Matthew Linde and Eilidh Duffy
Fashion during the 2000s could be described as a period of hybrid subcultural styles remixing former selves, and championing the principle of individual expression. The decade also saw the industry of fast-fashion massively expand its market, leading to the proliferation of smart-casual wear. As such, fashion during this time embodied the conflicting roles of both globalization and homogeneity alongside pastiche and pluralism.
These facts, however, do not answer a basic question: Why is fashion from the aughts so difficult to define in relation to the present? Perhaps it is only through the machine of history that fashion finds its protagonists.
Yet why is it so difficult to define a recent history of fashion? In 1971, Cecil Beaton presented Fashion: An Anthology at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London . Under the connoisseurship of this bon vivant, fashionable modern dress received its first museological moment. In a tribute to Beaton, but also in an effort to obstruct our tendency to assign a specific style to a decade, The Overworked Body: An Anthology of 2000s Dress surveyed the excessive to the underground, the everyday to the critical, and presents a period in fashion that is overloaded and overworked.
From key graduate collections at acclaimed schools such as Central Saint Martins and the Antwerp Academy, to designers’ first collaborations with multinational companies such as Target and H&M, the exhibition confronts the complexities that construct a fashion history yet to be understood.
The following is a dialogue between curator Matthew Linde and curatorial assistant Eilidh Duffy conducted after the exhibition’s closing.
Matthew: It’s strange to be interviewing ourselves on a project with which we were both so keenly involved, but maybe a good place to start is before you came to New York, when you were working from London on the exhibition. You were researching graduates from the 2000s to be potentially included — from CSM, Antwerp, Westminster etc. What were the qualities you were attracted to in the graduate designers you were researching?
Eilidh: I’d started from what you initially said you were looking for, which was kind of vague. I think you’d specified that you wanted the slightly more showy graduates. To paraphrase, you’d said you wanted the ones who really illustrated that idea that graduates are at their most imaginative when they’re just finishing school. It’s funny how we ended up having very similar taste despite not knowing each other very well. What made you put that kind of trust in someone you didn’t know? What if I’d had awful taste?
When we first discussed the project we shared similar admirations of how the show could be shaped. We talked about the desire to include ephemera, how to use varying mannequins, and a skepticism when it came to the entrepreneurial status of “emerging” design. I also wanted to work with you to keep the project dynamic; I have a tendency to be loose and you have a great editorial eye. I think the range of lesser-known designers represented in the exhibit is emblematic of how we both wanted to explore a fashion history that was on the fringe, to challenge periodization.
In saying that, I remember one important peer was critical of the show for this very reason, specifically that we showed a preference an underground or experimental grouping of designers, betraying a generalized view of 2000s fashion; the death of 1980s & 1990s experimentation (what Barbara Vinken discusses as “démodé” or “post-fashion” designers) and the rise of Paris Hilton.
Of course that’s an obvious argument that there wasn’t much of that trash 2000s in there. I mean there was no Galliano for Dior, Juicy Couture etc., which have become synonymous with the 2000s. But I think that was the strength of the exhibition. For me, one of its main objectives was to challenge the historicisation of decades within fashion which is something we spoke about in our first Skype conversation. In a way I feel that the internet has vetted out a lot of work that was created in the 2000s due to the aesthetic appeal of a Galliano show or a picture of Paris Hilton. In a way I feel this exhibition is countering that and bringing to the surface work that might be forgotten or dismissed.
Yes, we hijacked an institutional framework for the exhibition, being a historical survey, but strived for “enacting” rather than “historical explication.” Presenting an exhibit with an impossibly grand statement across two small galleries in the Lower East Side, however, already positioned a deviation from a V&A or Met blockbuster. This museological tension arose when preparing the exhibition text at the Goethe-Institut. Some staff were concerned we were comparing ourselves, literally, to the V&A show. It should be understood, however, that Beaton’s exhibition also relied upon an anthological approach rather than an anthropological one.
We can compare this difference to Items: Is Fashion Modern at MoMA, which delivered a kind of Wikipedia spread of modern fashion history, pursuing the fiduciary obligation that dress curators are custodians of historical accuracy. In the exhibition text they were quick to point out, however, that this anthropological approach also remains an impossible task, where histories are forgotten and others honored. The past is therefore always bound to the temporality of the present and so the curator is always a performative agent. I think we wanted to play with this. Some of the designers included in The Overworked Body had only presented several collections, which allowed us to expound unknown connections. What were some of your favourite designers in the exhibit?
Andrew Groves and Arkadius are definitely both special to me for particular collections. I remember seeing Andrew Groves’ AW99/2000 show on YouTube and just being totally in awe. Of course this wasn’t included in the show but the inclusion of his work felt personally important to me. It was funny as everything arrived seeing what we had from each designer as I feel I’d missed out on a lot of the initial selection process when I was in London. I was also obsessed with all the objects that people sent alongside garments. The Bernhard Willhelm publications, the Shelley Fox invitations...there was also so much that I would probably never have been able to access if not through this exhibition which is maybe what most excited me about this project initially. For example, the original polaroids from Imitation of Christ’s SS01 show or actual physical copies of Made in USA. The selection process of who and what you wanted to include must have been difficult. How did you decide what to include in the end?
There were a few designers who were originally included but due to the short preparation time and budgetary concerns, we were unable to include them. While it was important to include the excessive, such as Viktor & Rolf, I didn’t just want luxury designers who did quantitatively well in press and sales to dominate. We also worked with stylist Avena Gallagher who was instrumental in revealing a more nuanced understanding of New York fashion designers from the 2000s. There was a whole world here back in the day, before Alexander Wang, of designers partying and DJing together, making fashion social. I was much more interested in these narratives of fashion practices coming together than I was about the solo genius artist. Then again, we also included Helmut Lang which serves the kind of mythology for a “fashion innovator.”
It achieved a real balance, I think, between the big names such as Helmut or Comme and then those who were really quite obscure as well as those who have kind of been forgotten. And in regards to the downtown New York scene it’s funny because a few people have been comparing what’s going on in New York now to what was going on in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and it being interesting that an exhibition like this would be happening now. As an outsider to New York I don’t know if I know enough but to me it seems like this is too easy a comparison. What do you think?
Maybe there’s a social dimension that could be compared, a certain playfulness between the emerging designers of these two moments. Recently there has been a vivifying spirit here, especially around Eckhaus Latta’s emergence and the digital platform of DIS Magazine, with various new labels responding to and representing the local NYC creative scene. The celebration of the nodel vis-a-vis the fashionable representation of gender fluidity, the apparent relations with underground music producers, the revitalized interest by the artworld, and the user-friendly deskilling approach of scrappy fabrics have reoriented New York into a fashion social scene; however, the whole enterprise is so much more networked now. I think the comparison is difficult because of how digitization and the internet have accelerated fashion globally. A major shift in practice occurred alongside this “democratization” of fashion, allowing emerging designers to employ the newfound tools of the widening attention economy to gain global visibility with incredible speed. I think this technological shift, which occured throughout the 2000s and crystallized in this decade, has significantly affected on how designers work. Indeed, this technological shift turned out to be a recurring conversation in the exhibition, with the 2000s marking the industry’s growing pains.
And the project could not have come into fruition without the internet as it was essentially our primary tool in putting everything together. The majority of designers working today, especially younger brands, use Instagram as their primary marketing tool which didn’t even exist during the 2000s. Creating insular worlds online through their profiles to make their work desirable and to promote the product purely through digital means is now completely normal and essential. I spoke to someone recently who mentioned that less prolific designers never really used to shoot campaign imagery before the 2000s. I’d never realised this and it kind of blew my mind. Now it is essential to have a set of images which define that particular collection, not just a look book or runway line-up.
Before the 2000s, fashion was much more of an insider game. You had to get the right magazines or attend the shows to witness designer’s new statements. It's important to remember i-D had only a few retailers in Australia (where I’m from) pre-21st Century, so new designers and collections were especially obscured for those who didn't live in fashion capitals.
Looking back at shows on Vogue Runway as late as 2008 or 2009 the image quality is like 150x250 pixels! Technology for online viewership was still somehow lo-fi, including the miniDV video recording of the time. In The Overworked Body there was a grouping of European designers (Lutz, Ann-Sofie Back, Anke Loh, Dorothée Perret, Wendy&Jim, ____fabrics interseason, BLESS) whose practices were rather unspectacular insofar they remained somehow at odds with the immediacy of the image, working with generic garments as their departure point.
One of the pieces by Lutz, a designer who used to work under Martin Margiela before forming his own label, is a relatively quotidian black trench coat. Inset into the shoulder seams, however, are zips that when undone collapse the garment into a negligé dress. An Ann-Sofie Back corporate outfit features a conventional blouse made out of worn silver fabric. When the fabric tie is pulled together towards the back, the front appears modestly conventional and when the fabric is pulled towards the front, two large box pleats are revealed over the bust, seemingly mimicking saggy boobs. Upon closer inspection, the accompanying mundane grey slacks feature a circular fabric fastening to secure and carry a belt, as if for mountaineering. The Wendy&Jim ensemble consists of a characteristic 80s/90s prom dress refashioned as a large necklace worn over the top of a blazer. It floats in front of the figure and impossible to wear as the actual dress through an operational side-seam opening. It was these kinds of examinations of generic dress and functionality that attracted me to such designers—a subdued quality I think is worthy of reflection today.
Our argument is not that 2000s fashions were inherently critical but in exploring the ways in which designers deviated from their adolescent prevailing technologies. Many designers also made experimental printed matter as part of their practice. Cosmic Wonder made booklets with prose, instructional guides and installation imagery. Keupr/van Bentm produced a document outlining the plot of a fictional runway show, as an expanded mode to present their collection. BLESS made parasitic look books published in different local art journals and magazines across the world.
That was also something I wish we could have done more with in the actual exhibition and something we can perhaps develop for the next project. To really look at certain brands and their significance within a period of time, not just marvel at the novelty of a coat that can transform into a dress. I think there is room to be at least a little more didactic, but within reason of course.
Yes, it was pretty haphazard. I guess considering this anthology’s mélange of looks, fashion here was not so caught up in singular “styles” but as the idea of speed itself. Fashion performs modernism – a force dedicated to futurity yet also eternally fugitive. Its ongoing sartorial rotation attests to a system locked in stasis. As such, the overworked body offered a possible metaphor. Pursuing this proposal of the ‘overworked’ within actual individual practices could be an exciting next installment.
The Overworked Body: An Anthology of 2000s Dress was curated by Matthew Linde and organized by Ludlow 38’s curatorial resident Saim Demircan at MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38 and Mathew Gallery. It was on view between September 10th - October 15th 2017
It included works by 20471120, A.F. Vandevorst, Adeline André, Alexander McQueen for Target, Andrea Ayala Closa, Andrew Groves, Anke Loh, Ann-Sofie Back, Annalisa Dunn, Arkadius, As Four, Benjamin Cho, Bernadette Corporation, Bernhard Willhelm, BLESS, Carol Christian Poell, Christophe Coppens, Comme des Garçons, Cosmic Wonder, Dorothée Perret, Dutch Magazine, FINAL HOME, Helmut Lang, Hideki Seo, House of Holland, Hussein Chalayan, Imitation of Christ, Isaac Mizrahi for Target, Issey Miyake, Jean Paul Gaultier, Junya Watanabe, KEUPR/van BENTM, Kim Jones, Koji Arai, Kostas Murkudis, Lutz Huelle, Maison Martin Margiela, Maison Martin Margiela and Marina Faust, Miguel Adrover, Number (N)ine, Organization for Returning Fashion Interest, Proenza Schouler for Target, Purple Fashion, Rodarte for Target, Shelley Fox, Sophia Kokosalaki, Stephen Jones, Susan Cianciolo, Tao, Telfar, Undercover, Victoria Bartlett (previously VPL), Viktor & Rolf, Viktor & Rolf for H&M, Walter van Beirendonck, Wendy & Jim, Yohji Yamamoto, and ____fabrics interseason
Installation: Brent Garbowski / Curator: Matthew Linde / Co-curator: Eilidh Duffy / Organizers: Saim Demircan (Ludlow38) and David Lieske (Mathew Gallery) / Assistants: Anabel Hogefeld / Gallery Assistants: Amelie Meyer and Hiji Nam / Window Display: Whitney Claflin / Wigs: Issac Davidson (Wigbar) / Consultant: Avena Gallagher / PR: Cynthia Leung
Special thanks to lenders Shahan Assadourian, Dot Comme, Laura Gardaner, Matthew Higgs, Laila Sakini, and Hugh Egan Westland.
Exhibition generously supported by Goldsmith, Fusion Specialites, and Wigbar