The Fashion and Textile Museum’s current exhibition, ‘Missioni Art Colour’ is a veritable treat for the eyes. Stripes are stacked from floor to ceiling, and an army of mannequins clad in the brightest colours and boldest patterns stand in formation, dramatically lit by alternating spotlights. The exhibition boasts a showcase of over sixty years of Missoni fashion alongside paintings by leading 20th century European artists and previously unseen textile studies and paintings by Ottavio Missoni himself. Rosita and Ottavio, the couple behind the eponymous brand, appear in videos, talking about their design process, their love of colour and how they drew on art by the likes of Gino Severini and Sonia Delaunay as a base for their creativity.
However, from a sustainability point of view, there was an element of the exhibition that was even more intriguing. In the darkened first room, a video by Turkish artist Ali Kazma was inconspicuously and quietly playing. Kazma specializes in documenting human activity and labour that explores the meaning of production and social organisation.
His video installation, ‘Casa di Moda’ was produced in the Missoni factories in 2009, and highlights the machinery, hands, and, ultimately the people behind the hands, that are responsible for the production of all Missoni clothes. He focuses on the approach adopted by Missoni in their entire production cycle, emphasizing the important connection between artisan knowledge and advanced design.
Describing his work, he says ‘I was interested in working with Missoni for various reasons. First of all, I was especially fascinated by their exclusive combination of old-school craftsmanship and contemporary design. I think it is something unique in a modern work obsessed by technology, and thus it is an interesting phenomenon to explore. Secondly, I find their approach very fresh with respect to the material and the work, and wanted to get a first-hand idea of how this can exist with all the financial pressure of today’s market. Thirdly, I am interested in looking behind the scenes of the standardized glamour of fashion to see how it fits into the broader picture of human activity.’
Kazma’s videos do indeed display the un-glamorous side of the fashion industry. Often the clothes we wear seem disconnected from the people who make them. Even in an exhibition such as this one, the designer is heralded as an artistic genius, tapping into the greatest reserves of creativity to bring us garments that are on a par with works of some of the most famous European artists of the twentieth century. However, there is a dichotomy between the practice of an artist and that of a fashion designer. True, both may use pencils or even paint in the early stages of their process, however, in fashion, it is rarely the designer’s hand that makes the final product. The mark of the artist’s hand that we so revere in the brushstrokes of, say, Cezanne or Monet, are absent in a garment. It is not the designer’s hand, but rather that of an anonymous worker that puts the finishing touches on a piece, stitches the hem or sews the final button.
This is something that is very often overlooked, particularly in fashion exhibitions like this one. However, by including this installation at the start of the exhibition, the Fashion Textile Museum is reminding its viewers that there are real people behind the clothes, and that the designer’s artistic genius isn’t the end of the story- these designs couldn’t be realized without the hands of hundreds of others.
‘Missoni Art Colour’ is on at the Fashion Textile Museum until the 4th of September.