Explore the history of Austrian fashion through 250 objects in Vienna
Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts presents a major exhibition exploring the Austrian fashion scene
It makes sense that ‘SHOW OFF: Austrian Fashion Design’ is huge in scale. It is, after all, the first ever major exhibition of Austrian fashion. Hence, enormous, visually ambitious, displays show the work of 66 designers, 34 photographers, and 250 fashion objects. It’s not just a numbers game, though. Curators Ulrike Tschabitzer-Handler and Andreas Bergbaur balance size and audio and visual spectacle with historical sensitivity as they carefully guide the viewer through five themed spaces about the social and cultural factors shaping Austrian fashion since the 1970s, from fashion education, distribution, and publications to the garments themselves.
Upon entering, the viewer is confronted by talking heads, a video installation showing projections of interviews with agents, stylists, journalists, and managers about Vienna’s fashion scene. This, logically, leads to a look at the fashion department at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (‘die Angewandte’). Since the 1980s, guest professors like Karl Lagerfeld, Jil Sander, Raf Simon, and Vivien Westwood have informed the work of young Austrian designers. This information is blasted at you from either side as you walk a runway framed by two huge LCD screens by projection artists Lumine showing output from the school over the years.
SHOW OFF’s centrepiece is a huge scaffolding-like sculpture designed by architect Gregor Eichinger containing 40 years of clothing, shoes, bags, and jewellery from designers including Helmut Lang, Rudi Gernreich, Andreas Kronthaler, and newcomers like Kenneth Ize. It allows a 360-degree-view, accessible by stairs from several levels. Most importantly, since the Austrian state does not have a permanent fashion collection, the viewer has the unique chance to get close to garments without them being stuck behind glass like traditional museum pieces.
The exhibition ends with two neon-lit glass cases containing examples of fashion publications about or from Austria, including issues of Wallpaper* and i-D from the late 1990s and locally important magazines like Wiener, Take, and INDIE. This not only places Austrian fashion design in the wider context of style shifts in graphic design, photography, and typography, but shows that, though the Alpine republic isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to contemporary fashion, it is more than a museum for classic styles from the past. §