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Mode in Flux

August 20, 2016

Roca London Gallery is an interesting new(ish) concept gallery, part of one of the most upmarket bathroom showrooms you will ever see. The building, tucked near Imperial Wharf train station was designed by Zaha Hadid partnership, and has the flowing lines, odd swells and rather sci-fi aspect that is her trademark; it lends extra polish and futuristic promise to the high quality white ceramic and chrome bathroom fixtures it displays. In keeping with this, the curatorial team probably decided on an equally futuristic theme for this exhibition: “ Mode in Flux – An exhibition of adaptable fashion innovations”. 


This is a group show with quite a wide remit, as the pieces range in time from as far back as 1987 to the present, and the purpose of the experimentation differs, from physically adaptable systems, to technologically responsive ideas, some practical and wearable and provenly commercial to the more whimsical or theoretical. Designers range from Issey Miyake with the well-known Pleats Please range, to student’s prototypical ideas, and they come from all over the world. And finally the method of presentation goes from the actual garment hanging in the gallery to videos and photographs of absent garments.

Mode in Flux – an intriguing premise

I like the idea and I like the space, and where the garment is adaptable and of course you can only present it in one guise, for example the Mason Jung which hangs in the gallery in the form of a sleeping bag but can also be a suit or take other forms, it makes sense to show photographs to demonstrate these other forms.

Mode in Flux – lacking flux

But for me it seems a mistake to include video (shown on a TV screen or iPad) footage of something that isn’t there – I want to go to galleries to escape from my computer, I can look these things up myself on the interwebs if I like. I mean, if the National Gallery advertised an exhibition of “Dutch Flowers” and then just had some photographs of well known masterpieces in lieu of paintings, people would be frowning. And somehow, instead of adding movement the videos pointed up how these clothes, designed to be “in Flux”, as the Mode in Flux title says, were not stirring, were in fact very static.

Naturally it isn’t a good idea to let visitors handle and change the configuration of clothing to suit themselves as they are really designed to, but I was sorry that one design which was shown only on video could have been a fascinating star of the show if it were there in person as it were.

Mode in Flux – Ying Gao

This was Ying Gao’s creation, a dress which is made to be sensitive to the tracking of a viewer’s eye. This would have been the ideal exhibit, as it is interactive yet hands-off, and beautiful though the video which showed it was, I didn’t get a real idea of it in action. The garment is covered in a kind of scales which raise and lower, presumably in response to the eye movements of someone looking at it. I like to think of it as raising its hackles in response to the uninvited gaze. In fact, rather than as response to external stimuli, I would like a garment that responds to my own feelings, making myself taller, bigger or look tougher when I just want to get myself more breathing space or non-verbally tell any stranger to stay away. Perhaps that’s just my thoughts on living in overcrowded London.

Mode in Flux – beauty or usefulness?

It does, however, raise the question of what is the reason, what is the point of these innovations? Pure beauty? Entertainment? Practicality? Two of the garments on display change colour – one, a delicate leather and crystal headpiece by T H E U N S E E N which is clearly inspired by an insect’s carapace, changes colour in response to the wearer’s brainwaves. I will put that in the category of “beauty”. Another, an ice jacket and trousers by Massimo Osti for Stone Island, changes from yellow to dirty green in extreme cold. But I can’t help wondering why. Novelty for skiers, perhaps? A bit like the heat sensitive t shirts which had a brief vogue in the Nineties, until wearers realised that pointing out your sweaty armpits by highlighting them in purple on a yellow t shirt might be the latest technology, but was hardly flattering.

Mode in Flux – fashionable

The coat which turns into a tent, designed by Royal College of Art graduates and inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, can be put under the heading “useful” (is it splitting hairs to ask if it is a useful tent if you have to take your clothes off to make it? Perhaps if you’re fleeing in warm yet rainy climates, it is). And under the heading of “pretty cool” is the jacket designed by Michiko Koshino, which is really not supposed to be particularly useful, though it is waterproof, but can be inflated or delated according to how the wearer fancies wearing it that day.

Famous pieces

Similarly adaptable is Issey Miyake’s Madame-T design, a simple length of blue pleated polyester fabric, with a hole for the head. But as the accompanying booklet explains, this fabric can easily be adjusted to  be a shawl, kimono style dress, t shirt or top.

It is a chance for the wearer to express their own personality through clothing. It is also accommodating to a wide variety of shapes and sizes of a person, and is not merely flattering to the young and slim. This is one of the reasons why the range has been such a run away success for so long, never looking dated.

Thought provoking

Over all, Mode in Flux is a show worth visiting to stimulate ideas, and if you happen to live or be visiting the Imperial Wharf area and have wondered about the intriguing building which is the Roca London Gallery do pop in. The exhibition is free and on until 26th August.

Mode in Flux is At Roca London Gallery until 26th August 2016.