Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance (3 stars)

Serious-minded show investigates how history can illuminate contemporary fashion

Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance

Alistair Clark

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is surely a treasure trove of ideas for cross-disciplinary projects linking art and fashion. This serious-minded show, devised by fashion designer Mal Burkinshaw and art historian Jill Burke, both from Edinburgh College of Art, brings together artists, designers, stylists and historians to investigate how ideas in contemporary fashion can be illuminated through the prism of history.

Burkinshaw’s collection of six lace jackets use the semi-transparent quality of the lace to transpose the sculpted silhouettes from historic portraits onto a contemporary, androgynous template. Knitwear designer Claire Ferguson’s striking full-length dress uses a similar technique to compare silhouettes, while Edinburgh milliner Sally-Ann Provan draws on the symbolism used in the details of portraits to create a Perspex headdress inlaid with pearls and crystals. A collaborative series of staged photographs is a contemporary critique of the social mores laid down in Paris Bordon’s painting, ‘Venetian Women at their Toilette’.

Clothes have long been signifiers of wealth and societal rank, and fashion has long driven ideas about beauty and femininity. Seeing Renaissance and Jacobean paintings next to these contemporary investigations-through-making is a powerful reminder that while the ideals themselves may have changed, the nature of the tyranny has not.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 3 May 2015

Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance

Work by contemporary fashion designers inspired by Old Master paintings, using materials such as lace that are associated with earlier periods, together with an exploration of Renaissance ideas of beauty and cosmetics.


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