The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined

The Vile might have been a more apposite title for this entertaining and by and large informative survey of the kitsch and downright tasteless at the Barbican Art Gallery which ends on Sunday. Vast confections celebrating spectacular excess over the past couple of centuries are guaranteed to turn a woolly liberal like me into a violent anti-capitalist. But there’s also more than a hint of idiocy in so many of the designs on display, especially among some of the more extravagant creations of Messrs Galliano and Lacroix. Occasionally, though, bad taste is neutralised by exquisite tailoring – check out most of the Vivienne Westwoods – and genuine artistry: the Yves St Laurent Mondrian designs are gorgeous. In fact, they could not be further from vulgar. In its pursuit of vulgarity, the exhibition includes some wonderful early editions of the Vulgate, which gives the whole affair a truly surreal touch. Still, if you ignore the semantics, this is a fab way of spending an hour either filled with the envy of upward mobility or consumed with rage against such ostentation and tacky wastefulness.

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