“Anyone who expects fashion to simply function has understood nothing. For exploring the boundaries to the unfitting has always been a key source of inspiration for our clothes designs. And there’s nothing that teaches more about what we are than taboos.” So sayeth the foreword to “Untragbar” (“Unwearable”), which not only presents the most extravagant results of the eponymous project at Bremen’s University of Arts, but itself represents an experiment. You can’t simply leaf through the magazine the usual way; instead you need to study it at your leisure, taking your time, and first ascertain how the pages unfold before you can peruse the accompanying texts and the total of 26 different projects presented. Although the publication seems initially to be a standard A4 format, given the binding on the right outer edge it is actually an A3 size. Which itself makes you sit up and start to study things a little more closely.
Annette Geiger, herself Professor of Design Theory and History at the UoA in Bremen ran the project, together with Joachim Baldauf, probably Germany’s best-known fashion photographer of the moment. The works on show amount to more than simple fashion spreads, and more than what you will know even from the likes of fashion colleges such as ESMOD, which love to experiment. This also has to do with the fact that the designs are not dreamed up by fashion design students who will later presumably work for Hugo Boss or H&M, with the emphasis thus being on commercial success, but by emerging artists. And they have had their own ideas about fashion, doing their thinking in terrain halfway between the practical and the unwearable. To summarize: Fashion is always a matter of negotiation, and only then does it get advanced.
The fashion projects thus presented (and each is designed, laid out and styled by a student) explore a whole array of different issues: So why don’t we go shopping in our PJs the way they do in China? How to create fashion from a piece of fabric and thus penetrate to the core of the existential meaning of clothes? Does fashion dictate to us what we have to wear and therefore turn us into its subjects? And the questions don’t stop there, but even include: How can body fat be transformed into a textile shroud?
Needless to say, there are immense differences between the projects. What they all share is an intense discussion of the respective issue addressed – and the result is textile coverings that stand on their own two feet, don’t bow down to some trend and do not serve a specific purpose.
The accompanying texts delve into both the historical basis of the meaning of the unwearable and into the aesthetics of fashion photography and staging fashion, such as is so strongly influenced by photographers, stylists and fashion editors. It is this aesthetic that accords fashion a reality all of its own and as a consequence often takes fashion to exaggerated heights. Meaning that fashion can be considered an art form but also a mirror held up to society, its culture and its aesthetic preferences.
Back in the 1990s, fashion photography dispensed with anything remotely smacking of beauty or correctness. “Heroin Chic” for the first time presented the true face behind the glam and gloss, with cameo images of unmade beds and anorexic models who no longer gazed with joy into the camera but instead looked sad and burned out. In the first decade of the new millennium, the bloggers’ “Streetlooks” appeared on the scene, and suddenly fashion was being staged street-wide and street-wise – by anyone who so fancied. Although, as Joachim Baldauf affirms in the interview in “Untragbar”, much gets stylized in fashion, this fashion spread indicates that everyday life, bereft of make-up, has made a key contribution to the aesthetics of this project. Which is another way of saying, the art students’ magazine is not so far removed from currently cutting-edge fashion mags such as Love, ID or Vice.
Haven’t we long since seen it all? Are there any limits left if today anything goes? What’s left to provoke us? Perhaps the image of a woman in a textile vagina cape? Or a T-shirt from which a Peace sign has been cut out to leave the woman wearing it as good as completely naked, her nudity protected only by a knitted section across her pudendum? Although ubiquitous nowadays, nakedness displayed overtly evidently still triggers astonishment. Or, if we return to the fashion world, phenomena such as “Dandy Diary”, a group of Berlin models who like among other things to stage fashion in slaughterhouses, shoot fashion porn, or (one of their most recent efforts) streak across Dolce & Gabbana’s catwalk in Milan.
As regards the design, projects with names like “On the Cut of the Uncut”, Who eats whom?” or “Walrus Men” are almost “wearable” and definitely tolerable if one considers the kind of outfit Lady Gaga clads herself in, or the artistic creations of the latest haute-couture discovery, Iris van Herpen. It would certainly seem as if the dividing lines have become less rigid today, have been erased in part, above all as regards staging things in fashion. The “unwearable” no longer shocks us in the same way as it once did. By contrast, in everyday life we often experience the opposite, namely a rigid etiquette aligned to status and occasions, something that should surely long since be obsolete. So how fashionably liberated are we really? Irrespective of how one answers such questions, in the form of “Untragbar” Annette Geiger and her students have made a discerning and impressive contribution to this discourse. Or, as they put it in “Untragbar”: “Whatever we do. The limits of the intolerable are constantly being exceeded, we do not cease to make our stagings an instance of the impossible. Fashion draws its creativity from this interaction of normalization and adaptation, on the one hand, and a rebellion against things all too practical and all too similar, on the other.”
In a video, the students reveal the secret to leafing through “Untragbar”:
Edited by Joachim Baldauf, Annette Geiger, Ursula Zillig
245 x 340 mm, 154 pages, EUR 12, double-cover magazine with side stitching
Available from specialist booksellers and from email@example.com
Textem Verlag, Hamburg