An exhibition at the Benaki Museum in Athens explores the power of monsters in fashion.
Text by Anna Battista
“Monster” originally comes from Latin and indicates something that appears or manifests itself as extraordinary, or causes amazement and fear by violating the rules of human nature. The Greek and Latin classics are populated with monstrous mythological figures, think about cyclops, sirens, Cerberus, the Minotaur or Medusa. Yet if Edmund Burke was right and terror associated with danger, fear and pain produces sublime emotions, then monsters have their own irresistible beauty. This is probably why in the last few years we have seen quite a few bizarre monster-like characters walking down the fashion runways. The power of monsters in fashion is actually the main theme of the exhibition “ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion”, presented by ATOPOS Contemporary Visual Culture and curated by Vassilis Zidianakis.
Featuring over 50 established fashion houses, among them also Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake/Dai Fujiwara and Jean-Charles De Castelbajac, but also up and coming designers and brands like Rozalb de Mura and Craig Green, the exhibition features a series of pieces characterised by unusual silhouettes, a bold graphic aesthetic and a dynamic mixture of textures.
“ARRRGH!” includes an interesting selection of characters, from Maison Martin Margiela’s models with their heads covered like Sheila Legge as the “phantom mannequin” standing in Trafalgar Square in 1936, to Walter Van Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm’s cartoon couture pieces, passing through Hideki Seo’s polypoid creatures, Cassette Playa’s subversively joyful designs, Charlie Le Mindu’s hairy monsters, Mareunrol’s’ architectural headdresses and Yoshikazu Yamagata’s oversized bras and panties that almost symbolise the absence of the protagonist of 1958 sci-fi film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Humorous, scary, disturbing or bizarrely enigmatic, these monsters with their strong visual power tackle perceptions of beauty and ugliness, suprising the visitors and questioning them about their fears and worries.
Zoot Magazine: What inspired this exhibition?
Vassilis Zidianaki: The exhibition is the result of a three-year research for ATOPOS Contemporary Visual Culture on the theme of Character Design in Fashion and beyond. We have been working towards this exhibition and a publication titled Not A Toy: Fashioning Radical Characters by online casino Berlin’s Pictoplasma Publishing that will hit the stores in late June. So, that was the main inspiration behind the exhibition, the phenomenon of Character Design and how designers and artists have created new monstrous, enigmatic, radical and grotesque characters and sent them onto the catwalk.
Zoot Magazine: What fascinates you about the monster theme?
Vassilis Zidianaki: The fact that the monsters are expressions of people’s desires, fears and feelings and that this has been happening since the beginning of times.
Zoot Magazine: Was it difficult to select the designers to include in the exhibition?
Vassilis Zidianaki: We have seen over 5,000 images during the last three years. We have selected 90 designers and artists for the book and just over 50 for this exhibition. It wasn’t difficult, but I would say it was interesting and challenging selecting these 50 designers and combining them in a way that would fit the vision I had in my mind and the right context.
Zoot Magazine: What’s your favourite monster from ancient Greek mithology?
Vassilis Zidianaki: I would say the Minotaur, the creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. He was locked in the labyrinth by King Minos of Crete. I come from Crete and the Minotaur’s story was one of my favourite ones while growing up.
Zoot Magazine: And your favourite monster in the exhibition?
Vassilis Zidianaki: The one that managed to escape and is now running free!
Zoot Magazine: Are there any monsters in the exhibition that have an apotropaic power?
Vassilis Zidianaki: I haven’t really thought the exhibition through that perspective. I guess all monsters in the exhibition could have an apotropaic power for the visitors if, after viewing the exhibition, they would feel that they can deal with their fears and desires.
Zoot Magazine: Monsters are usually scary creatures, but there are also cuddly, cute and teddy-bearish monsters: what’s the main aim of the exhibition to scare, fascinate or communicate something to the visitors?
Vassilis Zidianaki: I would say to surprise visitors and also prompt their reaction, asking them if what they’re viewing is scary, beautiful, ugly or cute. I hope the visitors will be able to redefine beauty in our modern society and perhaps look inside them to find their own monsters.
Zoot Magazine: Will the exhibition go on tour?
Vassilis Zidianaki: We are working towards that and I hope that we will be able to announce the next stop very soon.
ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion is on at the Benaki Museum, Athens,Greece, until 31st July 2011.