The Vulgar / Barbican

Visits, Visits and Talks

The Vulgar Poster

Just before Christmas I took a trip to the barbican for The Vulgar exhibition, exploring changing tastes in fashion. Fashion can be used to push the boundaries, shock and explore form, structure and colour through design. The exhibition showed pieces of fashion through the decades from renaissance dresses with extreme structured corsets and layers of patterned, luxurious materials accentuating the female form. To couture dresses that use tailoring to manipulate the body creating wearable art.


18th Century Court Mantua 1748-1750 (The Barbican)

The word Vulgar evokes a strong reaction often with negative or controversial connotations, but can also be used to describe something that pushes the boundaries of popular taste. Vulgar is described in the Oxford dictionary as:

  • Characterised by ignorance of or lack of good breeding or taste:
  • Indecent; obscene; lewd:
  • crude; coarse; unrefined
  • lacking in distinction, aesthetic value, or charm; banal; ordinary

‘Vulgarity exposes the scandal of good taste’
– Adam Phillips


One of my favourite pieces on show is walter van beirendonck’s elephant skirt from his 2010/2011 collection Take a Ride. The piece consists of a pair of patent thigh high black boots, a structured white skirt creating the shape of an elephant, over this there is a pleated skirt in warm green and gold tones and a green and red jacket. The final element is the red oversized hat created by long time collaborator Stephan Jones. This piece conjures up images of the decedent 18th Century with the use of rich warm colours and luxurious materials. I can’t help but think of exotic countries and riding elephants through rain forests. I love how the outfit tells a fanciful story through the clever use of tailoring, material and colour.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this exhibitions was the curation and layout of the designs and displays. spread out over two floors, the exhibit had lots of smaller rooms along a hall with a central display of decedent Georgian dresses and suits. Each room had a very different collection on show but with a consistent theme connecting each item within it. It felt as though the exhibition told the story of changing Vulgarity through history, colour and structure with the designs becoming wilder as you ventured further into the exhibition. The theme was also reenforced by being shown in the Barbican, the Brutalist architecture is often at the centre of the conversation of changing tastes on architecture and people seem to either love it or hate it!

Learn more about the Exhibition here!


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