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Unpicking Couture

Start Date 21 July 2023
End Date 12 January 2025
Venue Manchester Art Gallery
Location Manchester, U.K.
Curator Rosie Gnatiuk and Miles Lambert
Consultant Dr. Jeff Horsley
In collaboration with London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London
A golden-yellow sleeveless dress is displayed in a case, next to a smiley face design and black text on yellow. The text reads: 'A dress is far more than just a dress. A dress is a story. Every garment is a story.'
A mannequin wearing a white and blue graphic dress stands on display in front of a printed screen, hung by a rail. The print shows large hand-written text.
A mannequin wears a black gress with a red bow, collar and striped arms, standing in front of a screen as though on a photoshoot. It is surrounded by easels holding paintings and text.

Unpicking Couture premieres spectacular high-end fashion which has recently entered Manchester Art Gallery’s collection. Created by influential designers and fashion houses, each outfit represents a seminal moment in fashion and includes works by Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Azzedine Alaïa, Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Bruce Oldfield and Alexander McQueen.

This exhibition celebrates pioneering creativity and design. One section links fashion to emotions in the form of dopamine dressing which encourages dressing for joy. Another focuses on repair and restoration, inviting us to consider the lifecycle of a garment and the way it is valued and cared for. Revealing the recent restoration of a 1930s silk velvet jacket by Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, Unpicking Couture promotes sustainable approaches to repairing and preserving much loved and well-worn clothes.

There will be a focus on Vivienne Westwood’s couture artistry whose 1981-2 blue on white toga dress from the Nostalgia of Mud collection is an echo of Matisse’s Blue Nudes 1952. Her personal reflections on her creativity and process are revealed in a letter and contemporary film clips.

Another highlight is a dress worn by textile designer Celia Birtwell which featured prominently in the double portrait with Ossie Clark by David Hockney Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy 1970-71.

The garments were acquired through a National Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures grant from 2015-20 and will be on display for the first time. Unpicking Couture exposes the work that underpins the care of dress collections through a meditative timelapse film capturing the process of dress mounting and how the craft and skill involved mirrors the work of dressmakers and couturiers.

Innovative display techniques have been developed in conjunction with Dr. Jeff Horsley from the Centre for Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion including dynamic visual and spatial strategies and a focus on the making of the exhibition. These lively modes of presentation provide encounters for fashion as stimulation and immersion, enabling slow looking and inspiring conversation. Part display and part studio space, Unpicking Couture activates ideas around the value and care of collections, sustainability, expression of self, making and creativity.