Saturday, March 23, 2013

Versace – Retrospective 1982-1997
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Wearable art surfaces in many forms: it finds itself in one-off creations that resonate and informs a public consciousness of what could be; it surfaces in productions such as in film, opera, musicals, theatre, and ballet etc.; it is witnessed on cat walks in the hallowed halls of haute couture (see the Devil Wears Prada). It does not even have to be wearable in that it can be a miniature in form (see miniature Kimono’s) but it nevertheless must represent or project the image of a wearable item. It is not art since the act of engagement is distorted by the presence and shape of the wearer and on how our consciousness, sub-consciousness or prejudices react to the body that wears it.

Devil Wears Prada.

Haute couture is a trickle down phenomenon. At the very top, only the rich can afford what is being paraded but at the very bottom - it morphs itself as mass produced wearables for the public at large in discount stores such as Target etc. Hence it transforms our notion of morality (e.g. mini skirts in which underwear maybe exposed or short cut jeans so low that the top of the buttocks are evident etc.); our notion of sensuality (e.g. cleavage, and evening gowns with leg long slits); our notion of equality (e.g. jeans and tea shirts for both sexes being standard apparel); our notion of beauty (e.g. thin is in etc.)

What is exposed when she bowls the ball in her low hipsters? No wonder the bowling alleys are so empty and the crowd is right behind her (sorry about the puns).

These notions created by haute couture are ephemeral – they are only valid if accepted by the public at large. There were so many collections that in hindsight were forgettable and so few that were transforming. The transforming collections steered the public into a direction that their unconscious state was willing and so unafraid to tread. For example, fundamental Muslim, Hindu and Christian States would have notions of morality, sensuality, equality and beauty at variance with the present notions offered by haute couture. Hence in the “internet age”, they greatly fear haute couture images that invade across their borders. They wish to censor and control the information/image flow in order to prevent dissent about "their" notions of morality, sensuality, equality and beauty.

A court hearing to decide the fates of hundreds of children seized from a polygamist retreat in Australia. Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints arrive at court. Courtesy of Sydney Moring Herald (April 18th 2008).

In haute couture, Gianni Versace wanted fashion to be alluring, and so to create a conscious state of desire, thereby substituting lust with more sober attitudes of correct behavior and social calibration. Like Toulouse-Lautrec, who used the streetwalker as the ideal model in the 1880s and 1890s, Versace used the prostitute as an idea, not to moralize, but to extract a tantalizing vulgarity, sexuality and sensuality that would render his wearable art appropriate for a woman like Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman (1990) – a woman that transcended her profession to be tantalizingly desirable and so became fascinating and moreover in the process - stylish.

Vivan Ward (Julia Roberts) in - Pretty Woman.

Gianni Versace was hired by “Complice” to design their leather and suede collections. After a few years he was encouraged to present his first signature collection for women at the Palazzo della Permanente Art Museum of Milan. His first menswear collection followed in September of the same year. He soon joined Jorge Saud (who would later also become a partner with Giorgio Armani), and the first Versace boutique was opened in Milan’s Via della Spiga in 1978. Versace was an instant hit, and so his clothing designs soon appeared in boutiques around the world. He was openly gay.

Gianni Versace (1946 – 1997)
He was killed by Andrew Cunanan on 15th July 1997.

This post is based on a wonderful exhibition, which was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia) in December of 2000. Accompanying this exhibition was a wonderful book from which the contents and images of this post were procured – R. Martin, Gianni Versace, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Distributed by Harry N. Abrams Inc. New York (1998). This post will only contain some of his creations for women only.

Versace – Retrospective 1982-1997
Versace is not every body's cup of tea. Some find his fashion excessively hedonistic or as celebratory driven glitz. However, it is not surprising to read more sober assessments of his fashion direction namely, he was defining the more modern western woman – confident of her sexuality, sensuality and independence, and so no longer shackled to pregnancy, guilt or assigned gender roles by religious groups. His references at the time of creating his fashion, was not generally acceptable in haute couture – leather, denim, brash prints, and metal mesh. He was the post-Freudian, a post birth control designer – he accepted sex, not just as a fact of life, but as a celebration of life. His creations appears so tame in hindsight.

Central to Versace’s work is his acute understanding that fashion is a platform for wearable art. His inspirations from object art and film re-charge into fashion a vibrancy, an urgency of life that was to be fully lived and enjoyed without regrets.

Evening Gown (ca. 1992).
Brown, white and gold leopard printed and baroque-pattern printed silk microfaille with beaded shoulders with bead straps.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Day Ensemble (Fall-Winter, 1991-1992).
Black silk twill printed with gold baroque motifs.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Ensemble (Spring – Summer, 1996).
Zebra-printed synthetic stretch mesh, yellow and black, leopard-printed silk.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Gown (Spring – Summer, 1994).
Black silk with silver and gold-tone metal safety-pin ornaments.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Day Dress (ca. 1984).
Polychrome-striped silk.
Gift of Marilyn Linzer (1996).

Evening Gown (1987 - 1988).
Black metallic mesh with rhinestone and re-embroidered cotton lace trim.
Gift of Gianni Versace (1993).

Sleeveless Evening Gown (1991).
Partially beaded silk twill printed with polychrome images of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Strapless Evening Dress (1989).
Polychrome beaded and embroidered black synthetic mesh.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Gown (1984 - 1985).
Black metal mesh with gold and copper design motif.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Byzantine Halter Ensemble (1991 - 1992).
Polychrome beaded and embroidered black leather, black silk satin, and chiffon.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Suit (1991 - 1992).
Polychrome-printed silk velvet.
Gift of Anne H. Bass (1993).

Sleeveless Evening Dress With Panniers (Spring-Summer, 1988).
Polychrome floral-printed silk.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Gown With Asymmetrical Draping And Gathering (1997 - 1998).
Pink silk jersey.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Dress (Spring – Summer, 1982).
Beaded and printed blue silk chiffon.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Evening Tank Dress (Spring-Summer, 1996).
Black synthetic net with black leather appliques and beading.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Sarong Ensemble (Spring - Summer, 1989).
Beaded black synthetic net and hand painted brown silk velvet.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Jumpsuit (Spring – Summer, 1991).
Silk and synthetic net with allover polychrome heading in Vogue magazine motif.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Bathing Ensemble (Spring - Summer, 1994).
Purple and polychrome paisley-printed Nylon stretch jersey.
Gift of Gianni Versace (1996).

Evening Slip Gown (Fall - Winter, 1996 - 1997).
Fuchsia cotton lace studded with rhinestones.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.

Theatre Ensemble (1987).
Hand painted and appliqued silk.
Courtesy of Gianni Versace Archives.


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Pamala V. Velazquez said...

Mind blowing dresses. I am sure I will buy one of this as soon as possible. wu & y