First, let me tell you that the Fashion & Freedom exhibition is, like the fashions it draws upon, now a thing of the past. I caught the last day of its showing at the Manchester Art Gallery last year, but as it is part of a broader, important five-year project, I thought it worthy of coverage after the fact. 14-18 NOW is a programme of extraordinary arts experiences connecting us all with the First World War. The programme began in 2014 and will run until 2018, timed to mark the centenary of the war, which engulfed Europe, Asia and Africa from 1914 to 1918.
Back to Fashion & Freedom. "Fashion is often dismissed as a frivolous thing, but it is interwoven into our social and political history," says Caroline Rush CBE, CEO British Fashion Council. This exhibition uses historical artefacts to illustrate the shift in the way women clothed themselves during the time of the First World War. Taking these ideas into the 21st century are new designs by renowned designers Holly Fulton, Roksanda, J JS Lee, Vivienne Westwood, Emilia Wickstead and Sadie Williams, and works by the next generation of fashion talent - all influenced by the new fashions and freedoms worn and won by women in 1914-18.
Fashion & Freedom also includes a series of specially commissioned films. These works, collaborations among visionary directors and designers, provide contemporary reflections upon the social and cultural changes brought about by the First World War and are reflective of how historical events continue to inspire cutting-edge creative production. My favourite is The Fall of the Corset, produced by SHOWstudio who chose Rei Nadal, a young Spanish filmmaker and artist who regularly explores themes of femininity, rights of passage and role-play within her work. There is no doubt that Guinevere van Seenus' agony was genuine as she was tightly corseted (as seen above) by several young men, and when she forcibly reclaims her freedom from her restrictive garment her obstinace is palpable. You can watch the films here
Photos: Denise Grayson