discuss themes and associations that can be applied to the vulgar, each section builds on the last to illuminate what Phillips suggests is the ‘scandal of good taste’. The exhibition illustrates how taste is a mobile concept: what was once associated with vulgarity is reconstituted by designers to become the height of fashion.
Westwood features in two sections of the show – once to consider the revelation of nudity in the Garden of Eden, drawing attention to what should be hidden, and again later in the exhibition to suggest that our love of logo might have replaced sexual desire. The show ends with a survey of recent catwalk shows which assume that a desire for excess is the norm, and promotes the notion of a New Baroque as seen through the eyes of Manolo Blahnik and Christian Lacroix. All in all the show provides both a conceptual and visual examination of the vulgar and asks you to consider – where do you draw the line?
The Barbican Art Gallery, London,
13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017