Vienna is famous for music, art museums and cakes – it is not known though for fashion. This fact is also reflected in the type of exhibitions in the city. Therefore, I was really excited to hear about the newest exhibition in the Winterpalais (which is part of the famous Belvedere Museum which hosts famous works by Gustav Klimt).
“The Vulgar – Fashion Redefined” promised to be a very interesting topic exploring taste in fashion. In times of Kim Kardashian and the Jenner Clan being widely discussed regarding their roles as dictators of style in social media, I was looking forward to an exhibition dedicated to exploring the boundaries of fashion and style and what has become acceptable to us.
The exhibition was curated by Judith Clark (London College of Fashion) and Adam Philips, a curator and writer, and juxtaposes literary sources and approaches from the fashion perspective on the word “vulgar”. This word has been used to characterize a social class but has lost its neutral meaning over time. According to Philips, it has been used “to police the boundaries of taste“. The exhibition showcases historic and recent pieces – from the so-called “Mantua Dress” which was worn at court and some designs as current as from the 2016/17 seasons.
The location of this exhibition is amazingly beautiful: the Winterpalais, a baroque palace constructed by the infamous Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt in the late 17th and early 18th century. It was the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene and later hosted the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Since 2013 it has been used as a museum. Unfortunately, from 2018 onwards, it will be closed as a museum. I had never visited this museum before and was impressed by the beautiful architecture and the interior of the rooms. Bringing an exhibition with such a topic into a location (the use of this building also caused political discussions in Austria in the past) was a very thought-provoking move. According to Clark, “the vulgar and the Baroque have always been inextricable“. Therefore, the Winterpalais is a perfect location to showcase “opulent fashion creations through the centuries“.
I really liked the concept of juxtaposing literary texts and viewpoints from fashion accompanying the exhibited pieces. It was very impressive to see some of fashion’s most famous pieces in Vienna: wedding gowns by Christian Lacroix, the Mondrian dress by Yves Saint Laurent, beautiful drape gowns by Madame Grès and even Rudi Gernreich’s Monokini (as I have written about him in a paper I was so excited to see this piece!).
However, sometimes I would have appreciated a bit more information on why the specific pieces had been chosen for that certain room. One room had the topic “denim” and exhibited denim pieces by Miu Miu, for example. In the same room, there was also the previously mentioned Mondrian dress and Moschino outfits criticizing the fashion industry. While I did understand the broader connection between these pieces, I was a bit confused by denim being the sole focus on the room without explaining the links.
Apart from these minor points, I really enjoyed this exhibition building bridges across centuries and countries. My favourite item of the exhibition was a mini dress by Mary Kazantrou where the lower part was covered with a pattern made by pencils.
Unfortunately, the exhibition texts were only in German and there was no audio guide. The exhibition catalogue is available in German and English for EUR 48 (I know, premium price but I invested in it because it features a lot of really interesting pieces beyond the exhibition).
The Vulgar – Fashion Redefined
Winterpalais, Himmelpfortgasse 8, 1010 Vienna
3 March – 27 June 2017
Regular tickets: EUR 9 (concessions available); Cloakroom: EUR 0.50
COURTESY OF: BELVEDERE & WINTERPALAIS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY: BELVEDERE & WINTERPALAIS | WEBSITE: WWW.BELVEDERE.AT