Fashion spans many temporalities. While being projected to the future, it constantly looks back to the past to which it strongly relates. As explained by Walter Benjamin with the image of the ‘tiger’s leap’, fashion interacts with history in many and different ways. Back in 2004, curator and exhibition maker Judith Clark explored this haunting relationship in the exhibition ‘Spectres. When Fashion Turns Back’.
The exhibition was first installed at MoMu, in Antwerp, from September 2004 to January 2005 with the title ‘Malign Muses. When Fashion Turns Back’ and later at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, from February to May 2005. As explained in the catalogue of the exhibition, it took shape after a two years long conversation between Clark and the fashion theorist Caroline Evans, author of the seminal text ‘Fashion at the Edge’, whose suggestion and ideas served as an inspiration for the real-life devices that characterised the set of the exhibition.
The display recalled the dark atmosphere of the Victorian circuses and freak shows; it used devices such as toys, carousels and lantern slides tricks to evocate the ghastly bound between fashion and history and to articulate the complicate and introspective sections of the exhibition, in which the creations of contemporary designers where shown alongside historical pieces in suggestive juxtapositions.
The sections of the exhibition were: ‘Reappearances: Getting Things Back’, ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Locking In and Out’, ‘Phantasmagoria: The Amazing Lost and Found’, ‘Remixing It: The Past in Pieces’, ‘A New Distress’ and, in Antwerp, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. They explored the modalities through which fashion turns to the past through the results of these various operations. If history serves as a source of inspiration, it also represents a bound to be broken or ignored to move forward, an instrument at the designers’ disposal for the invention of new stories with clothes.
Contemporary designers, such as Junya Watanabe, Dries van Noten, Viktor and Rolf, Simon Thorogood, Hussein Chalayan, Shelley Fox and Rei Kawakbo, featured in the exhibition; their creations were put in dialogue with those of earlier couturiers, such as Schiaparelli, Madame Grés, Jean Dessès and Dior, and previous century costumes, to highlight the references and similarities: all the elements contributing to a discourse that draws back and puts forward the figures inhabiting past and present, to tell new, compelling stories.