Fashion V Sport
Chanel’s fishing kit, looking decidedly pre-credit crunch now, is perhaps the ultimate expression of fashion versus sport. Luxury brand meets practical functionality in a tasteless collision powered by green dollar signs in Karl Lagerfeld’s eyes, and ironically enough, the end result is a product that’s not especially fashionable or sporty.
As attitudes to dress have relaxed over the past hundred years, we have adopted sports clothing as everyday wear, from polo shirts to running shoes to oversized hoodies. Sportswear also has close ties with the parallel fashion world of streetwear, and the boundaries between street, sport and couture are continually traversed as Chanel creates wetsuits while Nike launches a line of high heels and Dries Van Noten mimics skater style.
In Fashion V Sport, the V&A has put the spotlight on our voracious consumption of sports goods and the desires and obsessions that lurk behind our shopping habits. The items on display are extreme examples, certainly, but what is it that makes a man collect thousands of pairs of trainers, designed to be durable, comfortable and performance-enhancing, and not even put them on his feet?
Adidas has embarked on dozens of collaborative projects with fashion designers including Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto and Jeremy Scott, and even artists like Keith Haring (posthumously, but even so). With expensive high fashion goods, you pay for the technical skill, labour and quality materials that go into the product, as well as the brand itself. In sportswear though, the manufacturing process is designed to be as cheap as possible, with value added only once the label is stitched on. So the only way to hike up the price and create a feel of exclusivity to match that of couture is to limit production, knowing that demand will outstrip supply.
The Adidas 35th anniversary Superstar trainers, made in collaboration with Japanese streetwear brand Neighborhood, are on display here. They’re pretty ordinary, although made with leather and rubber. But only 200 pairs have ever been made, making them one of the most desirable Adidas items around.
Fashion V Sport’s visitors are a mix of design students, families and young males getting far too excited over a pair of anaconda skin Nike Air Force Ones. They all browse around, skimming the clothes until their eye lands on this or that. “Weird,” they say at the hood of an Aitor Throup jacket, designed to look like an elephant with flappy ears and two limp jersey trunks. “I hate those,” says one mum as she spots the Vivienne Westwood ultra-low crotch sweatpants. Museum-goers seem to adopt a depressingly consumerist mindset at fashion exhibitions. They scan the displays as though they’re racks, shopping for things that appeal instantly and reacting by ‘”loving this” or “hating that”, failing to register clothes as design, art, or artefact.
It’s a somewhat inevitable problem, but as fashion in museums is becoming more popular and more academically acceptable, it’s really the curator’s responsibility to aid the visitors’ understanding. Fashion V Sport has something profound and alarming to say about our society, but it can slip away all too easily when baubles are displayed as art, and art as baubles.