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.

No comments: