Editor’s note: Since Alex took a stab at Alexander McQueen’s romantic, tragic Metropolitan retrospective yesterday, we thought we’d ask him to come up with some other designers who deserve the same scrutiny. Here are five lights of contemporary fashion who just might pop up soon in a museum near you.
So Alexander McQueen was honored with a retrospective at the Met’s Costume Institute, but the real question is, who’s next? We may end up finding our answer in an obituary, but for now let’s look at some retrospective-worthy designs and designers.
For all the notoriety he’s received since his debut in the 1980s and all the museums that house his work, it’s still quite possible you’ve never even seen Martin Margiela‘s face. The ‘J.D. Salinger’ of fashion has worked hard for the opposite of most designers: underexposure. Evading the camera like a vampire, only communicating via fax, he has made sure his persona doesn’t outshine his clothes. All the more reason they deserve to be showcased.
All the self-effacing tactics let the clothes speak for themselves, though certainly they’d be loud enough even if their creator was a fame whore. Coming out of avant-garde’s fashion capital Antwerp paved the way for Margiela’s designs: embracing trash bag chic, creating ice cube jewelry left to melt streaks down the clothes on the runway and designing armholes and sleeves on the front of garments so they’d lay smoothly off the body.
This designer has been turning heads before he even graduated from Central Saint Martins. Hussein Chalayan buried his thesis collection and exhumed the rotting silk before they were presented. Later, he produced clothes reworked from furniture. Chalayan’s Spring/Summer 2007 show included perhaps his most iconic, ambitious designs: robotic “Transformer” dresses (seen above) that change shape and silhouette on their own accord as models stand motionless.
His designs, especially those technology-fused frocks, explore the relationship between clothing and the body, as well as humans’ relationship with machinery in the digital age. Naturally, a retrospective of Chalayan would be quite a spectacle (it would probably include Lady Gaga’s ovular “vessel”), but it certainly also would have the potential to scrape the surface of fashion and explore deeper issues with what we put on our backs.
The founder of the French-titled Comme des Garcons label has been producing clothing of extremes since 1969. Simultaneously minimalist and elaborate, sexy and modest, challenging and simple, she presents an interesting dialectic in the world of fashion.
Kawakubo’s clothes aren’t always the most “feminine,” but they’re probably among the most feminist clothes made today. Her womenswear often explores cut, drapery and excess in regards to the female form much more than the typical flimsy, skin-bearing representations of sexuality on the runway. The designer’s clothes delve deeply into the technique and skill of patternmaking and dress designing: she regularly, almost exclusively, designs in black, eschewing distracting prints and garish fabrics, making pieces that elicit powerful responses on craftsmanship and form alone.
Imagine the grandiose halls of the Met scrawled with Day-Glo writing, strobe lights and the quintessentially 80s designs of the late Stephen Sprouse, New York’s original wunderkind couturier. Trained under the expert hand of Halston, Sprouse transformed into a cultural icon during the maelstrom of the Reagan era by mixing “uptown sophistication in clothing with a downtown punk and pop sensibility.” Shrewdly noting that in our pop-culture obsessed society where MTV ruled all trends are consumed and tossed at a quicker rate, we’re all due for reinvention much more frequently than before. He tossed psychedelic, love-child references from the 1960s and 1970s into his early collections, while his later work in the 1990s and 2000s (including collaborations with Target and Louis Vuitton) smacked of the neon-hued, broad-shouldered eighties.
Aside from the general sense of shock and dislocation a Sprouse retrospective would have on the hallowed halls of the Met, his contribution not only to fashion history, but New York culture at large has the potential for a thought-provoking exhibition. A grand gesamtkunstwerk presentation of art, rock and fashion would serve the museum well.
The Victoria & Albert may have honored her with a retrospective in 2004, but Britain’s reigning Queen of Punk hasn’t stopped producing historic fashion. From the genesis of safety pin and slashed leather fetish gear showcased by the Sex Pistols to pirate squiggles, buffalo hats and rocking horse shoes, Vivienne Westwood’s clothes have flouted conventions and proved to be highly commercially successful. But it’s the politics of her work that really make her stand out. Though she’s stopped disparaging the Queen, she hasn’t stopped her dynamite designing.
Her current activism — encapsulated in her newly revised manifesto Active Resistance to Propaganda — implores the youth of today to turn off the tellie, go to an art gallery and, naturally, save the rainforests. Though she expresses it with a bit of sanctimony and hypocrisy (what’s her carbon footprint?), her intentions are good and it’s refreshing to see a fashion designer take such an interest in the world around her. This should be enough to garner a retrospective, but to get back to basics (and fashion): creating the aesthetic of an entire subculture that continues to thrive today? She’s earned her place in the Costume Institute.