In my piece titled ‘m a n o n .‘ I took a picture of Grace between the two eyes of this painting that loomed over her. It’s one of my favourites from the set. There was something a little bizarre and encaptivating about the juxtaposition of one posing for a photo alongside another realm of portraiture. Portraits, prior to that of which are littered all over the internet, were originally paintings and illustrations with the intention of capturing the power & prominence of their subject, immortalising them within a setting and a stance true to that figure. Henry VIII; shoulders broad and feet firmly planted, Isaac Newton; seated with an open book and a globe within reach, Beethoven; script at hand. There was a representation and a purpose within each piece of art, and to put something in front of it as grand as say, Vivienne Westwood’s AW16/17 collection, only elevates both parties.
Held within the Edward Lumley Hall of the Royal College of Surgeons [RCS], the show was quite suitably titled Intellectuals Unite. Each model graced the wooden floor surrounded by portraits of previous fellows of the RCS, marching in time to an eclectic soundtrack featuring a text-to-speech rap off between robotic voices where “sit your ass down and don’t forget to wipe your memory past” is retorted with “check me out while I mic you up, make you seem like your files corrupt” and “my PDF is no fall to the floor crap”. The hair had this regal quality, tightly curled like that of a cherub, hailing from the designer’s reference of the Renaissance and her interest in the modern representation of the jester. The usual description of the collection, which is often found on a piece of paper on the seat at a show, was replaced with a hand-written hand-out by Vivienne Westwood herself, with an aim of rallying today’s intellectuals and attacking the “mainstream media” who are “killing us with confusion” and “lies”. The Dame herself is never one to shy from making bold statements through clothing and through words, and while some may criticise her for being hypocritical by having a luxury brand yet preaching matters of punk and climate, she has created a platform where her voice is without a doubt heard, and one that can be visually supported through the eclectic characters created through her clothing. Fuck the haters.
Backstage was frantic. I believe one of the team mentioned that it was the first time the show had been held at the RCS, and the prep space was much, MUCH smaller than the season before. The backrooms held as much opulence as the others, but instead confined dozens of the brand’s ‘cherubs’ & the artists that created them, with a barrage of elbows and camera flashes, all under the watchful eye of more portraits and lingering chandeliers. It is always a joy to watch talented teams work with such intensity under such conditions, because the end result always seems much more rewarding. Appreciation of great work can go another level once you understand the workings that went into it, which perhaps explains our curiosity and fascination with “behind the scenes” showcases.
I believe there is a fine line between art and fashion, and one that we as spectators have deluded ourselves into thinking that we are the true connoisseurs of. I see and discuss often the mundane drivel that saturates the internet, and with no doubt I often contribute to it, but there is something missing from the overload of images/photography we see. Whether it is soul or context, or the skill and thoughtfulness behind that of the old portraits, but there is plenty of modern “creative work” that seems so shallow, and somewhat stolen and ill-referenced. I think it would go a long way if we took a little longer to read, digest and research into what we enjoy and hope to support or re-imagine, of which is a lesson I myself am hoping to learn every day.