We present a landmark new series envisaged by SHOWstudio editor Lou Stoppard with the help of filmmaker Ruth Hogben. Inspired by the deliberate awkwardness visible on high fashion runways in recent years, SHOWstudio unpicks certain designers' fascination with pushing the boundaries of taste and redefining luxury using prints, fabrics and motifs that have connotations of vulgarity, cheapness, garishness or kitsch. How have our definitions of beauty changed over time? Has the street style phenomenon exacerbated the craze for cartoonish 'Man Repeller' pieces? Who are the real tastemakers upturning our ideas of beauty?
Miuccia Prada is often seen as the original instigator of high fashion's obsession with ugliness, distaste and trash - 'Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer,' she once said - but the mantle has been picked up by a range of other creatives, from Christopher Kane with his neon lace and bin bag leather and J.W Anderson with his awkward androgynous silhouettes. Additionally, Pheobe Philo always manages to deliver something unexpectedly covetable before we know we want it with her fur-lined Birkenstocks and laundry bag prints, while the Rodarte sisters suprise, delight and divide with their whimsical references and nostalgic motifs.
The series kicked off on 8 and 9 May with a live fashion film shoot with Hogben and acclaimed stylist and Dazed & Confused fashion director Robbie Spencer, which drew on Hitchcock aesthetics to explore the subtlety and oddness that can surround high fashion's treatment of ugliness. The final film features key A/W 14 pieces, including looks from Prada, Kane and Anderson, as well as pieces by Dior by Raf Simons, Gareth Pugh, Meadham Kirchhoff and Junya Watanabe, on model Saskia de Brauw.
Next, key 'ugly pieces' - from clumpy shoes to odd prints - were studied in mini films with audio analysis by Lou Stoppard. The research for these explorations was done with the help of the V&A's esteemed fashion curator Oriole Cullen.
Additionally, essays from celebrated writers - from A Magazine's Dan Thawley to The Independent's Alexander Fury and freelance writer Harriet Walker - unpick various themes that pertain to the topic, from the extent to which men and women no longer dress to appeal to the opposite sex, to the way in which 'ugly' silhouettes and shapes have infiltrated the everyday wardrobe. Finally, a transcript of Valerie Steele, fashion historian and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in conversation with Stoppard about the topic will provide a historical perspective on fashion's relationship with ugly.
Just as Umberto Eco asked in his celebrated work On Ugliness, the series as a whole will question why fashion holds some things as beautiful and others as taboo, while looking at the ways in which these boundaries have been blurred. We will ask if, when manipulated by the right designer or when backed up by a luxury, aspirational label, repulsiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Shop our selection of fashion and art on SHOWstudio / MACHINE-A.