V&A takes on the car as a design object in new exhibition

Robert Bosh electronic control unit and wiper blade, 1926 (c) Bosch

The motor car has shaped our modern world and is about to define its future. In its 130 years, this object of desire and destruction has been critical in enforming our lives – from the design of our cities and our relation to the countryside, to how we work, live and communicate with one another. In its golden age, the motor car conjured up such strong visceral feelings, yet it remains a disturbing symbol of our current climate emergency.

This is the premise behind the V&A’s latest exhibition ‘Cars: accelerating the modern world‘. Together with the accompanying book, the show is a fascinating overview of the motor car’s complex past, and acts as a useful tool for navigating the second stage of the automobile. What’s apparent is that, just like the beginnings of the motor car revolution, the future clean, autonomous, shared drive will need greater cooperation and coordination with urban and country planning. It needs to be a global effort, and performed well and without profit at its very core, it can be an exciting future. Read my full story here.

Exhibition: Glamour of Italian Fashion

Italy seduces the senses through its art and architecture, design, fashion, food and language. Everything is so voluptuous, so desirable and so utterly Italian. The style is understated yet glamorous, summed up by the wonderful Italian word, Sprezzatura, which roughly translates to a question of attitude, a mood, a certain nonchalance and ‘a sense of easy elegance in action’, notes Sonnet Standfill, curator of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014.

The exhibition that’s just opened at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is the story of Italian fashion, tracing its history from war-torn Italy through the glamorous 50s and 60s, and the fashion powerhouse that it has evolved into today.

It isn’t easy curating a fashion exhibition as such. The costumes inevitably lose much of their vibrancy once pinned to a static mannequin. Fabric needs movement, it needs flesh and a body, and perhaps a bit of Sprezzatura. Here the curators have breathed life into the costumes by giving clothes a place, a history, a narrative – at times serious – and by juxtaposing the static exhibits with moving images from films and catwalks.

Writing this from Milan, where the annual design week is in full swing, it is easy to forget the austere Italy of post war years when it wasn’t so much fashion but their expertise in textile design, in leather craftsmanship that steered them on. The V&A exhibition, packed on its opening day, reveals this pride in craftsmanship, in material knowhow – yet walking through the streets of Milan today it is obvious that fashion is so instinctive a part of Italian culture.

The story begins with the landmark Sala Bianca catwalks that were organised by Giovanni Battista Giorgini and held in Florence from the early 50s, introducing Italian fashion to the world stage at the time dominated by Paris.

The exhibition examines the impact of Hollywood and films like Roman Holiday shot on location in Italy in propelling this popularity. Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor became style ambassadors for Italian fashion, fuelling a keen international appetite for luxurious clothing made in Italy. Italian stars such as Sophia Lorena, Claudia Cardinale and Gina Lollobrigida became style  symbols.

On display at the V&A are around 100 ensembles and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gianfranco Ferré, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Pucci and Versace, through to the next generation of talent including couture by Giambattista Valli, bold ready-to-wear from Fausto Puglisi and work from Valentino’s new designers duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.

A poignant concluding video examines the role of Italy in future fashion with some honest contributions by some of these contemporary designers.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion really does capture the dynamism of Italian fashion. It draws out the defining factors unique to the Italian fashion industry – the use of luxurious materials, expert textile production, specialist, regional manufacturing, and its strength as a source of both dynamic menswear and glamorous womenswear.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 is at the V&A Museum from now until 27 July 20144 and is sponsored by Bulgari.

Nargess Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | www.d-talks.com | Bookshopwww.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Festival des Métiers: Hermès at Saatchi

Context matters – even in the world of luxury scarves, bags and belts – and there is arguably nothing quite as powerful as a brand with a strong narrative. You cannot invent this – well you can, but the impact isn’t quite as evocative as having inherited an intriguing story. Hermès clearly knows this. Founded in Paris in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a house of master harness-making and later saddle-making, the company remains family-owned, has continued this blend of precision manufacturing with traditional craftsmanship, even as it gets swallowed up in the increasingly homogenised global market.

To prove this, last month the French atelier exhibited Festival des Métiers: a rendezvous with Hermès craftspeople (21-27 May 2013) at London’s Saatchi Gallery. This engaging public show explores the world of Hermès luxury goods by going behind the scene, literally, as the artisans reveal the mastery of their craft.

These are visceral experiences. We see how the famous Hermès silk scarf is hand-printed, listen to the rhythmic sounds of the artisans’ tools as the Birkin handbags and other objects of desire are brought to life. And all this in a fun and floral space created by designer Paola Navone.

The show appeared to be a huge success. On the sunny Saturday we visited, the halls of Festival des Métiers were packed with visitors from all walks of life (a very young group it seemed) as the somewhat ‘darker’ contemporary Russian art exhibition throughout the rest of the gallery resembled a ghost town.

This is a travelling exhibition finding its way to Europe via Beijing and Shenyang, and heading to Düsseldorf following the London showing. What it proves is that story, history, context, individuality… matter more and more – and are a great selling tool. In the words of advertising guru, John Hegarty, ‘a brand is the most valuable piece of real estate on the world, a corner of someone’s mind.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | www.d-talks.com | Bookshopwww.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©