Produced by Fashion Laboratories for the Environment Inc. in association with the Downtown Arts Festival, Fashionlab 2000 took place on a slightly rainy evening of one Saturday in September. The show was hosted by Eyebeam Atelier, a parking garage and the future site of the Museum of Art and Technology, in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.
As one approached the location of the show, a vertical series of glowing fluorescent lights welcomed the visitor. Designed by LOT/EK, a rising architectural duo of Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla, a rather worn-out parking garage was transformed into a cocoon-like body around which visitors roamed. The vertical lights were covered with translucent white shrink-wrap plastic in order to create walls that surrounded the preparation area rather successfully.
Two elevated catwalks further surrounded these glowing walls. As the visitors walked deeper into the space along the catwalks, they discovered three projection screens. A DJ group, Organic Grooves, spun groovy music against projections of cityscapes and unidentified morphing 3-D computer models. As the fashion show started, live video footage of behind-the-scenes preparations (as well as models on the catwalks) was projected additionally.
The fashion show featured the works of Art Point M from France and trash-a-porter from New York City. These two collections were presented simultaneously on both sides of the space, creating a juxtaposition of two fashion shows in one space. While street-and-nomad-inspired clothes of trash-a-porter were worn by people approached on streets of New York, somewhat politically charged work of Art Point M was worn by six models from France as well as the designers themselves. The show took place against the background video projection of cityscapes and other live footage, into which models seemed to appear and disappear.
Many of the Art Point M clothes bore messages such as “Black is Beautiful” or “Black Power” sewn on the surface. In addition to these literal messages, models walked the catwalks, tied or handcuffed with S/M-like props. Although fashion with a political message is not radically new or surprising, design can achieve a new level of strength and meaning, as Art Point M showed in their work.
So, these were the objective descriptions of Fashionlab 2000. Now, a subjective review and opinion about the show.
Although the show had many promising individual elements – fashion, architecture, music, video – the event as a whole fell extremely short of what it really could have been.
Overall, the biggest weakness of the event was that individual elements did not integrate well. It seemed that the set-up was messed up to begin with.
1. The lighting in the main area of the fashion show was unimaginably horrible, making it difficult for the audience to see the show itself.
2. While having two shows happening in one space was an interesting attempt, it did not quite work well for the audience. If you were on one side of the space, you could only see one of the runway shows. And it was almost impossible to move to another side of the space unless you went outside and entered from the other side, or aggressively pushed your way through an ocean of people.
3. What did not really help in the show were the video projections. Whether meant to be stimulating or not, they were visually very poor and weak, not really adding much to the whole experience.
Some of the explanations in the event catalog sounded as if they were trying to compensate for these situations. For instance:
“The runway show invites the audience to become active participants in the show, moving from one runway to the other, defining their place within the context of the two presentations and the space that exists in between.”
It is true that this little text in the catalog asked the audience to move. However, if that were the intention of the organizer, the show should have been designed in such a way that it would really “invite” the audience to participate. Unfortunately, there was no such indication (unless you read the catalog in the dark of this event space).
Also, as evident in the catalog explanation above, some explanations in the catalog and flyers were very empty words – words without concrete thought. This is a tendency, in any catalog of a so-called artistic event like this one, that using incomprehensible phrases may prove the sophistication and validation of a show and work. This, I think, only works if and only if the show and the work have strong thinking behind them and they themselves are executed as strongly as the thinking. For most part, neither was the case for Fashionlab 2000, unfortunately.
Despite all the negativity, the main component of the show – the works of the two fashion collectives – was quite strong, and this event definitely has a great potential to become something with extreme high quality in the years to come.
Date: 23rd September 2000
Place: Museum of Art and Technology