If there were white mice and pumpkins waiting at the Holon Design Museum last week I certainly didn’t see them. Not that I’m complaining. I wasn’t there for the badged fairytale experience, for me it was always going to be all about the fashion.
I am a big fan of the Museum’s design, a real feather in the multi-feathered cap of architect Ron Arad but its internal arrangement of efficient box-like spaces lends itself better to a variety of smaller unconnected exhibits rather than to one single apparently cohesive display. And for me, the postcard sized guide, with its 3 dimensional laterally dissected plan of the spaces just added to my confusion.
But I digress.
To the fashion.
The exhibition begins (providing you enter in the right place) in the Lower Gallery with a timeline of ball gowns and evening wear from the early 18th to the late 20th Century. Throughout history, balls have served to provide social opportunities for ostentatious displays of opulence, power and political influence, almost entirely through the fashions flaunted there. The more fantastic the dress, the greater the attention on the dance floor and the greater the wearer’s sway. And through the ages the shifting means of plentitude have found themselves reflected in these fashions.
The Upper Gallery invites us to take a look at Israel’s wedding and evening wear industry through dresses and gowns made by leading designers in the country. Israel is home to hundreds of bridal and evening wear designers; one quarter of the designers participating in New York’s Bridal Fashion Week are Israeli and their love of this modern-day incarnation of the historic ball gown is palpable. Israel’s impressive reach within this field reflects a deep and powerful need for the celebratory. It is not by accident that there exists here a profound desire to seize the moment, to party as if there were no tomorrow, to invest in one-time celebrations because tomorrow – and back through the many ages of tomorrows – we may die.
In the same way as the International Runway shows appear at first viewing to bear little or no relation to what you and I will end up buying in the high street, so the exhibits here are unlikely to see the inside of the average Ikea closet. But that is of course the point. What we are encouraged to understand as we take in these exhibits is not simply the ‘how’ of changing fashion, improved technology, better equipment, but the ‘why’. Fashion evolves as a reaction to the world around us. It is a barometer of the times we are living in and a testament to those we have lived through. The creative dialogue between festive and everyday elements, and between the fantastic and the real, speaks to the very heart of the role of fashion in everyday life. It is escapism, exaggeration, dreams of riches and happiness, the ability to be transformed into the very best version of yourself. The designs on display here are time sensitive, they reflect the absolute essence of the here and now. Like the catwalks of the major fashion shows many of the designs here intentionally disregard functional and commercial considerations positioning themselves on the line (a very thin line I believe, indeed hardly a line at all) between fashion and art.
In the aftermath of war, crises, and dark periods, sumptuous celebrations became and remain an existential need, designed to draw a line in the sands of time, to help us forget what has transpired and to celebrate what remains - the promise of brighter times ahead. Anyone who thinks fashion frivolous and meaningless is missing an important lesson in social history. The Ball is an exhibition that helps to bring that message home. It reminds us that fashion has the power to transport us into a magical world in which anything is possible, if only for one night.