In her Tuesday column about all things stylish and British, Sarah Mower uncovers the art-gallery-meets-catwalk phenomenon that's cropping up at London Fashion Week—and for those headed there this weekend, previews the shows you’ll want to take in outside the runways.
Coming to London this week—or anytime soon? As the fashion hordes who touch down at Heathrow for London Fashion Week are about to discover, a new phenomenon is at work in town: a cozy relationship has taken root between young fashion and the art establishment. As of Friday, those on the fashion trail will visit Tate Modern, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and Somerset House as a matter of course, all temples of high culture that are throwing their doors wide open to designers and their followers. It’s a far cry from the past, when museums pretty much looked with disdain at anything as lowly and commercial as fashion, and most young people only visited London galleries when dragged there by art teachers.
The big coup—symbolic of the shift—is Topshop’s colonization of the Tanks at Tate Modern, a cavernous underground complex that has recently been opened for performance art. (Kraftwerk played there to sold-out houses the other week.) After showing its Unique collection, Topshop will lend its runway space to J. W. Anderson, Peter Pilotto, Louise Gray, Simone Rocha, and a clutch of others. Jonathan Anderson was awed when he first saw it: “It’s vast—a huge cylindrical industrial space, almost on the scale of where Prada shows.” Chris Dercon, director of the Tate Modern, believes that having so many young people around the Tate can only help ramp up visitor numbers to the Lichtenstein retrospective, which opens on February 21.
Meanwhile, the ICA galleries on the Mall are hosting the “Sister by Sibling” show, thus giving everyone attending a nice opportunity to take in Juergen Teller’s exhibition, “Woo!,” at the same time.
From there, it is only a short stroll across Trafalgar Square, en route to Somerset House, perhaps, to dip into the National Portrait Gallery to admire Man Ray’s beautiful solarized photograph of Lee Miller in a show of his portraiture.
The evolution of this casual attitude to cultural symbiosis has a lot to do with what’s been happening at Somerset House, which has become a palace of cultural entertainment with free and easy open access to all. The cobbled courtyard, which becomes a skating rink in the winter, houses the London Fashion Week tents, while the surrounding Georgian quadrangle is inhabited from basement to state rooms to attics with creative companies, artists’ studios, cafes, and galleries. Downstairs, at river level, are the Embankment Galleries, where an exhibition of Valentino’s couture is currently a magnet for fashion pilgrims. Somehow, all that has seeded a London feeling and expectation that taking in the odd cultural “snack” is as natural as popping into Pret a Manger for a sandwich. The only difference being that the sandwich, at around £3.oo is often more expensive than access to the art. Many of London’s exhibitions come free of charge.