A Wrangler customised jacket. Courtesy The Hub - National Centre for Craft and Design
Exhibition preview: Denim - The Fabric Of Our Lives at The Hub, Sleaford until September 1 2008.
Textile exhibitions in museums and galleries often involve examining exquisite and unique fabric or ancient costume or couture garments.
However the current exhibition at The Hub takes a look at a range of garments and a ubiquitous fabric that has shaped popular culture and is something that nearly everyone buys into: denim.
Subtitled The Fabric of Our Lives, the exhibition takes us on a journey from the prairies to Prada via popular movements and politics.
Items on show include work wear made from this cheap, protective and versatile fabric. The oldest items in the exhibition include an 1885 countryman’s smock and an 1890 wagoner’s jacket. While the work wear theme is covered further with the expected dungarees and overalls, there is also an example of a 1930s nurse's dress – made of course from denim!
Conflicts of the 20th century brought a new use for this economic, durable and washable fabric. Naval and military uniforms, as well as women’s Land Army breeches, are on show.
While denim made some transition into casual wear before the 60s, it was only in this decade, and perhaps more so in the 70s, that other garments such as dresses and skirts were made from this versatile fabric.
As the high street embraced denim, it took a little while for the final metamorphosis in denim’s story – the move from fairly cheap and useful clothing to its use in couture items selling for thousands. Examples of such garments include pieces of exquisite intricacy as well as conceptual items. Designers represented include Yoshi Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and Christian Lacroix.
Lesley Mobo denim design. Courtesy The Hub - National Centre for Craft and Design
Alongside the garments the curators have chosen films, television recordings and advertising to put the history of denim into a social context.
This is particularly the case when the focus shifts to how the rebels of the 50s, with or without causes, embraced the fabric in homage to the denim-clad cowboys of the movies. Footage of James Dean, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley demonstrates how denim plus subversive attitudes equals the image of the Wild One or the Rebel.
Meanwhile, tribes as diverse as Rockers and Beatniks have worn denim out of non-conformity. However, the exhibition shows how denim clothing was as recognisable as the three-piece suit when it came to signalling the attitudes of the wearer.
Denim – The Fabric of Our Lives does not take its title lightly. While the items on display illustrate how pervasive denim has become, the relationship between it and the people who wear it is at the heart of the exhibition. Visitors are therefore asked to provide further evidence of this iconic fabric’s central place not only in our wardrobes but in our lives.
An interactive element collects dialogue from visitors. Their conversations reveal memories and stories proving that denim is not yet a museum piece but a part of everyday experience. Visitors are also contributing objects and photographs to add to the exhibition and are therefore helping with further research into the subject.
While denim has a long world-wide history and seems now an immoveable place in our lives, current global issues relating to cheap labour and pollution in fabric production cannot be ignored. Consequently, this exhibition includes an exploration of how denim is a fabric of other people's lives too and so brings the denim story into the twenty-first century.