The Language of Fashion
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G), Hamburg
August, 14 2020 – October, 31 2022
The exhibition The Language of Fashion at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G) sheds light on the significance of the text for fashion products. The items on view are variously emblazoned with brand names or logos, political messages, typography, or plays on words.
All objects on display come from MK&G’s own fashion collection, including more than 35 items from the 19th century until today by established designers such as Walter Van Beirendonck, Coco Chanel, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Martin Margiela and up-and-coming young designers such as Edda Gimnes and Flora Miranda Seierl.
Something we don’t often think about is that the word “text” originally came from “textile”. Text and textile share the same Latin root: “textus”. The German translation for “textus” is “Gewebe”, which in the figurative sense can also mean “connection”, as in a “fabric of connections”. Writing can be found in every conceivable place on dresses, trousers, coats and shirts. Sometimes the letters splashed across the chest or back just can’t be big enough, and other times they almost disappear in the pattern repeat.
And in some cases, they wrap themselves around the body so circuitously that the message remains a mystery. Written information may be discreetly hidden inside the garment. Or the letters of the alphabet may be replaced by an alternative system of signs whose meaning can be deciphered only by the adepts.
The use of lettering on the outside of clothing first emerged with 1960s pop culture, for example on paper dresses, hybrids of posters, and dresses. In contemporary fashion design, the “Antwerp School” in the orbit of Walter Van Beirendonck is particularly well known for embellishing apparel with written messages. A wide variety of techniques is used here, including jacquard weaving, bandage knitting, embroidery, and laser cutting.