This week I’ve been working on couture garments that are destined for display at Expressions in Upper Hutt. The Catwalk to Cover exhibition will include fashions from Te Papa’s collection by international and New Zealand designers alongside photographs that capture the dynamism, creativity and glamour that epitomize the runway fashion show experience. The exhibition will also coincide with the End of Fashion conference taking place at Massey, 8th & 9th December 2016; conference participants can jump aboard specially arranged buses for transit to the exhibition.
My tasks this week have included assigning each garment to a “model” (all of them headless and lifeless). In the process of researching how best to present a Versace day dress, I’ve developed a new relationship and regard for this frock. As I’ve gotten to know her, she has gone from cute to hot.
The dress, from Versace’s spring/summer 1997 collection, is one of four gifted to Te Papa following the hugely successful Versace show held here from April to July of 2001. The show included over 100 garments, including the famous Liz Hurley safety pin dress (reprised by Lady Gaga in 2012) drawing over 10,000 people in the first week and over 100,000 people over the course of the 3 months it was open. Amazing factoid from the Visitor and Market Research report: just 1% of visitors heard about the exhibition via the internet.
The print design on the dress was inspired by American artist Jim Dine, who frequently used hearts as a recurring motif in his large 3D and paper-based works such as this one from the collection of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (clothing was also a popular motif of his). The sheer fabric was knit in two different types of fiber, the synthetics that remain and the other cellulose based (rayon, cotton, linen), now absent. This detail photograph shows how the yarns in the printed areas are thicker and have also absorbed the dye or ink used to create the multi-coloured heart motifs.
This is not merely a printed dress fabric, however. The contrast between the sheer and opaque areas has been created by the burn-out or devoré (“devoured”) process, whereby the fabric is exposed to a caustic gel that selectively removes the affected fiber by dissolving it. Versace also cleverly considered the relationship between the the garment’s piecing and the fabric design such that the hearts strategically cover the nipples, the pubic area and the bum cleavage.
The surface design is produced “a disposition”, meaning dictated by its position on the body/garment. In this way, it relates to couture of earlier eras, such as the embroidery on men’s waistcoats of the 18th century, which was completed prior to the silk being cut and pieced to make the finished garment. You can see the dress appearing in the video below at the 1:15 mark (on Stella Tennant? I think). The collection, Versace’s last, reflects all of the things the designer is known for—passion for of 20th century Pop art, clever invention of materials and a sense of overtly sexual playfulness. The model wears no slip to conceal the body beneath the garment–it’s not about modesty. For the exhibition, the dress will be displayed on a full body mannequin with no underslip.