Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Norwegian Fashion Designs

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Norwegian Fashion Designers
The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Oslo
26/10/2008 – 31/12/2010

Curated by Anne Kjellberg (co-author of Style & Splendor: The Wardrobe of Queen Maud of Norway 1896-1938) this exhibition features recent work by sixteen Norwegian fashion designers. The majority are based in Oslo, with a few exceptions now living in London and Paris. Imagining Norwegian fashion, it is easy to conjure up images of wholesome white wool capes or a muted version of the bold prints by the Finnish textile company Marimekko. Neither would be fair.

The interesting lesson this exhibition teaches is that contemporary Norwegian fashion comes with absolutely no national house style. The single detail that unites this eclectic group of designers is the priority that has been placed on fabric. With few exceptions, the garments on display look to be the work of textile designers practicing fashion, as opposed to fashion designers cherry picking cloth that takes their fancy each season. Here fabric often dictates form and, more often than not, it is the whole point. This priority at times feels Japanese – a confusing geographic slippage, but arguably another culture in which raw cloth enjoys a bit more attention than British mainstream fashion tends to allow. The hand moulded surface of Merete Taule’s elegant strapless blue knit dress is a good example of this aesthetic cross over.

Textile artist Franz Schmidt’s Grey Matter installation created in 2002 includes bolts of exquisite wool and linen cloth, designed by Schmidt and later developed into a series of garments by invited fashion designers. The soft pink cloth is sprinkled with “moth holes”, gentle tears and gaps in the weave that create a subtly distressed surface. The updated traditional silhouette of knee length men’s trousers and vest by Peter Løchstøer are both eye catching and curious in this fabric. Equally cerebral in their design approach is Hege Mari Sørum’s Aging 22, a felted sleeveless dress with bandage-like neck and long skirt of accordion pleats that plays out the idea of clothing as second skin. At the other end of the spectrum, Kristian Aednevik s/s 2005 dress of white silk and feathers suggests a Bjork-like Oscar red carpet moment, while Kjell Torheum’s quilted red silk taffeta cylinder with flared bottom could pass as part of the built environment, rather than a party dress.

But it is Julie Skarland’s Belle de Jour from 2005 that steals the show with a decidedly eclectic vision of the modern woman. The black and white check cloth dress includes a traditional panel of embroidery in blue and white. The ‘apron’ below is beaded with a Liz Lou-like scene of domestic work, all topped off with two shoulder straps lined with large faux pearls. The combinations suggest a culture clash of taste that gives a nod to traditional Norwegian embroidery, but otherwise unsettles any single stylistic loyalty. It is a theme, to varying degrees, present throughout this unexpected exhibition.

Embroidery Magazine (May/June 2009: 52)