IMA presents good, limited selection of contemporary couture, ready-to-wear

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By: Tim Chai <tchai@hilite.org>

Figure-hugging Azzedine Alaïa cocktail dresses. Sculpture-inspired Issey Miyake evening gowns. Paper Rei Kawakubo balloon skirts. One word: fierce.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s temporary exhibit, running from March 16 to June 1, shows contemporary fashion from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) permanent exhibit of the same name. The exhibit, boasting some vintage creations by Christian Dior, Charles James and Gilbert Adrian, presents designs by current fashion giants like Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Martin Margiela, Thierry Mugler and Yohiji Yamamoto.

Although “Breaking the Mode” showcases many excellent examples of both couture and ready-to-wear, the so-called “extensive exhibit” at the IMA is severely lacking in overall selection. Granted, though the $6 IMA student ticket is cheaper than the $9 general admission at the LACMA, the collection in its entirety is far more impressive and breathtaking.

When I first heard that the collection—with its purpose to challenge the typical idea of aesthetic beauty—was coming to less-than-fashion-forward Indiana, I was hopeful that it would stretch Hoosiers’ ideas about the limits of beauty in unconventional, surreal outfits. I was disappointed. Although I heard exclamations of recognition of big names like Versace, the exhibit did a poor job giving information on lesser-known designers. Arguably the gems of the collection, the designs of the old masters were the ones most ignored. (One poor lady mistook the Japanese brand Comme des Garçons as a European designer with a “weird name.”)

Where the exhibit succeeds is in its organization of the collection, which is broken down into four sections: construction, material, concept and form. Each is rich in diversity; luxurious pink chiffon and silk gowns are placed next to dominatrix-style black leather dresses. Each section also presents an innovation in either the use of textile or the shaping of the body’s silhouette.

Construction deals with how the dresses were made, timelining the change of Christian Dior’s couture handiwork to today’s deconstructed or inside-out seams of Comme des Garçons. Vintage gowns constructed with the old method of “couture finishing and detailing” starkly contrast with the fringes and ripped seams of designers like Margiela.

The innovations in materials are astounding. The exhibit displays a wide array—from silk and chiffon to plastic to oil-covered paper to neoprene.

Finally, form and concept, two intertwined aspects of fashion, truly show why fashion is an art form. From the constraining corsets of the pre-Modern era to the sculpture additives made possible by modern innovations, these two sections are the most awe-inspiring. One example is a cocktail dress by Gaultier. The lining, which is cut larger than the outside layer, is twisted on the bottom so that it flutters away with every step. Right next to this dress is a creation by Rei Kawakubo, which merges the traditional Japanese kimono into a contemporary evening gown. While the bodice resembles the obi sash of a geisha outfit, the fabric of the skirt, which is printed with a painting of bamboo, is draped like a European dress. In this, Kawakubo references Japan’s intricate art while creating formal attire that redefines the traditional evening gown look.

Most designers showcased at the exhibit are inspired by the unique interpretation of everyday objects. In the concept area, the exhibit showcases a jacket ensemble by Moschino that emphasizes the exhibit’s underlying theme of surrealism. The silverware is literally on the jacket, which has alternating forks and spoons for buttons.

Whether “Breaking the Mode” showcases contemporary or vintage designs, the exhibit puts a fun spin on fashion that foreshadows the future for fashion. It shows that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

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