JOYCE visited the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the London Victoria and Albert Museum with the co-curator Victoria Broackes talking us through the highlights. We then reminisced about our favourite Bowie moments with some of our fashion allies after the visit.
David Bowie is such a protean character that the V&A museum decided to create an exhibition, not on just one of his specific albums or periods, but dedicated to his entire legendary career, which has had a massive influence in modern history for over 5 decades. “Bowie has been a pioneer in so many things. He’s a cultural icon, not just in fashion and music, it goes much deeper than that. There’s rarely a day that goes by without reading a newspapers’ headline referring to his lyrics or something. All computer game avatars look like David Bowie. He’s crept up everywhere in our lives!” Victoria Broackes, co-curator of the “David Bowie is…” exhibition says with much enthusiasm.
“The exhibition is called ‘David Bowie is…’ because it puts Bowie firmly into the present tense. It’s a statement; it’s also an unfinished sentence and underpins the approach of the exhibition. Everybody has his own Bowie story.” co-curator Victoria Broackes
The exhibition is curated in an “anachronic” order. Exhibits were extracted from Bowie’s personal archive which consists of over 75,000 objects, to create a time machine that travels through his extraordinary creative journey. It takes us on a trip down the memory lane of art, culture and music which has surrounded (and molded) us since the 1960s. From Bowie’s hand written lyrics to his flamboyant costumes; from his paintings during a short break in Berlin to classic books that influenced his work such as George Orwell’s 1984; from film clips to live concerts which are projected onto 2-storey high walls, so that visitors could relive some of his monumental live moments. The diversity in medium, scale and period of these exhibits is astonishing. It also proves how multi-talented Bowie is and how his work is still relevant today.
Broackes continues, “The exhibition is called ‘David Bowie is…’ because it puts Bowie firmly into the present tense. It’s a statement; it’s also an unfinished sentence and underpins the approach of the exhibition. Everybody has his own Bowie story.”
The first thing that the word Bowie brings to our minds is his chameleon-like styles, which have been influencing the catwalk over many different eras. Broackes agrees. “We have seen a complete resurgence of “Bowiness” in fashion, particularly in the last 2 years. Last year was more ‘Diamond Dogs’. I think that mustard suit along side the Terry O’Neill photo is super cool! The other one that I like was Nick Knight’s photograph of Kate Moss in the blue suit for Vogue, which Bowie wore in the ‘Life on Mars’ video. Apparently, even Kate Moss had to have that suit let out!”
The other famous early persona of Bowie’s was of course “Aladdin Sane” and it was closely associated with the avant-garde Japanese designer, Kansai Yamamoto. Think baggy stripy body suit or the rainbow sequinned asymmetric skin-tight cat suit, all outrageously androgynous, controversial and theatrical in the early 1970s. Broackes explains, “Kansai Yamamoto was the first Japanese designer to show in London on King's Road. It was extraordinary that for Bowie in 1971, aged 24, had already picked up on such a happening fashion show - it shows that he really has got a knack for the artistic and interesting thing.”
After a decade long hiatus and with the release of the long-awaited new album “The Next Day” which coincided with the exhibition, the return of Bowie has generated much buzz. Judging from the album cover (an appropriation of the infamous ‘Heroes’ album), the music and the videos (featuring fashion and film icons such as Tilda Swinton and Gary Oldman), Bowie is still undoubtedly at the forefront of what is considered cool.
The “David Bowie is…” exhibition is running at the Victoria & Albert museum in London till 11 August, 2013.
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Everybody has a Bowie story to tell
Raf Simons, Creative Director of Christian Dior and Raf Simons.
“David Bowie has been influencing me in all sorts of ways. My own second collection was dedicated to him entirely. His music has constantly featured in my shows’ soundtrack. But ‘Heroes’ is definitely one of my favourites.”
Professor Louise Wilson, OBE, the course director of the MA degree Fashion Design program at Central Saint Martins College in London.
“I’m the biggest fan of David Bowie, it’s impossible to choose my favourite song but ‘Changes’ is definitely one of them. I can mostly associate with his different coloured-eyes because I myself lost one eye in fighting cancer, so my eyes are not quite the same either.”
Benjamin Kirchhoff, one half of the design duo behind Meadham Kirchhoff.
“The album ‘Low’ is definitely my favourite Bowie’s period. I like his sharp, sleek suits and the Berlin influence a lot.”
Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
Curator portrait and filming by Danny Sangra
Film editing by Benny Leung
All exhibition images courtesy of the V&A