Back to School

As an Art Technician primarily responsible for Textiles at Alton College, I spent the last couple of days before the kids broke up from school by making the most of my Art Fund Card. I took in the Anna Sui exhibition at London’s FTM and then chose Balenciaga  at the V & A. I usually do a lot of drawing, as I think that helps me to really look and focus on the work, but lately the ease and immediacy of Instagram means that I will photograph rather than scan in my drawings.

Hence the sketchbook images for Anna Sui are over on Instagram (Henkalullah) – it is a brilliant explosion of colour with a lot of pinks and purples as you would expect. What I really loved is that on visiting with a friend, we both were taken back the the 1990’s and all our favourite music and clothes – personally I lived in DM boots, floral dresses and dodgy knitwear mostly from charity shops, so Sui’s plundering of the vintage and her signature grunge look only made me love her more. It was great to see the use of illustration in her show invites and as this is my background, it was fantastic to see a room dedicated to the design elements of a good range of her collections.

Balenciaga was more of a learning curve for me, and it was his very modern emphasis on structure and form that was a revelation to me. I immediately drew the green seed-pod shaped dress placed right at the start of the exhibition, alongside the Envelope Dress – both of which are so sculptural and playful.

They set the tone for what you realise is a hugely influential career, where shift dresses and babydoll shapes were initiated and became the standard for looking at volume. The upstairs area is dedicated to the influence of Balenciaga, showing how contemporary designers take his signature shapes and reinvent them in exiting new ways with ever-changing materials and processes.

Early on Balenciaga championed print, and the Abraham Textile designs led him to state that the fabric dictates the garment first and foremost – not only with his use of stiff silk in crating amazing shapes, but also the pattern and the way the fabric falls. The voluminous sleeves of this pink print dress could be straight from Warehouse’s latest summer collection…

This draped jacket is made using one piece of fabric – Balenciaga is also responsible for the cocoon shaped coats we were wearing a couple of years ago ( I still am!) also constructed from one piece of fabric and championed at the time by Diana Vreeland.

The designer was also influenced by other cultures, especially the kimono as can be seen here in the belt of this dress. The colours were fabulous, this exhibit also showed his favourite model -Taiga whose figure became the shape for his mannequin.

Embellishment and texture were also key points of interest for Balenziaga, he looked again at Far Eastern clothing, and you can see pattern , beading and in this fantastic jacket, some delicate pink feathered sleeves against glittery black – I didn’t have the right pink, but they must have looked so amazing when they moved.

The designer was Spanish and had stores in both Madrid and Paris – one of his most devoted wearers was Ava Gardner who lived around the corner from the V&A- she donated this damask dress when she died.

Hats were also a huge part of Balenciaga’s collections and the collection of millinery emphasises his sculptural eye. I loved this winged hat which looked very ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ . It made me think how clever the costumes are in that…’If they didn’t want us to be an army, why did they give us a uniform’.

Finally I went upstairs, and I think because I did so much drawing and reading downstairs, there are only two sketches – I loved the pvc tulip shaped mac by Nicholas Ghesquiere. Almost like a claret lipstick. In the words (almost) of Agnes ‘It’s so shiny I could die’.. that doesn’t really the follow the Margaret Attwood bit but never mind.

Also Gareth Pugh’s shearling biker jacket – using that amazing volume and shape. My colleague Gayle is a fan and I can see why – I think my pencil was blunt at this point! (It’s black- google Gareth Pugh AW13 and you’ll get a better idea).

After this I took some pictures of embellishment and print that I liked, especially Hussein Chalayan’s amazing ruffled confection.

Later in the summer a visit to Amsterdam gave me the chance to see ‘Modernism in Print’ which was great – it really opened my eyes to the work of designers such as Jan Tsichold; Dick Elffers; Ben Duijvelshoff; Wim Crouwel; Jan Bons; Piet Zwart; Karel Martens; Kees Nieuwenhuijzen; Otto Truman; Peter Duebele; Gerard Werners; Karel Suyling; Ben Bos; Gerrit Rietveld; Charles Jongesans and of course Dick Bruna (probably the only one I won’t have to look up!

Hansje van Halem was the closing modern designer who creates decorated papers, stamps and posters in the Victorian tradition ‘horror vacul’ where everything is loaded with detail.

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