Fashion and Frustration: Design Museum’s rebellious exhibition misses the mark

Thirty years ago, a small group of young fashion designers were given financial support in the middle of a recession to put on a show, and thus was born the British Fashion Council’s Newgen programme to assist young designers in getting started in their careers.

To mark the funding scheme’s 30th anniversary, the Design Museum has put on a show looking at some of the breakthrough moments in fashion design nurtured by the Newgen scheme.

It’s a display of outrageous fashion created to generate headlines and publicity that then helps to sell the more realistically wearable stuff the designer makes to pay the bills.

What I found challenging with the exhibition is that there seemed to be a lack of why in the show, as in why these items and these designers. There were a lot of very expensive clothes on display and, well, maybe I missed something, but that seemed to be about all there was here.

And I say that not as someone disinterested in fashion in the sense of wanting to look good, so here’s a display that should have had me thinking “if only I could”, but actually left me wondering why these things are here.

Which is a very odd sensation to have in any exhibition.

I was also irked by the utterly baffling decision to open the exhibition with outfits displayed in front of walls with patterns that matched the clothes, as if they wanted to hide rather than show off the tailoring. The use of black text on grey cards also made the captions a bit harder to read than they needed to be — it seems to be a fashionable trend in exhibition design at the moment, as I’ve seen that elsewhere recently. Hopefully one that’ll end soon.

I was in and out of the exhibition remarkably quickly, even by my standards of walking fast.

For all the colour and decoration on display, it left me cold, as if putting the clothes onto mannequins had somehow also sucked all the life out of their creation. And that might be where I felt the exhibition went awry, as it’s the stories that matter, the work and effort, how the item garnered attention and the social context in which it appeared in the magazines and newspapers.

I felt it needed more of the human behind the design.

And that’s a pity as the show is a celebration of BFC’s Newgen programme, which has been fantastic in nurturing talented young people with a story to tell.

It’s just that the story is missing here.

If you are really keen on looking at fashion, you’ll probably like the catwalk of a show they’ve put on, but if you want to know more about the why behind what made the designers and the designs famous, it’s lacking that critical context.

The exhibition, REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion is at the Design Museum until 11th February 2024.

Adults: £20 | Conecessins: £15 | Children: £10 | Children (<11): Free

Tickets can be booked here.

This article was published on ianVisits


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