The word doesn’t exactly conjure up images of couture gowns and designer garments. So how has the Barbican gotten away with naming a high fashion exhibit “The Vulgar?”
So how exactly does a Galliano Dior couture gown express vulgarity? Phillips explains that by putting it in a section aptly titled “Showing off.” The themes of excess, consumerism and popularity are explained throughout the rooms and the meaning of vulgar changes throughout. Garish or tacky fashion is embraced in the section “Too Popular,” where the Andy Warhol Souper dress is displayed alongside sweet wrapper Jeremy Scott for Moschino ready-to-wear.
When thinking about the word “vulgar,” it comes across as immediately negative; a thought that must have crossed the minds of the over 40 designers whose clothes are featured in this exhibition. When Adam Phillips, organizer of the show, went asking Mr Lagerfeld and Mr Lacroix to display gowns for his exhibition on vulgarity, he better have had a good explanation.
An explanation is something that he definitely has developed –with over 11 different definitions of Vulgar explained throughout the different rooms of the exhibit. Reaching a bit? Probably, but with a collection of dream outfits on display you soon forget the over defined definition and sink into admiring the sheer bodysuits and Louis Vuitton slips.
Curator Judith Clark explains the exhibition, “Vulgarity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” Clark writes in the catalogue. “It is an emblem of artificiality.” In this way she is able to justify how a long sleeved reserved black dress with white lace collar is vulgar – the white lace was created as a symbol of purity to adorn very plain black clothing.
The exhibition will raise questions as well as answer them, and shows how fashion is always up for interpretation. “Hopefully, this exhibition will provoke a bit of thought about what the limits of taste are,” said Clark.