Wednesday’s launch of The House of Viktor & Rolf – the Barbican’s eye-popping retrospective of the conceptual clothing and accessories of Amsterdam designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren (until September 21) – was preceded by a titillation factor akin to the run-up to Sex and the City: The Movie, with senior curator Jane Alison claiming the show would be not only “breathtaking” but “powerful”.
Words better suited to a blockbuster film than a fashion exhibition, perhaps. But undoubtedly accurate, considering that the Barbican space has been designed by Dutch architect Siebe Tettero, whose last major effort for Viktor & Rolf produced their celebrated “upside down” Milan boutique, in which the neoclassical decor appears inverted. Indeed, the best of the summer’s grand-scale fashion exhibitions in museums, galleries and retail spaces across London are all likewise enhanced by cinematic special effects.
Skin + Bones, Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture (Somerset House, until August 10), for example, incorporates works by 46 architects and clothing designers. With moodily lit quarters by Swedish architect Eva Jiricna, it feels like a Steven Spielberg sci-fi fantasy. Brooke Hodge, who conceived the show originally for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, where she is curator of architecture, has redefined the notion of the traditionally static displays of both fashion and architecture by incorporating an array of mixed media.
Catwalk footage plays continuously on an exposed brick wall. Artistic shorts by photographer Nick Knight, and “Afterwords”, a collaboration between designer Hussein Chalayan and photographer Marcus Tomlinson, are transmitted from futuristic light boxes scattered throughout the exhibition. A documentary charting the construction of a makeshift housing project in Rwanda is but a stroll away from red carpet-worthy gowns such as a silk and crystal-encrusted Narciso Rodriguez sheath (illuminating the theme of “Geometry”). Interspersed among this are models of buildings by Herzog & de Meuron, Nigel Coates, and Thomas Heatherwick, as well as Todd Eberle’s stunning photographs of Prada’s Aoyama Epicentre mega-boutique.
At the Victoria and Albert Museum, meanwhile, The Story of the Supremes (until October 19), chronicles the style evolution of the 1960s female super-group that was launched by music legend Berry Gordy Junior, founder of Detroit record label Motown.
The big star of this show is not the famously tumultuous foursome but, rather, costume designer Bob Mackie. As the 29-year-old creative force behind two colossal US television programmes of the 1960s and 1970s – The Carol Burnett Show and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour – Mackie is a household name in America, yet his work is rarely exhibited in Europe. Gordy appointed him in 1968 to dress the Supremes for the stage and The Ed Sullivan Show. The pieces on display, including the “Butterfly” dresses the Supremes flaunted on the cover of their 1969 album Cream of the Crop and a series of embellished black velvet frocks for Diana Ross’s farewell performance, are pivotal pieces in the history of not only the group, but costume design writ large.
Further required viewing is Dover Street Market’s display of Chanel’s Paris-Londres Maisons d’Art collection (until June 26). Though it is not officially a fashion exhibition because the “art” is for sale, the exquisitely modern craftsmanship is curated rather than merchandised.An installation of mirrored renderings of Coco Chanel’s demure profile recalls the avant-garde spirit of Last Year in Marienbad, the 1961 Alain Renais film costumed by the couturier, while full-scale cardboard photos of current Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld also lurk behind corners on every floor, abutting beautiful mannequins crafted in the image of his muse, Amy Winehouse, as she might appear after being groomed by the imagination of the atelier.