Thursday, 9 February 2017

Vulgar and Proud

 “Vulgar is something we make, nothing is essentially or in itself, vulgar”

Is just one of the many meditations and definitions of ‘The Vulgar’ presented by The Barbican’s major winter exhibition. Curated by exhibition designer, curator and fashion historian Judith Clark in partnership with psychoanalyst, writer and her husband Adam Phillips the exhibition feels like a conversation between both themselves and us, the visitor.

Tickets and Exhibition Guide 

From the moment we enter we are asked to examine our views of what it is to be vulgar and who decides? The multiple definitions provoke discussion as opposed to fixing the meaning, leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether the objects on display are vulgar at all.

The exhibition begins with a question I am used to asking myself on a regular basis “How much gold makes an object vulgar?” by juxtaposing a scrap of Renaissance Italian gold monastic dress with the 1937 Schiaparelli gold rope dress inspired by similar designs. 

Gold Monk's Ecclesiastical Fragment and Schiaparelli Gold Gown
Credit Michael Bowles, Getty Images, The Barbican 

The questions continue in my head:
“Does religion absolve vulgarity or is the excess of the cloth at odds with the teachings of the Bible?”

“Is it borrowing from religious dress for fashion or the head to toe gold that makes the Schiaparelli dress vulgar?”

“Are we only supposed to see one of these items as vulgar?”

“The vulgar, like fashion, is always a copy. It invites us to imagine the original and exposes what has been lost in translation”

In the first section we are asked to consider fashion and ‘the copy’, a theme that re-emerges in different guises throughout the exhibition. It would have been easy to show fashion ‘fakes’ in this section, instead the curators draw our attention to modern copies of Greek classical styling on one hand, and the transfer of a Mondrian artwork onto a dress on the other.

The Mondrian dress display showed how copies and copies of copies are created and highlighted the tension between art and fashion. It showed the original designer dress, a later version by the same designer and a cheaper modern ‘copy’ which co-incidentally was also available to buy in the gift shop.

“Once something can be copied, it can be made available and become popular and the available and popular can be stigmatized as vulgar”

Barbican The Vulgar Mondrian Dress
Mondiran Dress Originals, Copies, Mirror Images
Image Via Londonist 

The inclusion of historical dress serves to remind us that accusations of vulgarity in clothing can be traced back a long way. The 18th Century Court Mantuas could be seen as vulgar because of their sheer size, and equally in that society, a person could be seen as vulgar for wearing one if they were not of the correct status or rank.

The 18th Century dresses are displayed alongside modern designer dresses that play with size and scale, an association I made about the Vulgarity of this the cost of making these garments, it is not just the visual size that screams ‘look at me’ but the amount of fabric and workmanship.

“Vulgarity is wanting something you can’t be or can’t have”

For rich people displays of wealth such as this may not be considered vulgar, they have the money. It is only when someone has seemingly overstretched themselves financially or is seen to have ‘ideas above their station’ that items become vulgar.

More than anything it made me realize that the judgment of ‘vulgar’ is a sleight of hand, a way to keep the common people where they are, what is vulgar on a working class girl is not on a debutante.

Court Mantua Dress The Vulgar at The Barbican
An 18th Century Court Mantua Dress
Image via Londonist 

“It exposes the cover up of good taste and the cunning of bad taste”

Continuing with conceptions of taste, the pop art section seemed to me the epitome of deliberate ‘bad taste’ and the kind of dressing I love, there was lots of Jeremy Scott for Moschino and of course the famous Campbell’s soup repurposed as a dress (in an echo of the Mondrian Dress before perhaps)

The mixing of popular brands, symbols and icons into bold bright fashion is certainly at odds with traditional conceptions of good taste – however, if you wear these items knowingly, does it become less vulgar? Are these items “So bad they’re good” or does it depend on who’s wearing them?

Moschino Jeremy Scott Dresses The Barbican
Moschino by Jeremy Scott
Credit Michael Bowles, Getty Images, The Barbican 

“Vulgar is a term used by the guardians of taste”

The inclusion of the Chanel Shopping Centre crystallised many of themes of the exhibition for me.  The catwalk show directly engages with high fashion as vulgar, but in a very knowing way.  It featured models in classic Chanel looks; tweed suits styled with lots of gold chains, high top trainers and patent bags (that owes more than a little to Moschino).

But you would never wear head to toe Chanel to go to the supermarket, would you?  That would be vulgar.  Karl Lagerfeld knows that, as do the assembled audience of fashion buyers and VIPs, and it’s that knowledge that allows them to be in on the joke.

With everything from wire baskets to bottles of water branded Chanel, the show was also a comment on designer brand diversification and dilution, something the exhibition engages with by displaying a number of props from the show as if they were important museum artifacts, which they may become in future years.

Chanel AW14 Fashion Show
Image via

 From Catwalk to Gallery
Credit Michael Bowles, Getty Images, The Barbican 

“Vulgarity is in the eye of the beholder”

An exhibition focused on ‘the vulgar’ could not do so without examining the body and ‘flashing the flesh’. The fact that this section is placed next to the Puritan section is no accident, by exposing skin women are also exposing themselves as sexual beings, ones that enjoy pleasure, something that is almost always frowned upon or judged.  The agent provocateur dress, is designed to be worn in the bedroom (presumably), however it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to imagine one of the Kardashians wearing it on the red carpet.

Left: Vivienne Westwood Eve Dress Right: Agent Provocateur Gold Dress
Credit Michael Bowles, Getty Images, The Barbican 

In other areas the aspects of revealing and concealing the body are played with, the placement of the breast baring bathing costume, something as daring now as it would have been in the 60s, was placed next to Vivienne Westwood’s Breast T-Shirt,  a brilliant way of showing the actual breasts that the mannequin could never properly represent.

Vivienne Westwood Breasts T-Shirt and 60s Topless Bikini
Credit Michael Bowles, Getty Images, The Barbican 

“Puritanism is its foil, it’s target”

“The vulgarity is in the purity”

I wore my black and white outfit I wear to all art/ fashion exhibitions thinking it was ‘classic’ but also at odds with my usual jazzy style. Then I reached the ‘Puritan’ section. This showed how the contrast and inferred purity of the white collar could be seen as vulgar while simultaneously being the antithesis to vulgar.

Suddenly my combo of black and white outfit and shiny gold bag couldn’t have been a more perfect outfit to view this exhibition. I left feeling a special affinity with The Vulgar and that lot of what gets classed as ‘Vulgar’ I really love. 

Considering the connection between power/ status quo and judgment of what is vulgar was really brought this exhibition to life for me, as it required a level of engagement and decision making from the viewer that is unusual in fashion exhibitions.

Black and White Puritan Style 

Gold Vivienne Westwood Bag 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sale Shopping Guide

Right, Christmas is over, you've unwrapped your gifts, got your vouchers and money ready to spend in the sales, but how to navigate the unending piles of discounted merchandise, Where to begin? What to buy? DO I EVEN NEED ANY OF THIS SHIT?! 

I have a secret, I find shopping overwhelming at the best of times, the sales only make it worse. I did a cursory sale scout round sleepy Worcester on Boxing Day (having already checked out all the online sales on xmas day) and formulated a PLAN. You can use this plan too. It might stop you having a mental breakdown in Selfridges. 

1. Think about what you actually need. Perhaps your mum forgot to buy you perfume for xmas, or you want a designer leather bag in black. Get these first. 

2. Do your research. Look at the website first, that way you'll already know what is in the sale allowing you to edit out the crap quicker because you already have a vague idea of what is there, what you like, what you don't. 

3. Plan a route. Linked to 'Do your Research' you can't go everywhere and everywhere has good discounts. Department stores are my favorite- best discounts, lots of choice. House of Fraser, Selfridges and Harvey Nicks get my vote. 

4. Upgrade. If, like me, you fritter your money away on cheap tat the whole year round, stop. Don't buy the same tat but cheaper. Go up a price bracket- Cos instead of H&M, Whistles instead of Topshop, Selfridges instead of Debenhams. 

5. Don't buy clothes. The bargains are to be had on Make-up, Perfume, Bags, Shoes and Jewellery. Better discount, easier to find, less seasonal. 

6. If you do Buy Clothes Buy Classics, designer ones if possible. White shirts, black trousers, garments that fit. If its faux fur, fairisle or any other big trend from AW11, if you don't already own it, forget it, everyone else will buy mid Jan. 

7. Only buy it if you love it. Or if you considered it full price, if you thought it was ugly at full price, it is no less ugly because its only £20

8. Set a budget, stick to it.  

9. Outlet Shopping. Bicester Village boutiques have sales as does the Outnet. Yes. Go. (but remember the plan, this plan)

10. Ignore the sad looking sale and buy full price shiny newness. This is what I did on Boxing Day.  

Items that fit into THE PLAN and are in stock at the time of writing: 

Other make-up brands with fab discounts in all dept stores include Lancome, Guelian, Benefit and Estee Lauder (gift set of advanced night repair is reduced in HOF)

All boots fragrance gift sets have between £10 and £15 knocked off- as do everywhere else's. 

  Harvey Nicks has the best accessories sale I've seen. 

I wanted these full price, they fit, they are classic, they are cheap, I will wear them with a man's white shirt and red lipstick and look french.

I would also recommend buying a half price designer wallet- Mark Jacobs, Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood are usually marked down. Not that you'll have any money to put in them. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

Versace for H&M Wishlist

On 17th November I am taking the day off to go and get me some classic Versace courtesy of H and M. Here is my most wanted. 

                           Dress £79.99         or          Dress £79.00

                     Bracelet £19.99                 Necklace £29.99

As you can see my favorites are the ones that are instantly recognizable as Versace, the signature pieces. I don't love all of it, but no one will. The whole collection is over the top, unapologetically garish and a very brave move from H and M. 

See you in the queue. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Selfridges: Museum of Everything and The Shoe Galleries

The Museum of Everything forces you to confront questions that History of Art students have been pondering for a 100s of years: ‘What is art and who decides? And, Who is qualified to make art and what is it for?’  The space is laid out like a dilapidated old house, with peeling wallpaper and the walls crowded with work, the exact opposite of the open white gallery walls we usually view art on and the opposite of the shiny retail heaven that it sits within.

Many of the ‘outsider’ artists work is often (not here) displayed next to contemporary artists, this blurs the line between ‘outsider’ artists and regular artists challenges the viewer to make a distinction when both are displayed as equals, in the same context, the same space.

Ruby Bradford Print, £80, Selfridges

Tom Wagener Print, £80, Selfridges

Jean-Jacques Oost Print, £80, Selfridges

The same could be said of shoes (stay with me here) I left the Museum of Everything in a thoughtful mood, which invaded my shopping orientated brain. I started thinking about setting, how the context of objects affects how we judge them, the value we assign to them. The revamped Selfridges shoe galleries, which celebrates it 1st birthday this week, brings all its shoes, high street and designer, together in one fabulous place and in so doing makes it difficult to tell one from the other.

The biggest shock was River Island shoes- normally the reserve of 17 year old party girls- every pair in Selfridges seemed grown up, chic and very desirable. If it wasn’t for the neon sign, I would have put a 4 in front of the number on the price tag and might have mistaken some for Rupert Sanderson or Charlotte Olympia.  It was amazing- I wanted almost every pair and I don’t think I would if I’d seen them in a River Island store. My picks are shown below…but they might have lost some of their Selfridges magic online. 

If you would like to know more about outsider art or shoes you can visit the Museum of Everything Website or the Selfridges website 

Monday, 19 September 2011

In Love With Leopard

What is the first thing you think of when you think of leopard print? It could be punk girls in Camden, an over-the-hill perma tanned bar maid, a Russian millionaires on holiday, or a Saturday night girl wearing it skin tight. No other print straddles fashion genres so comfortably and can look mainstream, alternative or just plain wrong depending on who, when and where its worn. It can look expensive or cheap regardless of how much the item cost, or how rich or poor the person wearing it is.

Kat Slater to Catwalk (Dior Couture)

I have always loved it and worn it even when its not having a fashion moment (which, lets face it, is not very often). It is the LBD of the print world.  

This season the leopard madness has moved to accessories, last season it was all about the coats.  There has been a strong challenge to leopard's print crown by snake, zebra and dalmation prints but they will never have the versitily or durability of the humble leopard.  Here’s my pick of high street and designer items you'll wear over and over:

J Crew Edie Calf Hair Tote, £375, Net-A-Porter

Christian Louboutin Leopard Brogues, £653, Net-a-Porter

Adina Leopard Ankle Boots, £80, Topshop

Leopard Print Tote, £149, John Lewis Collection

I own (drum roll please) 2 pairs of leopard shoes (brogues and pumps), leopard print scarf, leopard print headscarf, leopard print boxy jacket, leopard print tights, leopard print dress, leopard print t-shirt x2, leopard print vest, leopard print mini bag, leopard body suit, leopard print umbrella…I think that’s it, I’m obsessed but insatiable I NEED more leopard in my life- on my wish list are leopard wedge boots, leopard leggings and another dress.  

I leave you with a small sample of my leopard collection.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Fashion’s Night Out

After much deliberating and not so meticulous planning I headed to Bond Street for one of my favourite nights of the year, Fashion’s Night Out.

I visited (deep breath) Browns, Whistles, Mulberry, Smythson, Miu Miu, Matthew Williamson, DVF, Nicole Farhi, Tory Birch, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, DKNY, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo and Moschino. The stores had gone all out with free drinks, canapés, DJs and a total party atmosphere. It was like being at a festival- the shops were the stages and the clothes were the stars. Everyone was treated like a VIP and there was so much going on that I wished I could split myself in two.

Highlights included Drinking gin punch from a teacup at Moschino, seeing Nicole Farhi chatting to Bill Nighy outside Nicole Farhi, the canapés at Tory Birch (best of the evening), nearly getting in the way of the band’s grand entrance at Burberry and seeing Matthew Williamson in Matthew Williamson happily chatting and posing for photos with customers. It was great to see the designers out supporting the event made it feel really special.

However, this year I was disappointed to see that some of the stores- Coach, Stella McCartney, Juicy Couture and Dior to name a few were operating a guest list only policy with clipboards and velvet ropes. These brands can have exclusive ‘fashion people’ parties for the next month in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Fashions Night Out is supposed to be for everyone, for regular people who love fashion and don’t get invited to those parties all the time. There were so many great parties at all the other shops along Bond Street that it didn’t matter to me, in fact, they made it easier for me to plan my route! It’s the principal really, I don’t want to see my favourite night turn into another industry only party.

Cupcakes at Smythson


Boots of my dreams at Miu Miu

Me admiring a Matthew Williamson Gown

The man himself

Gin in a teacup

The belt I have wanted since I saw it in The Face magazine aged 17

Dior taxi

Window at Alexander McQueen