Fashion designers are often in the limelight, but most of us are unaware which talented craftsmen and women helped bring their designs to life. Here, curator and exhibition-maker Judith Clark puts the spotlight squarely on the master artisans whose skills are so crucial to contemporary fashion. Taking craftsmanship as her inspiration and drawing on her personal experience of the industry, Clark shows the importance of collaboration between designers and artisans, the transformative power of the hand on raw materials and the vital role of craftsmanship both in fashion itself and the way it is exhibited.
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Fashion may be constantly reinventing itself but contemporary designers still draw inspiration from long-held artisanal techniques. Embossing, pleating, weaving, goldsmithing… when harnessed by designers these traditional skills don’t have to be nostalgic, but can lead to innovative and impactful new pieces, as shown by Naomi Filmer’s wearable jewellery sculptures and Dai Rees’ use of embossed leather for hats and skirts.
Nowhere is the power of the human hand more visible than in its ability to transform natural materials. Whether it be a Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel gown made with wooden beads, a Schiaparelli cape in raffia, or a Capucci dress adorned with pebbles, this exhibit shows how nature’s bounty can be a glorious source of inspiration for designers, when put in the masterful hands of talented artisans.
See how Chloé creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi worked with artist Rithika Merchant to create a silk poplin dress printed with Rithika’s bespoke illustrations. Discover how milliner Stephen Jones was inspired by Judith Clark’s vision and this exhibit’s swimming pool setting to create three very special hats. These and many other incredible pieces celebrate collaboration, and show how the ambition of the designer can be greatly expanded by the hand of the artisan.
Using the same natural materials as the pieces she presents, Clark’s remarkable staging shows how craftsmanship is as crucial to exhibition-making as it is to fashion itself. Through Bonaveri’s bespoke mannequins, Angelo Seminara’s glorious straw wigs, and the Irish ‘Clones lace’ handmade for a mannequin designed to hold a purse from the 1900s, you’ll discover the exquisite craftsmanship that contributes not only to making fashion but to exhibiting it as well.
Judith Clark is a curator and fashion exhibition-maker and currently Professor of Fashion and Museology at University of the Arts London, where she co-directs the Centre for Fashion Curation. Clark opened the first experimental gallery of fashion in London. Since then she has curated 40 exhibitions of dress. Commissioning museums include the V&A in London, ModeMuseum in Antwerp and Palazzo Pitti in Florence. In 2015 she curated and designed the inaugural exhibition at La Galerie Louis Vuitton in Asnières. Clark lectures internationally on issues of dress display.