Politics, fashion and the DX

Under the leadership of president Shauna Levy over the past two years, the Design Exchange (DX) has hosted travelling exhibitions from prestigious cultural institutions across the globe, including Stefan Sagmeister’s “The Happy Show” and Design Museum London’s Christian Louboutin retrospective, alongside its own “This Is Not A Toy,” guest curated by Pharrell Williams. This fall’s main attraction, which opened recently and runs into January, is “The Politics of Fashion/The Fashion of Politics,” curated by international fashion force and personality Jeanne Beker. 

Fashion inspires political debate, helps elect politicians and plays an important role in image on the international stage. For decades, fearless and passionate designers have used this forum as a tool to express their own ethics and ideologies, as well as to created a wardrobe for like-minded people to do the same. Says Beker, “Whether or not fashion has the pier to change the world may be questionable. But it certainly has the power to change the way we see the world, and ultimately ourselves.”

“The Politics of Fashion/The Fashion of Politics” will evaluate the social and political issues faces at the beginning of modern dress alongside those we’re facing now. Informed by Beker’s 25 years as host of FashionTelevision, the exhibit spans six decades and explores five themes: Ethics/Activism; War/Peace; Consumption/Consumerism; Campaign/Power Dressing; and Gender/Sexuality. Over 20 pieces from 1960 onward will be on display, including apparel from the collections and archives of participating designers (among them, Mary Quant, Rudi Gernreich, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gauthier and Stella McCartney); TV footage and photography; and large-scale, site-specific installations. Intriguing items include 1960s paper dresses made from disposable cellulose fabric; Vivienne Westwood’s 1977 “God Save the Queen” T-shirt, prized by London’s punk subculture; a Narciso Rodriguez dress worn by Michelle Obama in 2008 on the night Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States; and androgynous designs from Montreal designer Rad Hournai’s Unisex Haute Couture collection.

 Taking its cue from the fall exhibition is the DX’s annual fundraiser, “DX Intersection: Rise Up” (Nov. 7).  This year’s awardee is Frank Toskan, co-founder of MAC Cosmetics; while serving at the helm of the company, Toskan has propelled the brand as a powerful communication tool for social change, inspired by design and creativity as communication vehicles. Always one of the year’s most madcap and memorable design events, “Rise Up” promises interactive installations and experiences, with creativity exploding at every corner and on all three floors of the museum.

“The Politics of Fashion/The Fashion of Politics” runs at the DX through Jan. 25, 2015. “DX Intersection: Rise Up ” takes place on Nov. 7.