Project Assistant Laura Thornley from the Centre for Fashion Curation describes her role working on the exhibition.

What was your role within The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined exhibition?

My role was manifold – beginning with researching the historical definitions and use of the word through literary history, coordinating elements of the exhibition production and culminating in the installation of the show over the course of a month.

Laura with Costume Mounter Gesa Warner (L-R). The Vulgar Fashion Redefined. Barbican Art Gallery

Laura with Costume Mounter Gesa Warner (L-R). The Vulgar Fashion Redefined. Barbican Art Gallery.

Tell us about your research.

My research began tracing the evolution of the word in dictionaries. The word’s evolution was essential to the exhibition and finding evidence of its use would support the thesis of both curator’s writing and exhibition selections. On first inspection the word had an almost intangible quality, each person’s understanding or employment differing slightly from the next. Researching the historical definitions gave this elusive word grounding and showed its development from a word that initially related to language – the informal Latin of ancient Rome, the common tongue – to a culturally loaded term that spoke of coarseness, taste, obscenity and, very ‘British-ly’, the class system.

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined - Barbican Art Gallery. Photography by Michael Bowles Getty Images

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined – Barbican Art Gallery. Photography by Michael Bowles, Getty Images


Secondly I looked into how authors have used the word. Researching into a broad sweep of literary sources ranging from 16th century to the present day showed how its use has changed over time. Pinpointing particular authors revealed when the word has been used most, at what moment in history, and significantly by whom within their respective tale.

What was your favourite element of the exhibition?

It is fascinating to see these ideas of a word developed into the physical manifestation of an exhibition by the curators, transforming a concept into every corner of the structure and object selection; a calico covered Schläppi mannequin blending the commercial shop window with the perceived purity of a museum bust to a contemporary fashion design aping royal attire. These all resonated so succinctly with what I had found within text.

Tell us about how you worked on other elements of the exhibition?

The exhibition object list spanned over 120 items, each with their own particular nuance relating to their display. Part of my role, alongside the Barbican team, was to ensure each object had the necessary support to be safe during the exhibition – be that a mannequin, stand or just a perspex disc.  I was particularly involved with the mannequin order working closely with Bonaveri  to develop (Curator) Judith Clark’s vision for a calico covered version of their Schläppi mannequin.

During the installation we worked with the costume mounter Gesa Warner, who directed us on the intricacies of costume mounting and dressing the mannequins. The dressing for the show had its own range of challenges from carving new mannequin feet, recreating historical silhouettes on modern shaped mannequins and the intricate balancing techniques required to accommodate heeled shoes with top heavy outfits.

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined
Is at Barbican Art Gallery
13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017

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