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Pop Goes the Wardrobe: Hally McGehean’s “Wearable Art”

by Alexander Cavaluzzo on September 13, 2011

A view of the Hally McGehean Collection (Photo by the author)

In the 1960s, Paco Rabanne subverted traditional dressmaking techniques in his fashions, eschewing the needle and thread for pliers and wire and replacing fabric with metallic discs and panels. The so-called “space age” dresses constructed solely of inflexible paillettes revolutionized how women could adorn their bodies. Now, Etsy-extraordinaire Hally McGehean continues the trajectory of this alternative dress style in her work, with some über-conceptual 21st Century touches.

Hally McGehean's "Dirty Dirty Dress" (Image via Hally McGehean's Etsy Store)

Her collection, or “wearable art” as she describes the looks, walked the runway Monday evening for the first time on the Highline. Though initially the clothes lack the sophisticated look of Rabanne’s sparkling swing dresses, instead they project a plastic Pop art vibe with each outfit and accessory made out of laminated magazine clippings. Exuberant nightlife personalities peppered the model lineup, including Jocelyn Saldana sporting a cocktail dress and pumps created with images of lipstick and Darian Darling, who donned a halter dress pieced together with photos of runway models.

In a glamorous Warholian vein, many pieces revel in their appropriation, with some dresses explicitly entitled “Plagiarism,” as the images exist relatively unaltered yet decontextualized hanging from the human frame.

Her most interesting creation thus far is arguably the “Meta Outfit”, constituting a dress, bag and boots composed solely of images of each respective garment. Displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year, it exists somewhere between collage, craft and Post-Structuralist theory. Expanding on this concept of the Meta Outfit is her “Dirty, Dirty” dress, containing images of the body, almost literally allowing the wearer to embody the physicality of their corporeal selves.

Having just publicly witnessed what contemporary media touts as “avant-garde” fashion, it’s refreshing to see something that actually skirts the line of typical clothing. Naturally McGehean’s work isn’t truly avant-garde since it has historical precedent, but her work certainly pushes the envelope even if the garments aren’t entirely fashionable. Aesthetically, her portfolio straddles an awkward line between dated 1960s Mod style and handicraft sewing circle; the necessity of staying on trend is slowly dissipating in the fashion world, but drape, silhouette and overall beauty remain important aspects of fashion. The clothes have a stiff swing and ultimately remain too static to truly transcend mere sculpture into kinetic clothing.

Screencapture from hallymcgehean.com, commentary from the Editor.

Of course, that begs the question of whether these creations would even constitute as sculpture; in many ways, the teetering between art and fashion is not entirely a success seeing as they fall slightly short of each medium. Theoretically, though, if not materially, the outfits conjure thought and reflection on the nature of adornment and the media that attempts to define our culture and our selves.

Hally McGehean’s work is available to purchase on her Etsy store.

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