Weiqi Yap discovers that without the usual “Who’s going to wear this?” or “Is this going to sell?”, designers were allowed the space to thrive at the latest FashionClash Festival.

Last weekend, the annual FashionClash Festival held its 9th edition in Maastricht, Netherlands. The international and interdisciplinary fashion festival showcases the work of more than 150 young designers and performing artists from over 25 countries. Championing cross-discipline innovation and inter-culture collaboration, the four-day festival presents runway shows, exhibitions and performances alongside pop-up stores, workshops and panel discussions.

This year’s theme was ‘Fashion Makes Sense’, inviting audiences to ask themselves, “Does fashion make sense?” The prompt is ultimately an existential one – as with most, if not all, art, fashion’s presence isn’t mandatory. But fashion holds a different reputation from art forms such as theatre, music and dance. Not only is fashion seen as dichotomous to the arts, it’s been written off as the frivolous poster-child of materialism.

Fashion inherently occupies a consumerist stance, but FashionClash removes fashion from this context and lets it exist devoid of commercial concerns. Without the usual “Who’s going to wear this?” or “Is this going to sell?”, designers were allowed the space to thrive.

With fashion presented on the same plane as performance art, dance and theatre, the lines between each discipline were blurred. By constructing a dialogue between these ostensibly discrete art forms, the shows moved beyond a straightforward presentation of garments.

The opening show was an interrogative and participatory performance by SHI[R]T, a sustainable fashion platform started by Eva Wagensveld and Jeffrey Heiligers. Audience members were invited on the runway who were then donned with mirrored panels on their chest and back. Mirrors were then held up to seated guests, as questions such as “Do you buy because you can?” and “Under what conditions were your clothes made?” echoed in the background.

PHOTO © 2017 TEAM PETER STIGTER

The starting point of SHI[R]T’s initiative was inspired by the fashion manifesto of Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort, “How can a garment be cheaper than a sandwich?” Accompanying their performance was their pop-up, which offered identical t-shirts at ascending price points, posing the question “How much do you value a t-shirt?” to consumers. Proceeds go towards the research and development of sustainable production methods.

“Does fashion make sense if the quality of the products is low, the labor conditions are poor and it harms the environment terribly?” says SHI[R]T. “The psychology behind fashion has become less about quality or durability and more about being fast, cheap and easy to replace.”

A stinging reminder of fashion’s contribution to waste and exploitation of labour, SHI[R]T’s performance made sure we kept the question “Does fashion make sense?” at the back of our minds.

What followed was a line-up of unorthodox shows by the likes of Hocheol Moon (Germany), Federico Cina (Italy), Ysabel Cloherty (Australia) and of course, the graduating class of Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts (MAFAD). From Lotte Milder’s projection performance to Les Deux Garçons’ posse of stallions – we’re not kidding, real horses graced the FashionClash runway – designers did not shy away from theatricality.

PHOTO © 2017 TEAM PETER STIGTER

Matrimonial themes emerged a common strand amongst the collections we saw. Alessandro Trincone (Italy) went for an all-white ensemble of layered tulle and sculptural headwear. Boys in bridal wear – albeit reconfigured – made an undeniably subversive statement. Daria D’Ambrosio (Italy) similarly employed nuptial themes in her collection titled ‘Don’t Move’. This time, female models were decked out in Victorian ruffles, drop-waist lace and staghorn-like headpieces adorned with floral arrangements. Though clad in white, D’Ambrosio’s muses evoked something much darker with its haunting silence.

PHOTO © 2017 TEAM PETER STIGTER

Fashion’s interest in connubial chic garb isn’t new, but the approach at FashionClash took a decidedly subversive slant. Perhaps this was a comment on the parallels between the institutional constructs of marriage and the fashion system. Or perhaps it was a literal take on the marriage between fashion and art.

Overall, the clothes at FashionClash took a backseat at some points. “If you take away the performance, the clothes become boring,” was a comment overheard in the front row. But perhaps, that’s the very point FashionClash is trying to make. Fashion exists beyond static garments, and has a necessitated relationship with the wearer and its body. In a time where fashion has arguably stagnated – what with increasing designer burnouts and the disappointingly missed memo at the recent Met Gala – it seems more pertinent than ever that fashion is placed in a context that forces you to question its true value. FashionClash did just that, by collapsing the mythical fashion/art dichotomy; by challenging the conventions of sartorial nomenclature.

About Weiqi Yap
Weiqi Yap is a Singaporean fashion writer based in London. Currently pursuing a degree in fashion journalism at London College of Fashion, she finds herself constantly fascinated (and frustrated) by fashion. An avid thrifter and full-time houseplant hoarder, you’ll probably find her at a charity shop or at home, taking one too many pictures of her cacti collection.

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