press release


Eleven world-renowned contemporary fashion designers were invited to collaborate with the Victoria & Albert Museum to create the unique installations which make up this exhibition.

Motivated by different impulses, and of different generations and nationalities, each designer has in common a highly influential place in the fashion world. These designers cut through ideas as well as fabric. Challenging established views, they have committed their lives to seeking ever more demanding expressions of 'beauty', with diverse and often provocative results.

These designers are 'radical' in the full sense of the word: they are 'revolutionary'; and they are 'rooted' in their art. Although they frequently break established boundaries, or drive the development of fabric technology, they work within the traditional métier of fashion. Underlying their radical creations are skills learnt through years of training, experimentation and effort.

The sound in the exhibition has been specially commissioned and selected by composer and curator David Toop. It includes work by Olivier Alary/Ensemble, Björk, Kim Cascone, Christophe Charles, Max Eastley, Yoshihiro Hanno a.k.a. Multiphonic Ensemble, Ken Ikeda, Akira Rabelais, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Paul Schutze, David Toop and Yurihito Watanabe.

The Designers Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunisia in about 1940 and originally studied sculpture. He moved to Paris in the 1950s and gradually built up a devoted private clientele. He describes himself as a 'bâtisseur' or builder rather than couturier. He says 'I have to try my things on a living body because the clothes I make must respect the body.' Some of his garments contain up to 40 pieces and are constructed with corsetry stitching and seaming to achieve a perfect, sculptural form.

Hussein Chalayan was born in Cyprus in 1970. His graduate collection received critical acclaim and he subsequently won the British Designer of the Year award in 1999 and 2000. Chalayan's vision is characterised by its exquisite craftsmanship, from dresses with 'memory' wires which elevate the skirts, to beautifully tailored jackets. His shows resemble living art installations, and include elements such as the mesmerising computer-generated film shown in the exhibition.

Rei Kawakubo was born in Tokyo in 1942 and launched the Comme des Garçons label in Japan in 1969. She made an indelible impression on Paris in the early 1980s with ripped and knotted fabrics, sombre colours and asymmetrical detailing. Kawakubo has said 'What I do is not influenced by what has happened in fashion or culture. I work from obscure abstract images to create a fresh concept of beauty'.

Martin Margiela was born in Belgium in 1959. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and is closely associated with the deconstructionist fashion movement of the 1980s. Margiela's work is characterised by a poetic appreciation of imperfection, personality and eccentricity. His collections have been presented on tube platforms and street corners. He says 'My main inspiration has always has been the extremities and changes of daily life.'

Born in Vienna in 1956, Helmut Lang has been based in New York since the late 1990s. Lang defined the concept of 'industrial chic' and is renowned for his distinctive use of high tech materials and his subversion of classic garments such as the tuxedo. Recently he has moved towards a luxurious functionalism, using fine cashmeres, wools and silks. Lang's acute sense of integrity as a designer is revealed in his attention to detail. Despite having a large international company, he controls every element, from graphics to accessories. For, as he says of his label 'it says Helmut Lang on it. Everything I know is in it.'

Jean Paul Gaultier was born in Paris in 1952 and worked as a design assistant to Pierre Cardin, acquiring a technical brilliance and mastery of cloth that has subsequently characterised his work. He has redefined many fashion conventions, reworking underwear as outerwear (famously worn by Madonna) and subverting masculine and feminine styles. Gaultier's first Haute Couture show was in 1996, but despite his respect for this traditional craft, he retains his anti-establishment streak. He says 'be free with your clothes. You can do whatever you want with them.'

Alexander McQueen was born in London in 1969. The skills of bespoke tailoring have been central to his vision ever since he was apprenticed at Savile Row in 1986. At the age of 26 he became chief designer at Givenchy, and he has been named British Designer of the Year three times. Alexander McQueen's shows are strongly themed and have been described as 'images of beauty heightened through suffering'. Their sensational eroticism, built on a combination of exquisite, androgynous tailoring and fantastical creations, have redefined late 20th-century fashion.

Issey Miyake was born in Hiroshima in 1938. In 1970 he founded the Miyake design studio. Acknowledged as one of the most significant clothing designers of today, Miyake is dedicated to innovative fabric technology. In 1993 he introduced Pleats Please which was based on a light, flexible and permanently pleated fabric. Since 1999, Miyake has concentrated on the research and development of his revolutionary clothing line A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) in collaboration with textile engineer Dai Fujiwara.

One of fashion's great innovators, Junya Watanabe was born in Japan in 1961. In 1993, 'Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons' was introduced in Paris, with the support of his mentor Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons. Watanabe's technical brilliance can be seen in the Techno Couture Collection on display. Each garment is made of hundreds of layers of polyester chintz stitched to form a complex fabric structure. Such imagination married to 'Science Non-Fiction', as he calls it, is typical of Watanabe's work.

Vivienne Westwood OBE was born in Derbyshire in 1941. She began designing clothes in 1971, and in 1990 and 1991 was named British Designer of the Year. Her name became synonymous with Punk in the mid-1970s. Since 1983 she has shown in Paris; innovative and idiosyncratic, she is known for her use of quintessentially British fabrics. She said 'Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.'

Yohji Yamamoto was born in Tokyo in 1943 and first showed in Paris in the early 1980s. His subtle, complex cutting has been described as 'architecture for the skin'. His recent work incorporates flowing fabrics and feminine silhouettes, and merges a marked Japanese sensibility with Parisian elegance. He has said 'My most important concern about fashion is still about breaking some code, some tendency, which I do by using fashion'.


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Designer: Azzedine Alaia, Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier, Helmut Lang, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto