The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined

Things to do, Exhibitions
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Pink, heavy with embellishment, ruffled with an excess of fabric…

This description fits both the beautiful denim and sweatshirt ensemble by Dutch design demigods Viktor & Rolf, and the dress that Katie Price wore to marry Peter Andre. So what makes one an accomplished piece of couture and the other a hand-wringing frocky horrorshow?

The Barbican’s latest exhibition discusses just that in a dazzling show about taste and vulgarity in fashion. With over 120 objects spanning 500 years, it’s a dense and diverse exploration: from that US Vogue cover starring ‘Kimye’ to a dress by John Galliano so overflowing with fabric even Marie Antoinette might have had second thoughts about wearing it. 

Different forms of vulgarity are reflected upon, including nudity and Pam Hogg’s brilliant barely-there bodysuits, and a baroquely sumptuous wedding gown (it’s Lacroix, daaarling). Ultimately, though, the show exposes how fluid taste is.

Until the seventeenth century, the word ‘vulgar’ just meant common, with no judgement attached, but industrialisation brought mass production and the increased availability of just about everything. People started using ‘vulgar’ to mark out others as different, as not having taste.

It’s a thought-provoking show and a feast for the eyes. Go, enjoy, and bloody well wear that tiara if you want to, even if you didn’t inherit it.


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