Romance Was Born and Rebecca Baumann: Reflected Glory

Art meets fashion in a surprising, quite exceptional exhibition.

Rather than a traditional runway presentation for this year’s Australian Fashion Week, design mavericks Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales of Romance Was Born opted for an altogether more experiential event: an installation-based exhibition created in collaboration with contemporary artist Rebecca Baumann. In many ways, this approach is far more suited to Romance Was Born than the established modes of fashion given that their design intentions have always been artistic, their offering always straddling the line between commercial and creative. The designers have collaborated with artists almost seasonally, but often these partnerships have been less about creative exchange than the reproduction of an artist’s print on fabric. To date, the label’s most successful liaison to date was at last year’s fashion week with Pip & Pop, in which the artists not only contributed prints for the clothing but also created a sprawling- site-specific installation around which the show was staged.

Reflected Glory is the title given to this special exhibition, presented by Carriageworks (an institution emerging as one of the most innovative in Australia with its significant programming under director Lisa Havilah), and at it’s heart it’s about fun, with spinning lights, shiny, sparkling outfits and a giant mirror ball – populist fodder for the Instagram era. And to be frank, there’s nothing wrong with that; the practices of both Baumann and Romance Was Born are inherently democratic in that the viewer can choose to read into the messages and stories behind the work or simply enjoy them for their colour, as in the former’s colourful smoke bombs or the latter’s bold, bright prints. But there is a backstory to every piece in this exhibition with the artists’ work representing customs, rituals and social occasions in life, like a house party, Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve and a sweet 16th birthday party, the garments immortalising secrets and stories.

Plunkett and Sales have recently been commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria to create a children’s gallery, and it’s pleasing to see that they’re experimenting beyond the runway. The pair’s work has artistic merit, but their label had about reached its limits in its current format. To adopt an artist’s print for yet another season would be certainly feel tired, and likewise, it suggests that the designers aren’t collaborators or artists in their own right, but simply provide a vessel for it. It’s important to remember that designers, too, can be artists without the need for collaboration. As Daphne Guinness wrote: “To my mind, the best of our designers are indisputably artists; it just so happens that they have chosen fabric as their medium instead of paint or clay”, bringing to mind the likes of Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Walter Van Beirendonck.
Rebecca Baumann, Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales will be in conversation at Carriageworks Saturday 12 April 2014, 3pm. The exhibition is on display until 11 May.