Exploding Fashion: The Art of Pattern-Making
If fashion exhibitions have rarely acknowledged the importance of pattern-making -or even choose it as their main focus- this may be about to change. 'Exploding Fashion: From 2D to 3D to 3D Animation' is the title of the new exhibition showcased by MoMu this fall. The show is in fact based on a research project at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London) whose purpose is to explore -and investigate- pattern cutting within 20th century fashion, underlining the key steps of making, unmaking, and remaking, which are an integral part of the pattern-making process.
We caught up with curator Alistair O’Neill, one of the members of the research team behind Exploding Fashion, to discuss why MoMu was the best partner to bring this ambitious project to life, deconstructing the myth of the single designer as sole creative genius, and what he thinks audiences are expecting from fashion exhibitions now.
This is a highly unusual project as it went from a publication format to an actual show. Can you tell us more about how it all came into place?
ALISTAIR O'NEILL: "This project started in 2018. After the book was released, there was meant to be an exhibition following-up, but the pandemic got in the way. What happened here is that both steps got separated out, which was quite interesting creatively. Normally, books accompany exhibitions, but here they both exist on their own terms, and much more than usual."
Why was MoMu the right partner to showcase your research?
AO: "Taking it to Antwerp was a great honor and pleasure for us. We’ve admired the museum for quite a long time, and collaborated with Kaat Debo -Director and Chief Curator- on several occasions before. MoMu’s 2016 exhibition, 'Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette' was a highly significant exhibition for us and motivated us to develop the research project."
Pattern makers are the unsung heroes of fashion. Did you want to pay tribute to them?
AO: "There’s this cult of the designer as creative genius still going strong nowadays, even though it’s been unpacked by current fashion studies. I was always amazed by the work of pattern cutters, teaching at college and watching them interact with the students, helping them to properly solve their design issues. To me, pattern makers are like engineers or architects."
Pattern cutting is also a demonstration of the richness of fashion as a language. Were you making a statement against the generic -and sometimes bland- garments offered by designers today?
AO: "It is a reaction to that Vogue Runway kind of presentation, and how everything seems flatter on a screen."
Still, there are no back shots, which is problematic for certain designers.
AO: "Completely. Some fashion exhibitions have addressed that, such as Palais Galliera’s 'Backside/Fashion From Behind'. It is reductive to only look at clothes this way, and the digital world has had an influence on the way students view fashion sketching and construction in general. Fashion cannot be understood as a 2D form only, but must be approached three-dimensionally, too, which is something students often struggle with."
What do you think people expect from fashion exhibitions nowadays?
AO: "The blockbuster fashion exhibition has had a huge effect on what people tend to expect from museums now, but there are smaller exhibitions that have been influential as well. I often tire engaging with larger scale blockbuster shows. You can only keep your full concentration going for so long."