Friday, 25 November 2016

Fashion and Freedom

I went to Manchester this week with university and visited Manchester Art Gallery for the Fashion and Freedom exhibition. I knew there were going to be garments there but I was blown away by what I saw. More importantly, it was incredible to see how my gender has been affected by the occurrences in the world.

"Fashion and Freedom explores new ways of understanding the powerful impacts of the First World War, highlighting how fashion is interwoven into the social and political history of Britain, by showcasing new creative works that echo these histories a century later."

As part of the UK's arts programme, 14-18 NOW, this commemorates 100 years since the beginning and end of the First World War, but focuses on how women in society have also changed from then to NOW.

The contrast between contemporary and historical fashion for women

The exhibition showcases historical garments worn in the Edwardian times to the decade of the Charleston and Art Deco: the 1920s. Ranging from the infamous corset to the elegant ball gowns, women had a number of costume changes for different occasions during the day and emphasis was placed on the silhouette of a woman; yet this all changed through the impact of the war as a more natural-looking figure began to take shape after the war as it was being recognised that functionality of clothing was more important than the form it created. Thinking back to the visit now, it makes so much sense to how they organised the exhibition space. When you first walk in, you see the introduction of what the purpose of the exhibition displayed next to a taster of what is to come... The next thing you notice is the historical element of the impact of pre and post world war...then as you walk around the space, you slowly begin to understand the development of fashion over time and, more importantly, the development of a woman in society through the contemporary pieces designed by such leading females Vivienne Westwood, Sadie Williams, Emilia Wickstead, Roksanda Illincic, Jackie JS Lee and Holly Fulton.

Examples by the designers involved in the exhibition

What I found inspiring about walking around the space, looking at each piece and thinking about what aspect of society it portrays was that 14-18 NOW provided the chance for emerging fashion designers from universities to submit their visual opinion. They varied from Manchester School of Art to University of Westminster to come together for the concept of Restriction/Release, using techniques such as beading, embroidery, draping, pleating - anything that is possible really within the fashion design world. Some of the students were inspired by the Suffragette movement which is undoubtedly a key moment in time for women (Votes for Women!) One student in particular decided to embark on creating a garment that understood the risk women took on wearing items that were revealing: even if it was just the knees below that were on show, it was deemed daring to those who believed they should be hidden. How did she tackle this? Well look below and you will see the genius creation...

Detailing the outstanding and intricate structure of the garments

Right to left: works were made by Elizabeth Thomas (Manchester School of Art), Toni Martin (University of Salford), Rebecca Lawton (University of Salford), Wheiman Leong (University of Westminster)
All credit is given to these students whose work is shown above. Being a fashion and costume student myself, I would not have the faintest idea on where to start creating these! (and I want to be a designer...pray for me)
From right to left, it shows the clear development of how dress affected the role of women, from the implication that women were a piece of art to the dress reform movement, allowing freedom in women's health and lifestyle.
With women working in factories during wartime, Fashion and Freedom highlights how women were taking the position of men, showing a counterbalance of gender. Playing football, learning martial arts and risking themselves to chemical exposure were what women faced and, if anything, continued the fight for women equality.

Left to right: works were made by Sarah Curtis (University of Salford), Karin Human (University of Salford), Revekka Georgiadou (University of Salford)

Headshot: work was made by Ben Lewis (Leeds College of Arts)

Displays belonging to the exhibition are scattered around the rest of the art gallery and viewing art galleries are just a simple hobby of mine, so I loved exploring and finding new garments. As a women, it does inspire me how women before me have enabled me and you to have the life that we have. I have been writing about gender equality for a report in my module at university and only as I am writing this now do I truly understand how fashion has become such a vital part of expressing the battle and positive progression we have made. It really can affect you in ways you wouldn't think of but it also proves to others that speak less of fashion that it isn't always about how it looks: it is about the meaning behind the look that what counts.

I cannot stress enough how powerful this exhibition is and I only wish I went to see it sooner! So if any of you have the chance to go to Manchester this weekend or are travelling there or already live there, I would highly recommend you go and see the powerful work fashion has.

The last day to explore this at Manchester Art Gallery is Sunday 27th November 2016 and is free entry so what excuse do you have to not go and see???

If you have already had a look at the gallery and seen what is on show, what did you think of it? Did it have the same effect on you as it did me, or was it completely different? What did you think of the designs and the ideas behind them? Let me know in the comment section below as I would love to hear from you! Did it teach you anything new? I learnt a thing or two from it, that is a definite.