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The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined

‘The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined’ curated by Professor Judith Clark for the Barbican Art Gallery is the first exhibition to challenge and reconsider this important area of taste. This provocative exhibition – organised around eleven new definitions of the word ‘Vulgar’  written by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips – combines historic garments, haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion, questioning both the understanding and uses of vulgarity in fashion whilst enjoying its exuberance.

The Vulgar Fashion Redefined. Barbican Art Gallery

The Vulgar Fashion Redefined. Barbican Art Gallery

The project is part of Clark’s ongoing research into the history of fashion exhibitions, so the exhibition also acts as a reflection on fashion curation itself and notions of its ‘vulgar’ allegiance to consumer culture. So the ‘too popular’ in the exhibition can be an Andy Warhol inspired dress, but also an 18th century tableau referring to its recurring popularity within departments of costume.

Professor Clark’s research was supported from the start by Laura Thornley, who researched both the literary uses of the word from 16th Century to 20th century and later took on an essential role in the administration and management of the delivery of the project.

The Centre for Fashion Curation, with the Barbican, coordinated the installation of the exhibition, organising for volunteer UAL students (from Year 1 and 2 of MA Fashion Curation) as well as recent graduates to work alongside professional Costume Mounter,  Gesa Warner to gain essential experience of exhibition installation.  

The exhibition includes garments by contemporary designers including Walter Van Beirendonck, Manolo Blahnik, Hussein Chalayan, Pam Hogg, Stephen Jones, Christian Lacroix, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé and Chanel, Alexander McQueen for Givenchy, Prada, Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Philip Treacy, Viktor & Rolf and Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes; as well as key loans from national collections and private lenders.

Judith Clark:

“The tableaux don’t illustrate the text and the text doesn’t illustrate the fashion, but they run alongside each other to say something about the themes that recur around ideas of the vulgar: about the copy (whether it is an impoverished version of an original); about ideas of excess, about displayed ambition, about the vernacular, etc. to name a few.”


The exhibition is at Barbican Art Gallery 13 October – 5 February 2017

And at the Winter Palace in Vienna 6 March – 20 June 2017



Dress and Textiles Society

Amy de la Haye was formally nominated as the London Representative for the Dress and Textiles Specialists at their Annual Conference in November. Amy, who is co-Director of the Centre for Fashion Curation along with Judith Clark, has arranged a curator’s tour of The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined exhibition at the Barbican, which was curated by Judith.  Limited spaces are still available to DATS members. Email cffc@arts.ac.uk for more details.

The DATS conference, hosted by the National Museum of Scotland and marking the recent opening of their newly opened fashion galleries, brought together members across the United Kingdom. Colleagues and experts presented case studies discussing a variety of exciting projects devised to generate income, ranging from utilizing digital printing to temporary exhibitions and publications.

For more information about DATS click here


“It was an incredible insight into what it takes to prepare mannequins”

When I received an email from CfFC requesting volunteers ‘who can sew’ to assist with the mounting of mannequins for The Vulgar, I eagerly responded with a ‘yes!’, thinking ‘how hard can sewing be?’ Gesa Warner, the Costume Mounter, soon enlightened us to the enormity of the task ahead.  Leaving the meeting with my best poker face, arms full of wadding, calico and pattern templates, I tracked down a sewing machine and turned to YouTube. Countless instruction videos later, I felt I had learned the essentials and was ready to sew.

Mounting The Vulgar

Mounting mannequins for The Vulgar

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“Team work, much humour and the occasional grinding of teeth”

I spent the first week of the Vulgar installation reviving some old, and if I’m honest, painful, memories of sewing.  However, this process was soothed considerably by the admirable and talented Gesa, our resident costume mounter.   We were literally building mannequins and it was fascinating seeing how much hard work goes into each mannequin.  The historical span of costumes and Gesa’s breadth of knowledge was incredible as was her patience with us fledgling costume mounters.

Working on a Schiaparelli skirt

Working on a Schiaparelli skirt

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‘We created a bust, shoulders and more body’ – ‘The Vulgar’ Installation

Helping with the installation of ‘The Vulgar’ was a very exciting experience. I have learned many new things, mainly related to preparing mannequins for dressing. During the MA Fashion Curation we discussed, read and wrote about fashion exhibition making, but there are always elements that you will only get to learn by actually doing them. Preparing mannequins was definitely one of these elements. It is a very precise and time consuming task, as you need to be certain that the garment(s) fit the mannequin as well as possible.

Shirley van de Polder working on the installation of 'The Vulgar' Exhibition

Shirley van de Polder working on the installation of ‘The Vulgar’ Exhibition

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Body Parts – Installing ‘The Vulgar’

My role working on The Vulgar Fashion Redefined exhibition was to make arms and body parts for padding-out the body forms for historic dress. Archived dress objects need careful handling for preservation, and modern mannequins are the wrong shape to achieve period silhouettes. Garments need to be moulded and styled to the body form, using various types of padding.

Body parts made for 'The Vulgar' - Photography by Susan Bishop

Body parts made for ‘The Vulgar’ – Photography by Susan Bishop

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