Foto: © RBA Köln, Marion Mennicken
The comprehensive collection of historical and contemporary fashion at the Cologne Museum of Applied Arts (MAKK), which for reasons of conservation can only be shown in special exhibitions, is one of the most significant collections of its kind in Germany. Largely consisting of private donations, it has grown dynamically to become one of the museum’s most comprehensive and valuable collections focusing on European fashion from the 19th and 20th centuries. The late 20th and early 21st centuries are also represented with signature pieces by renowned designers. Regarding this transitional period, the museum’s current activities focus on selecting representative pieces from the diverse and fast-paced fashion production in western consumer societies. However, in the face of both a hugely differentiated market and the specific conditions applying to museum collections, this selection can hardly be all-encompassing: the museum predominantly focuses on high-end pieces by creative fashion designers and on pieces by well-known labels that can be regarded as typical examples of the major trends existing at the time of their creation.
The special exhibition ‘LOOK! Fashion Designers from A to Z ‘ presents a selection of the most significant new pieces acquired over the last few years. The time frame spans from the 1960s to the present and the concept is intentionally designed to present a subjective image of fashion: given the cyclical nature of particular fashion trends, the selected exhibits are neither presented chronologically nor in an encyclopaedic fashion. Both the huge diversity and the wealth of forms that have characterised the unabated creative force of one of humankind’s oldest applied arts are presented based on the random principle of alphabetical order of names and labels. Visitors can expect a surprising and colourful kaleidoscope that highlights aesthetic qualities and truly matches the meaning of the Greek term: applying the definition provided in Wahrigs Deutsches Wörterbuch, the exhibition is a vibrant and colourful series of images, a magical mirror reflecting the image of fashion from the last few decades in its many facets, fragments and flavours.
The dazzling and contrasting array of images includes designs and pieces from collections, prêt-à-porter and accessories by Aigner, Alexander McQueen, Bernhard Willhelm, Céline, Chanel, Christian Dior, Diane von Furstenberg, Emilio Pucci, Etro, Fendi, Gianni Versace, Givenchy, Goldpfeil, Gucci, Hermès, Irina Heemann, Issey Miyake, Jimmy Choo, JOOP!, Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, Kenzo, Lacoste, Longchamp, Louis Féraud, Manolo Blahník, Miu Miu, Moschino, Nina Ricci, Opening Ceremony, Paul Smith, Prada, QooQoo, Rena Lange, Salvatore Ferragamo, Thierry Mugler, Ungaro, Valentino, Vivienne Westwood, Walter Steiger, X’S Milano, Yves Saint Laurent and Zadig & Voltaire.
With this exhibition, the museum fulfils its mission – already defined in its founding year of 1888 – of providing the public with information on the history, development and the present state of applied arts and with the possibility of becoming aware of and of experiencing the creative potential and artistic qualities of these art forms. As an expression of design in everyday life – today referred to as ‘lifestyle’ – clothing not only illustrates the stylistic characteristics and dominant worldview of particular epochs, but also an individual’s relationship to their time and environment. Religion, worldview, aesthetics and eroticism shape fashion just as much as do social and economic conditions. However, our ‘second skin’ not only provides fundamental knowledge of an epoch’s political and societal structures or of its moral standards, but also of people’s self-confidence, their relationship to their body and their personal taste. Even as a subjective, self-determined selection and combination of pieces from the oft-standardised and heterogeneous products offered by labels or the market in general, clothing is still an innovative and creative means of individual artistic design and of deliberately shaping both one’s physique and public image. Thus, fashion is not just an artist’s fixed design, rather it is just as participatory and individual as are the members of pluralistic societies. Hardly any other form of applied art presented at the museum is as multi-layered and multi-faceted as fashion, which, just like jewellery, belongs to the products we have the most intimate relationship with. Without the human body, fashion remains incomplete, an empty, formless and lifeless shell.
Addressing this typical shortcoming of most historical fashion exhibitions, the MAKK presents a visually and sensorily appealing installation, which compensates for the unattainable and suggestive qualities of a catwalk presentation where fashion is presented on moving, living bodies, by providing greater proximity, excellent and suitable lighting, as well as the opportunity to view exhibits in a calm and tranquil environment.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a bilingual catalogue (German – English) published by E.A. Seemann Verlag.