The meaning of clothing in contemporary culture is at the heart of “Dressing Ourselves,” an art exhibition curated by Italian architect and designer Alessandro Guerriero. Do clothes really represent our way of thinking and our lifestyle? Are they an expression of our true self? These are only a few of the questions Guerriero poses with the exhibition.
Guerriero asked 30 internationally acclaimed architects and artists to create “self-portraits” in the form of clothes displayed on life-size statues of the artists. The surprising results blend a variety of disciplines, including art, technology, industrial design, architecture and fashion, and are a testament to Guerriero’s strong belief in individualism and the uniqueness of the mind. The clothes and the statues will be displayed at Milan’s Triennale Museum starting Jan. 17.
The exhibition is sponsored and promoted by Yoox.com, the Bologna-based retailer of discount designer fashion that describes itself as an “e-concept” store — similar to Paris’ Colette, only online.
The exhibition will run through March 20, and will then move to other cities, including New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Ten students at Nuova Accademia Belle Arti, Milan’s fine arts academy, are creating the clothes from the artists’ sketches, while artist Attilio Tonno is making the statues, working from photos of the participants. The statues are fashioned from polystyrene and finished with plastic reinforced with fiberglass.
The exhibition will be staged over a 6,480-square-foot space whose layout resembles that of a church. The statues, lit from above, will rotate. They will be installed in a string of apses overlooking a long corridor.
WWD met Guerriero, who founded Italy’s industrial and fashion design school, Domus Academy, and also collaborates with Yoox, at the latter’s offices in Milan for an exclusive interview. Despite his internationally acclaimed reputation, Guerriero is surprisingly approachable and understated, often interrupting his train of thought with a joke or a laugh. Ideas seem to race through his mind, and one of his most winning traits is that he questions everything and does not appear to believe in absolute truth or certainty.
WWD: How did the idea of clothes as a reflection of the artist come about, and what do you want to convey with this exhibition?
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Guerriero: It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment of the birth of an idea — it’s almost the freezing of an image that you later develop. Two issues I’ve been concerned with over the years lie beneath this exhibition: the concept of the body and the fusion of different disciplines such as art, design, food, fashion and so on.
WWD: In what way is this exhibition connected to your experience and your personal works?
Guerriero: For many years, I’ve worked on the fading of disciplines into each other, on architecture and design exchanging roles, for example. I see art, architecture and design as areas that superimpose and leave empty spaces. These are new places that do not belong to anyone, that you don’t understand and you don’t know whether they are good for you or not. What is inside them is wonderful.
For example, when decorating an apartment, many consider this issue from the outside, but it’s an easier job if and when you study the psychology [of the person living in it]. I once set up a row of bookshelves in a bathroom because that is what I felt the owner wanted — it’s almost like a made-to-order dress: unique and unrepeatable. There are no more boundaries or distinctions between opposites, natural or artificial, beautiful and ugly — all are mixed together and change together. In brief, all branches of learning try to have an artistic result. I see clothes as pure research, and the desire to experiment through different languages. This [exhibition] is a trip in contemporary creativity.
WWD: Please describe some of the sculptures and the artists.
Guerriero: The Japanese architect-designer Toshiyuki Kita, a fervent believer in recycling and whose Wink chair is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has created a new fabric derived from banana peels. This is a highly technological invention, but Kita cut the fabric in a traditional way, for a traditional look. His archaic side effortlessly marries technology.
The two Iranian sisters and architects Gisue and Mojgan Hariri, whose design studio, Hariri & Hariri, is based in New York, invented a minuscule, “invisible” battery. By each inserting and hiding one within a black dress, this device allows them to message each other with a movement of their hand through the emoticon written language. [Short for “emotion icon,” an emoticon is made up of keyboard characters mimicking facial expressions and is used in e-mails and instant messaging to indicate the mood or emotion of the writer.] Hariri & Hariri are especially attentive to digital technologies and invented a revolutionary material called “The Digital-Block.” This allows one to build transparent walls that receive and transmit information.
Because of his polychrome works, designer and architect Alessandro Mendini sees himself dressed as Harlequin. [Mendini is famous for transforming everyday objects through color.]
The optical work from the German designer Markus Benesch, who uses hypertechnological materials, is also very intriguing. His suit is made up of an iridescent inlay work, sort of a living painting that changes depending on the light. His body is perceived as differently shaped than what it actually is. It’s almost as if he redesigns it.
WWD: Why did you not ask fashion designers to try their hand at this?
Guerriero: There are no designers among this group because I prefer artists to tackle the clothes as unique pieces. This is an exercise of pure communication. Obviously, Kita’s fabric could be put into production, but this is not what the event is about.
This exhibition does not have a commercial or economic scope or goal. An outfit is made of many things, not only of sewn fabrics, and this is what I want to communicate.
WWD: For some, fashion is art. At the same time, fashion is business, based on selling as much as possible to make a profit, while raising the bar of desirability and exclusivity. Clothes are duplicated and technology is improved to meet consumerism and our clothes often help us to be part of a group.
Guerriero: Technology always has an opposite, archaic element in itself. There is a clash between a unique piece and one that is multiplied over and over again. Take a Philippe Starck chair. It’s artistic and unique, but it is replicated and still valuable. These are not clothes for everyone, but our very own, the one that we’ve always wanted, or the dress that we think is only for ourselves. At the same time, this is our self-portrait, which contains the infinite hallucinations of our mind. The challenge is to say “I,” while outside, it’s “we.”
WWD: What do you think of fashion?
Guerriero: What is behind the clothes interests me, the research of materials, the hypothetical behavior, the desires of one’s own body.
WWD: Do you think designer clothes reflect the designers?
Guerriero: Yes, they do. A dress is a reflection of what you have inside. Continuity in a designer’s style, however, is not positive, from my point of view. There are many different people inside us and our work should mirror that. My own designs over the years don’t look like they were conceived by the same person. I see this as an advantage — although not a commercial one. This exhibition, too, will change over the years, as it will be taken in different cities. It will always grow and never be the same.
WWD: What do you think of fashion designers exploring other disciplines such as home design?
Guerriero: I think it is fascinating that designers choose to compare their ideas and mix them with other disciplines. I believe extreme and utopian connections are fascinating.
WWD: When do you think this research first started happening?
Guerriero: In the first decades of the 20th century, with the Futurists, who started to put together different disciplines. They were very critical toward reality, and explored music, food, art and whatnot in their manifesto.