Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Fashion V Sport, V&A Museum

Fashion V Sport
V&A Museum

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been sartorially bamboozled by fishing. Hunting and shooting are easy peasy of course - jodhpurs for the first, a chic quilted Barbour for the second, and always pearl earrings. But riverside elegance has me stumped, and the fashion section of the Angling Times is hopeless. Thank god Chanel has come up with its own luxury fishing bag, with classic leather-and-chain straps, a monochrome reel and a separate clutch to carry the flies, bearing the double-C logo on each tiny wing. Now that’s luxury, baby.

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? Kish has been collecting sports shoes since 1982, and a small sample of his vast catalogue is on display here. The sight of dozens of pristine shoes in neat rows and columns, virginal and brightly coloured, is a horrifying distillation of late twentieth century consumerism. At least Carrie Bradshaw wears her Manolos – this ostentatious display is showy and yet impotent. What does Kish do if he actually likes a pair? Does he buy two, one for his collection and one for 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. Kish would be salivating at the thought. Adidas relies on collectors to pay over the odds for ‘exclusive’ trainers, and in turn encourages them by creating these collectable products. It’s a bizarre concept, but one that we barely question.

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.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Concrete and Glass festival, Shoreditch 2-3/10/2008

Concrete and Glass festival
2-3 October
Various venues, Shoreditch
co-written with E. Ali


In the corner by the stage there is either: a) a medieval weapon, like a catapult but with measly firepower; b) a loom; or c) an instrument. Turns out Owl Project is a kind of musicians’ woodworking club, and the rickety frame is a homemade lathe. Logs are chopped and wood is sawn, and slowly, slowly, the pieces slot together. Humming, sawing, scraping sounds grow organically as rhythms are picked up, looped and extended through a laptop. A dial-up connection bursts in and beats shuffle together and fall apart as tradition meets technology. It’s way cool, and it’s a perfect introduction to the Concrete and Glass festival, a new multi-venue event in East London featuring art across dozens of venues and a choice selection of music from the experimental (Owl Project definitely falling into this category) to the, er, experimental and more famous (TV On The Radio, Errors).

A fusion of Clash skanking, funeral marching and gypsy dancing isn’t so special these days, but how many bands do it in the same song? Quite a few probably, but Bodies Of Water have such an elegant way with splicing that when the ideas hit you all at once its neither contrived nor slapdash. Their DIY baroque is utterly beguiling, especially during a guitar-violin duel which gives the front row a solid drenching of perfect feedback. Your new favourite band.

Rounding off Thursday, Glaswegian foursome Errors are definitely on to a winning formula with their oddball blend of acid house and post-rock causing a mass migration to the upstairs of The Old Blue Last. There’s barely space to breathe, let alone dance, but the driving percussion and shower of bleeps proves hard to resist for most of the audience.


Sky Larkin’s new arrangement as a trio seems to have worked out, ‘cos their track ‘Antibodies’ is on 6Music every seven minutes, by my estimates. Sadly their new material is short on ideas and suffers from stodgy drumming that drowns out Katie’s voice and subtle guitarwork. Next at 93 Feet East though, Port O’Brien showcase their thoughtful folk-rock featuring banjo, pots and pans and sea shanty chants. Live, the songs have a stripped down, raw edge, with singer Van Pierszalowski’s impassioned and fragile vocals recalling Daniel Johnston.

It’s a simple idea but Bass Clef got there first – dubstep meets trombone, they make beautiful music babies together. The live experience in the basement of Zigfrid’s features heavy, heavy dread sounds and reverb brass from outer space, so it’s a must-see, really.

A massive crowd packs The Old Blue in anticipation of the stupidly talented 21 year old Micachu, who has already had one of her compositions performed by the London Philharmonic. Her early success is obviously deserved as she shows off her sneeringly clever songs in which genres merge together in a colourful, cerebral, beautiful mess.

Finally, after queueing for an hour, we make it into Plastic People where James Holden rounds off the night with a DJ set of the warmest, glitchiest minimal techno you could ask for on a Friday night in Shoreditch. Well played, C&G.