Themes/ Storytelling: Performance’s influence within fashion

The world of fashion can be expressed through multiple disciplines and influenced by other artistic movements. BA (Hons) Menswear student Dominic, lists five fashion designers that have combined performance design to inspire their collections.

Within the fashion industry there has always been an on going relationship between performance and fashion. All the practitioners listed have either collaborated with dance companies or designed specifically for performers. Some designers have been known to think about the performance first then thought of the fashion after. As a menswear student who takes all of his inspiration from dance, theatre and performance, these practitioners show how there can be a good fusion of high-end fashion and a visually impressive presentation.

Fashion is bringing about new ideas and viewpoints on how to present ideas and showcase work. There’s an established trend of doing a presentation to display the work, which is reminiscent of the ‘art school’ environment. This is where the exciting and interesting ideas seem to be coming from. I’ve highlighted a few designers that have all used performance in their work to elevate the level of the fashion show experience.

Featured image credit: OWENSCORP. Photography by Valerio Mezzanotti

Aitor Throup – New Object Research SS17

Credit: Aitor Throup SS17 Collection, ‘New Object research’ via YouTube.

Aitor Throup is an alumnus of The Royal College of Art MA Menswear programme. Throup is an ellusive part of the fashion scene, choosing to remove himself from the regimented seasonal collection and instead, doing his own thing by his own rules. Throup has in the past taken inspiration from performance, and created his own work; he was inspired by Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’, which itself was a ground breaking and revolutionary dance piece in the early 20th Century. Throup’s SS17 Menswear collection, ‘New Object Research’, was presented as a set of prototype garments on giant marionettes instead of real-life conventional models. The collection was built on a previous collection by the same name that was originally just four garments, showing that Throup likes to build on and reinvent his work.

Alexander McQueen – ‘Voss’ SS01

A gif showing a fashion performance with butterflies.

Credit: Alexander McQueen Women’s SS01 Collection, ‘Voss’.  

Alexander McQueen is a Central Saint Martins alumnus and an icon of the fashion world. McQueen was no stranger to using performance in his work, having collaborated with Michael Clarke for ‘Deliverance’ in SS04. McQueen was known for first thinking of a performance to inspire the collection and garments. ‘Voss’ has become a lasting work by McQueen, drawing on the work of photographer Joel-Peter Witkin’s ‘Sanitarium’ as inspiration for the collection. ‘Voss’ used a one-way mirrored set that allowed the audience to see through, but the models could not see out of. The finalé of the collection saw the glass cube in the centre of the set fall apart and smash, revealing a model displayed in the same pose as Witkin’s photo. 

Watch the full performance of ‘Voss’ on YouTube

Follow the house of McQueen on Instagram

Leigh Bowery

A photo of performance artists Leigh Bowery.

Credit: Image of Leigh Bowery.

Performance artist, singer, Club Kid, fashion designer and all-round visual artist. Bowery was particular about projects he undertook, wanting not to create fashion for the mass market, but to instead make very small, limited edition pieces for select clients. Bowery worked a lot with the choreographer Michael Clarke having both performed with him on stage and also creating the costumes for Clarke’s dances. Bowery presented a live exhibition in October 1988, which saw himself in a window gallery, where he could not see out but the audience could see in through the one way mirrored window. The exhibition was hours on Bowery just being himself, lying around, dancing and prancing around, sleeping, signing and more. Bowery has inspired a huge range of artists, including Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga, Pandemonia, Charles Jeffery, Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh. 

Rick Owens – SS14 ‘Vicious’

Credit: OWENSCORP. Photography by Valerio Mezzanotti.

Rick Owens’ SS 2014 collection saw four sororities – the Washing Divas, Soul Steppers, Momentums and Zetas – produce a ‘stepping’ performance. Stepping is a dance style that evolved in African-American colleges as a hybrid of step dancing, cheerleading and military drill routines. Choreographed by Lauretta Malloy Noble and her daughter Leeanet, they added other elements of Zulu dancing to enhance the dance style. The garments created by Owens are a good example of how to create fashion for dance. The dancers needed to move so the clothes were adjusted accordingly; high cut trousers and shorts, laced up fastenings and slitted garments to allow maximum motion and movement.

Follow Rick Owens on Instagram

Merce Cunningham – ‘Scenario’ 1997

Four ballet dancers stand in mid-performance.

Credit: Merce Cunningham, 1997 ‘Scenario’.

Merce Cunningham’s dance work ‘Scenaro’ is a collaborative piece with Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo. Kawakubo’s costumes played with the idea of physical distortion and emphasising humps. The costumes consist of mostly vertical blue striped on white, or pale green and white-chequered patterns. For the majority of the dance, five or six dancers would twist and pose in their own space. Cunningham created his own dance style known as ‘chance dance’ which used odds to create the work. Cunningham would roll a dice and assign a motif to each number and then create the order though dance. His dancers would rehearse in silence and would only hear the music at the final performance, again taking a chance with how they moved with the music.

Watch the full performance of ‘Scenario’ on YouTube

Find out more about the course Dominic studied:

BA (Hons) Fashion: Fashion Design Menswear

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