Exhibition sees fashion as a phenomenon of social anthropology

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Exhibition sees fashion as a phenomenon of social anthropology
Gustavs Klucis. The Swallows (Diving). Design for a postcard for the All-Union Spartakiada in Moscow. 1928. Coloured paper application, photomontage, gouache on paper. Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art.

RIGA.- From 25 May to 25 September 2022, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Riga presents the exhibition Vêtements modèles. Model Clothes – the most important cultural project realised in Latvia in connection with the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The exhibition Vêtements modèles. Model Clothes has been produced in collaboration with the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Le Mucem) in Marseille (France) and the French Institute in Latvia. In 2020, it was presented in Marseille to great acclaim and now is offered to the Latvian public in an expanded version.

Why did the tank top, known colloquially as “maika”, and the blue French worker’s jacket become the fundament and inspiration for the fashion industry? How did the Scottish tartan skirt, or kilt, and canvas shoes, espadrilles, which are identified with a specific geographic region, spread across the globe to become a staple in almost every wardrobe? And what were the ways tracksuit bottoms managed to move from the gym to the very centre of urban culture, inspiring the haute couture legend Yves Saint-Laurent (1936–2008)?

Seeing fashion as a phenomenon of social anthropology, the exhibition traces the journey of five items of clothing across centuries and fashion movements. Retaining their original designs, the tank top, espadrilles, worker’s jacket, jogging costume and Scottish kilt exemplify longevity at a time when this concept is being re-evaluated. Retaining their original materials and technologies, garments which were originally conceived for precise functions at work, have, over the years, become archetypes – models and sources for subsequent interpretations. Reintroduced and approved, these garments reflect social history, having been elevated to the status of symbols, appropriated by political events and social movements.

From ethnographic Scottish folk costume to Vivienne Westwood (1941) and fast fashion. From the factory workshop to the catwalk of a fashion house. Centred on textiles, this exhibition with more than 200 objects – including both icons of haute couture and ready-to-wear clothing and underwear – in dialogue with drawings, graphic art, historical magazines, archive photographs and films as well as contemporary video clips tell a story of fashion as an important phenomenon of social life. At the same time, the exposition highlights the role of craftsmanship, bringing forward questions related to the preservation of cultural heritage as well as underlining sustainability in design.

The exhibition in Riga is accompanied by analogue exhibits and archival documents from local memory institutions, mapping Latvian phenomena alongside processes in European fashion and society. One of the legendary handwritings belongs to the artist Gustavs Klucis (1895–1938) whose legacy even today can bring awe and enlightenment. The works of this brilliant representative of the Avant-garde are included in the exhibition since – similar to the processes in the world of fashion – they represent a controversial time, leaving an indelible impression on the history of art and culture.

The exhibition is an interdisciplinary research and educational project, successfully bringing together several culture organisations in Latvia and France. It is made with the participation of Latvian fashion designers (MAREUNROL’S, Agnese Narņicka and others) and students from the departments of environmental art and fashion design at the Art Academy of Latvia. The exhibition is accompanied by creative workshops and discussions about the sustainability of design and the importance of the study of historical materials.

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