I have thought very long and very hard on this show, and I don’t believe I have reached a state of rest. These photographs were edited countless times, over and over again, until I was happy with how the photography captured my experience and the work on display.
My understanding of fashion, and I suppose creativity itself, has been edited at its very foundation. This was my first time seeing a true piece of fashion art. Growing up in a town, not a metropolis, meant being surrounded by people in mall brands not designer. The closest I ever came to couture was in the pages of the books I was given on Christmas. Alexander McQueen became an obsession for me ever since I learned the designer of Lady Gaga’s early outfits, but this knowledge only became complete after he passed away. When the Savage Beauty show in New York opened, I was fascinated but it would have been a fruitless endeavour in asking my parents if we could go. They are supportive of my interests, but that distance was out of the question. This summer I became obsessed with Daphne Guinness and the story of Isabella Blow. “Champagne Supernovas” was written on my Christmas wish list.
In early September I saw the press release: Daphne Guinness and The Isabella Blow Foundation would bring ‘Fashion Blows’ to Hudson’s Bay in Toronto for two weeks only. I made a point to attend, and so on October 29th we, Daniela and I, took the train into the downtown.
We spent a very long time hunting for the exhibit in the seven-floor Hudson’s Bay Queen Street building. I can still feel the walk, anxious and focused on the white walls and flooring which marked the exit from the ‘designer brands’ and entrance into prices with many digits and the exhibit; priceless in every definition of the word.
I remember seeing the pink Philip Treacy work which rested atop a mannequin which for the two weeks became Isabella.
Each section seemed to be grouped by temperature. Here were pieces in blues, metallic silver, and cold grey. The middle piece seems almost bulletproof until you look to the bottom where pieces were pulled downward, out of perfection. That was something that was common amongst the pieces: Daphne wanted each piece to be just as it was last worn, no repairs made. It is hard to write this down, but seeing the stray stitches and wearing fabric made me think differently of couture. Before I saw it as ideal perfection, and in these photographs it may appear like that, but nothing in life is perfect. No action is perfect, and not even the images of a book, our heroes in reality, or the armour we put on every day is impenetrable nor infallible. I see Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow, Daphne Guinness, Philip Treacy, Gareth Pugh, not as fantasy but as natural things, with imperfections and those imperfections, how they are arranged, are what make things perfect. For years I have sought perfection in every action, object, and moment, but now I see that perfection is not found in the absence of flaws, but in the presence of broken stitches, worn fabric, and battle scars.
Isabella on her desk, issues of Vogue and Tatler splayed across amongst cigarettes and wine.
Tiny shards of a thin, metallic material were braced by an intricate framework underneath. Each piece reflected the hues of the displays behind.
Left, a sheer nude-toned dress from Alexander McQueen Fall-Winter 1997 collection. It looked very dainty, but for a woman with a hundred sharp secrets.
Right, a dusty pink dress from the Alexander McQueen Fall-Winter 2002 collection. A similar dress was sent down the runway as look fifty-two. The collection was described as “tough-sexy” by Vogue. When I saw it I imagined a medieval warrior woman walking from the ocean floor, her dress pulled by the heavy waves but her demeanour savage.
Even the mannequins wore heels.
A gold-applique gown. Gold was common in Alexander’s collections, and this reminds me of the posthumous Fall-Winter 2010-2011 collection which featured duck feathers painted gold.
Gold was seen here too, with the most intricate display of art I have seen. Each tone of gold seemed to match the other, no matter the material. Sequins and thread used in countless ways for a motif that I could stare at for hours.
The styrofoam form gives this piece emotion and power. It is very disheartening to feel that there is nothing like that anymore in fashion.
The shifting positions of the grey-toned discs makes this piece feel organic, as if to grow from deep within the wearer. Black butterflies flew above, more vulture than dainty beings but I suppose one could find a metaphor in that.
From story, Alexander McQueen was fragile and temperamental. A most dangerous pairing, these characteristics are seen in his work, and in the work of the other designers whose pieces were on display. It is very rare today that anything makes us pause, but here I felt calm for once in a very long time.