If looks could kill

Fashion and politics mix and clash at a new show at the Design Exchange

Can the right outfit start a revolution? That’s the question posed by Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics, a new exhibit at the Design Exchange, guest-curated by former Fashion Television doyenne Jeanne Beker.

“The show opens with some examples of groups who are vocal about causes related to clothing, particularly PETA and Femen, as well as designers who are particularly active around issues, like Vivienne Westwood, whose recent work is drawing attention to climate change,” says Jeremy Laing, who designed the environment housing the show. “From there, the exhibit looks at subcultural movements, starting with the ’60s youthquake and hippie culture and moving through the decades to punk, as well as skinhead culture, exploring the role clothing has played in defining such groups.”

For couture junkies, there’s plenty to gag over in this exhibit, which features work by queer fashion giants Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. “Gaultier’s work in the show — skirts for men, underwear as outerwear — reflects his propensity for subverting and playing with notions of propriety, ‘good morals’ and ‘good taste,’” Laing explains. “The McQueen pieces are used to explore the synthesis of royalist and military influences in the work of a designer who was, himself, an anti-royalist and a pacifist.”

While the exhibit features work by sartorial heavy hitters like Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Stella McCartney and Mary Quant, it also saves room for work by underground icons. “I particularly love the pieces from Joey Arias, who sent a jumpsuit he used to perform in as well as Klaus Nomi’s space tuxedo costume,” Laing says. “RuPaul’s red patent-leather Mac Viva Glam outfit from the ’90s is a treat to see. Klaus, Joey and Ru are part of a section that looks at permissiveness around gender play in nightclub culture.”

And what about that revolution? Can fashion really effect change, or is it all just playing dress-up? For Laing, the answer is clear: “From mayoral campaign T-shirts to a women’s basketball team pulling out of a competition instead of abandoning their hijabs, clothing plays an active role in the sociopolitical landscape.”

Politics of Fashion runs until Sun, Jan 25 at the Design Exchange, 243 Bay St. dx.org

Read More About:
Culture, News, Toronto, Canada, Style, Arts

Keep Reading

Desire, love triangles and bad gays are at the centre of Hanna Johansson’s ‘Antiquity’

Xtra speaks with the Swedish author about her newly translated novel

‘Drive-Away Dolls’ is a sex-positive lesbian romp

REVIEW: Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke have crafted the next great lesbian road trip movie

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 7 power ranking: A new frontrunner emerges

A surprising queen takes her second win of the season earlier than expected

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 7 recap: The heels are alive

It’s time for Season 16’s take on the Rusical!