How to connect fashion to the drawings of architects? Dressed by Architects forms the result of a delicate quest.
Archivist Alfred Marks knows the extensive collection of architectural drawings, photographs, models and objects of Het Nieuwe Instituut like no other. In curating each exhibition in the series Surprising Finds From the Collection, which started in 2014, he presents a selection from the rich collection based on a theme. For this particular instalment, the context of the Temporary Fashion Museum formed a clear starting point.
Last year you made your debut as a curator with the series Surprising finds. What does that mean for someone who normally spends his days, almost invisible, in the archives?
Alfred Marks: 'When asked about my job, I nowadays often answer that I am a curator and have had the pleasure of compiling five edition of Surprising finds now. That sounds better than archivist, although I am very aware that this is a false modesty, because it is truly fantastic to work in the unique archives of Het Nieuwe Instituut each and every day. And that is exactly what I want to show with these exhibitions: an archive like ours is one big bundle of wonderful stories, waiting for anyone willing to discover them. A lot of people consider an archive as something boring and dusty. And before you know it, this also applies to you as the archivist; an unworldly recluse, working in his musty habitat amidst piles of old paperwork.'
A grey existence in a dark basement?
'Yes, that is a very persistent image. Maybe my choice of clothing is a form of overcompensation, precisely because it contradicts the alleged image of the grey mouse. Earth tones and greys are not for me, and you will not quickly catch me in artistic black either. I show up at work in bright green, pink and blue, often with patterns and designs.'
How did you approach the theme of fashion in relation to the archives?
'When the plan was first announced to transform the institute into a temporary fashion museum, I immediately examined whether it was possible to connect this to a new edition of Surprising finds. The collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut is rich and varied, and certainly more than 'just' an architectural archive. In addition to buildings, many architects have designed interiors and furniture. They are graphic designers and sometimes commissioned to design theatre sets and costumes. Therefore, I assumed there would certainly be material related to the field of fashion.
But you were wrong?
Yes, after some research I came to the conclusion that fashion is a discipline architects are hesitant about. In any case, I was not able to find a lot of traces within the collection.
What architects did do, however - perhaps almost inadvertently - was capturing the fashion of their time, sometimes down to the finest detail. I found representations of fashion in various, often beautifully detailed presentational drawings of their designs. A shopping, strolling, exploring or posing public brings a vivid atmosphere to these sketches. I eventually selected over thirty drawings. The results are very diverse: from dressing gown to miniskirt, from evening dress to jeans. The catwalk of the architectural drawing shows people wearing their Sunday best, but also casual street fashion. And with the interventions of a number of young designers and artists, who respond to the archives in their contributions, the exhibition truly connects to contemporary fashion.