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Show Off: Austrian Fashion Design
MAK Vienna gives center stage to 40 years of Austrian fashion
This summer, Vienna celebrated its rich fashion history at MAK. With SHOW OFF, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst presents the first major exhibition dedicated to Austrian fashion design from 1980 to today. Inaugurated last February with a live fashion show featuring the silhouettes that now hang within the museum’s walls, the exhibition ran until August 30th and will continue to live through a curated digital programme on the museum’s virtual channels.
Austria – and Vienna in particular – is no stranger to fashion royalty. The country birthed two of the biggest names in worldwide fashion: Rudi Gernreich, born 1922 and known as the inventor of the monikini and genderless fashion, and Helmut Lang, the cult 1990s designer who left his mark on the fashion industry for his radically minimalist take. Austria became a big player of the international fashion scene in 1984 when it launched the first U-Mode, a 3-day fashion event put together to showcase the work of the country’s local talents. The event took place at U4, a landmark night club in the 1980s that welcomed big names like Nina Hagen, Prince or Kurt Cobain. Helmut Lang was the president of the jury of the first edition of U-Mode.
Spanning four decades of fashion design, SHOW OFF brings together designers, photographers, artists and industry professionals in an immersive experience curated by Ulrike Tschabitzer-Handler and Andreas Bergbaur, who gathered a comprehensive collection of clothing, accessories, objects and documentation such as early issues of popular Austrian men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine WIENER, first issued in November 1979.
The exhibition’s itinerary begins with ‘Talking Heads’, a series of video interviews of Austrian fashion professionals from different backgrounds. From magazine editors to photographers to casting directors and scholars, they were all invited to reflect on their personal experiences in fashion as well as the changes they wish to see in the future. All mentioned issues of sustainability, inclusivity, and creativity within an industry driven by commercial considerations. Next, a multimedia installation celebrates the forty-year influence of the University of Applied Arts Vienna and displays the work of the numerous international guest professors who helped shape generations of Austrian creatives. Names like Karl Lagerfeld, Raf Simons, Hussein Chalayan, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Jil Sander, as well as Lucie and Luke Meier, the brand’s current artistic directors and A Magazine N°21 curators. Each of these designers’ work is presented with a film broadcasted on two big screens parted by a long runway.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a 7-meter-high walk-in sculpture designed by Austrian architect Gregor Eichinger. No stranger to fashion, Eichinger helped to put together the U-Mode in 1984 and notably worked with Helmut Lang on numerous store designs, both in France and in Japan. His scaffolding-like structure welcomes about 250 silhouettes and accessories from household names like Lang and Gernreich as well as today’s rising talents such as Christoph Rumpf, Grand Prize winner at the 2019 Hyères Festival, Kenneth Ize or Arthur Arbesser. Throughout the exhibition, the silhouettes show a clever mix of past and present inspirations. A particular dress by Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood puts a modern spin on the Austrian traditional costume, the Tracht, photographed for the brand’s campaign with the model wearing a Donald Trump mask. Another main inspiration is the Wiener Werkstätte, the early 20th century artist cooperative founded by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann. It was the Wiener Werkstätte that later shaped Bauhaus and Art Deco.
The main room also gives center stage to fashion photography: the works of 34 photographers such as Erwin Wurm, Marina Faust, Lukas Gansterer, Bettina Komenda, Hanna Putz, or Maria Ziegelböck are exhibited all over the walls on large banderoles. Visible from every angle of the room, including from inside the walk-in sculpture, their distinct visions complete the clothes’ narrative.
Words: Maxime Der Nahabédian
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