Sílvia Ventosa is textile and fashion curator at Design Museum of Barcelona and one of the curators of the current exhibition “Dressing the body. Silhouettes and fashion (1550-2015)”. On occasion of #MuseumWeek 2019, a worldwide cultural event on social networks that has taken the role of women in culture as the high point of its sixth edition, we talk with her about fashion, feminism and social progress.
Female designers such as Carlotaoms, Miriam Ponsa and Krizia are part of “Dressing the body”. Was visibilizing female talent key in the curation process?
Until then, we used to select pieces according to conceptual guide notes, those that worked well for us to explain what we had to. Now we have to draw attention to gender, how it is treated and represented in dresses and fashion; boost women’s talent and make female designers more powerful. If the focus was on the body some years ago, now there are other issues to reclaim and represent in a fashion exhibition.
How can we interpret the exhibition from a feminist point of view?
Since the 19th century, fashion happens to be an issue made for submissive women, wearing a corsé they need to free from. During the interwar period women fought to liberate themselves through the image. Sometimes they look like a young boy à la garçon, or like a man as well, with smoking, bow tie and high-waisted trousers. This mirrored the fight for empowerment, and the feminist movement brought it back again in the late sixties. Now it is not just in women’s hands, but in society’s.
A dress alters the shape and appearance of the body. How can fashion help us to break free from those mental corsés, some self-imposed and some bequeathed by society?
Independent designers such as 113 Maison are going for an agender fashion. Even in runways of big brands, there are sometimes we cannot say if a model is male or female. Stigmatizing is not interesting anymore. As a society in crisis, we are constructing new identities and deconstructing the binary code. The challenge is to know if it is a trend or has come to remain.
Fashion is a reflection of a society rapidly evolving. How can fashion contribute to reproduce a social, political and cultural change such as feminism?
Feminism, that has been intellectual for so long, now understands that fashion is not frivolous, is not all about fabrics and dresses, but builds identity through indicators such as beards, clearly masculine. Some years ago, Andrea Ayala released a collection with girls wearing beard. This is proof that there is not so much classification. We are applying less prejudices and deconstructing canons of beauty.
Younger generations will play a key role in the configuration of moral, social and aesthetic codes in the future. Why is preserving the past necessary?
Past is useful for breaking away from prejudices and archetypes. In the 18th century, men were even more decorated than women, and until the French Revolution it was absolutely normal to wear wig, cosmetics, embroideries and have your nails done. Despite the binary system, and so men had to wear trousers and women, skirt, in the 16th century the garments are similar. This would come to an end in the 19th century, more known as the great masculine retreat. Middle-class women are attributed the worry about fashion, whereas men had to focus on working and his outfits became more austere. This would happen until 1970s, when men and women went back to long tunics and long hair, and as a result of it, confusion between gender, social rupture and innovation arose again.
What makes being a fashion curator interesting?
Research allows you to study society and observe the role of fashion, appearance and identity, so that a 16th-century shoes, whose gender is unknown, will make you reconsider: “Why is the binary system now so separate?”. Our task as a Museum is to educate and be very didactic showing a series of evidences, which are dresses. By doing that, any person from 0 to 99 years could feel uncomfortable after visiting “Dressing the body” and make themselves questions: “What happens with me, am I different than the rest, do I want to go against the canon?”.