On Safari with Black Beauty

Talking about fashion without the worn-out clichés: six writers seek new poetic avenues.

Fashion has always been about more than just clothes. The individual item of clothing is placed within a complex overall context that attempts to convey to us how it should be read; capturing our emotions by placing it within a greater narrative. Even before we notice the hand-crafted details like the cut or the material, we dive into the fictitious worlds created by Lookbooks. No matter how complex these image-worlds are, so much of the talk around and writing about fashion is stuck using the same old clichés: either overused ad-speak, or attempts to classify the collection – with differing levels of scientific jargon – into a historical narrative. 

In this respect, the concept behind this exhibition enters exciting new territory: what do writers express when they look at fashion imagery? What atmospheres do they pick up on, what do they intensify? But also: which new contexts do they open up?

Six examples.

The Viennese label DMMJK (formerly known as Demelrave) has named its S/S15 Collection ‘Sapir Safari.’ The models stand on halved truck tyres that have been painted white, with the heavy rubber suddenly taking on a light quality; the models appear to be floating on clouds. The British poet Amy Key engages with the airiness of the collection in her poem – which could also be lyrics to a song – and directly references a track by Grimes: in the video to ‘Genesis’ an independent girl gang of feminist fashion warriors go on a kind of contemporary safari to the song’s hypnotic sounds. A cool amplification of the collection’s context which perfectly fits the fashion of DMMJK, who cite ‘real life’, ‘unscripted soap operas’ and ‘celebrity stereotypes’ as influences.

For Jana Wieland’s collection ‘Strange Pie’ the designer was as much inspired by earth tones as she was by the eerie film worlds of David Lynch. The British writer and journalist Michael Amherst situates his short story in a rural setting that he disrupts with irony: the daughter of a woodcutter collects leaves and ivy and makes clothes from them to be sold to ‘the rich cities of the north’. The writer reinforces the unnerving atmosphere of Wieland’s Lookbook, but the text simultaneously reads as a bold comment on the current fashion trend of tapping locally made crafts from the poorest parts of the world for luxury labels.

Austrian author Teresa Präauer perfectly masters the art of arousing expectation in the reader only to subvert it. She associates Inga Nemirovskaia’s pitch black knitwear with memories of children’s TV: the black horse Black Beauty. Präauer’s text is the opposite of a classic tale based on a fast-paced narrative. Everything happens incidentally. To appropriate an old-fashioned genre that relies on tense dramaturgy, only to then not satisfy the reader’s expectations, of course fits well with a collection created using the traditional method of knitting that also has
a contemporary jolt in the use of unusual materials.

Sabinna deconstructs her Russian teen roots in her collection: her clothes are white and futuristic, forming a connection between the wearers with the current trend for sportswear in fashion. Miriam H. Auer’s hermetic text cites Georg Trackl and Sylvia Plath and is a creepy fairy tale that sinks into the textures of the clothing (the lace, the colours red and white) and the mannequin heads that feature in the Lookbook. Within a deep-black romantic tradition, the author sketches out a world full of Doppelgangers and sinister mirrors.

The shoes that make up Carolin Holzhuber’s collection ‘Conjoined Illusion’ operate like sculptures. What’s up, what’s down? Are they even wearable? The British poet and fashion critic Rebecca May Johnson plays with the paradox of this concept: a shoe with two uses makes two shoes for one foot. In deliberately straightforward language Johnson thematises what Holzhuber herself takes up as her central concern, namely,
a discussion on everything a shoe can be.

In ‘the perversion of truth’, Katharina Perkhofer toys with our perception. Digital prints simulate the textures of materials, wool for instance. Her minimalistic collection is printed with individual dots that form patterns. In his visual poem, Alex MacDonald takes up this optical illusion. The words float as if on a river bed forming an image. ‘Missing No.’ is like an out of focus portrait composed from a series of blank spaces. In his text it is the spaces between the dots that are the most conspicuous.

This selection of texts discloses how sophisticated fashion conveys emotion through imagery, but also reveals the subversive undertones lining the collections. Fashion addresses traditional techniques and models, which it then rethinks and combines in surprising ways. These literary reflections thematise in their often ironic refractions how exciting and complex these hybrid approaches are.

Karin Cerny
Freelance Journalist at profil and Der Standard