Clothing is the unspoken assertion of our identity — what we wear reveals clues about our age, income, education, home town, profession, confidence, even our interests. Fashion icons like the three-piece suit and the little black dress signify power or sophistication, and any T-shirt with a logo telegraphs our preference for a band, a store, a bar, a school. How would the world know we were design-school hipsters, urban cowboys, or soccer moms if it weren’t for what we pull out of our closets every morning?
Three pieces in a new exhibit at the Southwest School of Art & Craft turn this sense of clothing as a self-controlled identity statement inside out. Kent State University fashion faculty Noel Palomo-Lovinski and Christine LaPerna exhibited three dresses as part of the International Textile and Apparel Association’s 2006 Design Exhibition, now on display at the School’s Navarro Campus. By using fabric printed with text from confessional web sites (like Dailyconfession.com or Postsecret.com) and cut to create spatial vulnerability, their clothing works in an opposite way, revealing our deepest secrets — that which we would most like to conceal.
“Levels of Confession,” a layered tunic that stops at the knee but otherwise covers every surface of the model’s body, including her head, focuses on the intensity of the confession in relation to how easily it is revealed. Relatively benign secrets, the type not likely to produce consequences, are printed on the outer white layer. A circle is cut in the tunic’s center to reveal darker underlayers of textile and deeper, more serious confessions of sexuality, betrayal, and violence. The outfit’s hangman-like hood, tall starched collar, and tight gloves heighten the sense of claustrophobia.
Part burqua, part go-go dress, “Camouflaged Confessions” uses similar text, reinterpreted in a pattern mimicking military camouflage. A tight headpiece has an eye opening reminiscent of a surveillance mask, but the sleeveless armholes are cut open to the hip, to express a frail helplessness and subjection that’s not remotely sexy.
“Bridezilla” comments scathingly on the phenomenon of the same name. This time text is taken specifically from online confessionals for brides (sample quote: “I want to sleep with the best man before the wedding.”). White Duchess satin imprinted with sunny hot pink letters, the frothy, insipid wedding gown is inspired by the fairytale union of our generation: Charles and Di’s. Unlike the two previous “Confessions,” “Bridezilla is an assault of fabric. From the full ball skirt with train and tulle underskirt to the exaggerated puffed sleeves and the dozens of rosettes trimming every seam, the piece conveys the sense of unbearable pressure likely felt by these brides.
Curated by J. R. Campbell of the Glasgow School of Art, the exhibition collection ranges from modern interpretations of historic costume techniques to designs using sustainable materials worthy of a Project Runway challenge. The mixed bag includes the occasional disappointment, but the wide variety means that unapologetic couture construction co-exists happily with fiber optic spacesuits. The show runs through December 2; hours and visiting info can be found at Swschool.org or by calling 271-3374.
— Leigh Baldwin