The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
WORDS BY LUKE SINGLETON
“Vulgarity exposes the scandal of good taste”- Adam Philips
By 2016’s standards, the term ‘vulgar’ may not hold much gravitas; everybody now airs their dirty laundry on social media. In our modern age of overtly sexually charged political campaigns, not just fashion campaigns, where reality stars become heads of government, the margins of taste persist to fluctuate and unravel. The Barbican’s show ‘The Vulgar’, an impressive dissection of taste and moral codes in societal dress, is the result of a fascinating collaboration between fashion curator Judith Clark, and psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips, which feels even more compelling in these expressly precarious times. Amalgamating storied collections from worldwide contributors, both public and private, it was fascinating to see these clothes as a collective, united in one gallery space; fashion is a visual language, after all.
The V&A already holds a fair selection of pre-20th and 20th Century fashion. So here, the unveiling of more recent contemporary pieces by Miuccia Prada, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Walter van Beirendonck and Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, looks too often only seen on the runway or red carpet, brings us closer to a world that exists largely behind a computer screen. Phillips’ compelling psychoanalysis of each collection reveals the sociology behind the popularity of these trends today. Amusingly, vulgarity requires a demonstrable amount of sartorial intelligence to pull off, reflected in the cavalierness of many of the collections from recent fashion weeks; style is premised on taking calculated risks, and being able to expertly pull off hairsplitting red carpet stunts. Exposing this manipulation, The Vulgar brilliantly uncovers a fundamental truth: that the principle of appropriateness in fashion bears little value, and its legitimacy, if it exists at all, is ambiguous at best.
When it coms to style, the true defining authority is time. Age, by its very nature, reveals an inherent vulgarity in all whom cross its path. This is the real scandal, the ultimate statement of indifference. Such an unavoidable irony, incidentally, is reflected in the exhibition’s Barbican location. Brutalism, within 20th Century architecture, is the crowning example of the metamorphosis of generational tastes. The Barbican Centre itself exemplifies the discrepancy between aestheticism and provocation, most beautifully.
The exhibition is live now until the 5th February 2017.