The fashion industry has certainly built a fierce reputation. It can be unethical, judgmental, and profoundly inequitable. Yet, it still remains alluring, innovative and a space for creative collaboration. I think the latter attributes are in part a result of the exclusivity of the high end fashion world. Arguably, nothing is more elite, more select, than a runway show. These full on events, as they have evolved into, are not simple and random showings of a few items. These shows are full on productions and as they grow in popularity, more and more people want an opportunity to experience such an exaggerated performance.
For decades, attending these shows has been the privilege of the fashion world insiders: models, celebrities, and the wealthy. Over the past few years, designers have filmed their fashion shows for general release at later times, or allowed viewers to watch live streams over the internet. And while this has absolutely afforded new groups the luxury of moving into a once secret world, there still seems to be something missing. We laud our current technology as being so clear, so sharp, so high definition that it’s like the real thing. But is this really the case? Can a televised/streamed event be a substitute for the actual performance? Until about a month ago, I think my answer was yes. But after seeing the Gaultier Exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, I think my previous answer was based on the fact that I had never seen such works up close. They were more than just clothes, they were works of art and I was able to get a new appreciation for the works without seeing them through a television or computer screen.
The exhibit wasn’t inspiring because of a lack of technology but more so the removal of an intrusive screen between me and the fashion. I was able to experience the texture, color, and draping of the fabric as it was naturally. In an environment where we are mobile and increasingly creating, buying, and communicating solely in digital formats, being at the exhibit was a nice change of pace. It made the fashions and, thus the designer, tangible. They were not figments of a digital imagination, but pieces of art that someone laboriously took the time to make.
With that being said these works, by no means, were ordinary or every day. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was able to have a personal experience but with very recognizable and over the top costumes. The exclusivity inherent in fashion shows was not lost, but merely transformed into something that multiple people could experience at once without feeling like they were being intruded upon or receiving a watered down version of the rule thing.
And perhaps my fascination with the exhibit is so prominent because I feel (and have been labeled) as an outsider because of my body shape. My presence at the Gaultier exhibit was of course fun, but it was also a little bit daring. To see my frame against the frame of a model (albeit an inanimate one) felt strange. At the real exhibit, would I see someone like me? Someone my size. Plus size.
I was able to be in the front row for a collection that I could never have anticipated doing in “real life” and that is why this exhibit was worth seeing for me. I am continuously fascinated by the questions surrounding someone’s access and opportunity to various experiences. In both the academic and fashion worlds we often take the experience of one person or one group and hold it as truth for all people. This is inaccurate and problematic. Now, of course, the exhibit is not without any barriers to access – you have to pay to get in, if you’re not asked to pay then you will need to be a part of an academic group, and if you have no connection to high fashion, then even with this exhibit seemingly at your fingertips, it can still remain as elusive as a haute couture show in Paris.
However, there is still something to be said for its existence and for Jean Paul Gaultier’s desire to share his art with a larger audience of people than would typically be allowed access to it.