Have you ever wanted to go backstage at a fashion show? It's not an experience that is given to everybody, but at the Fashion Museum in Hasselt they are allowing you to dream. Backstage/Frontstage recreates the atmosphere of a fashion show with all the glitter, but also with all the stress, the high hopes and sometimes the shattered dreams.
Hasselt Fashion Museum's Anaïs Huyghe: "The fashion show or finale is the end product of an entire process. Scores of different people are involved and all have their different jobs: there's the fashion designer, the art director in charge of the show itself, the casting director who lines up the models, the models themselves of course, but also the carpenters who build the set, the guests who attend the show, the buyers, journalists and photo journalists."
The Fashion Museum has succeeded in recreating the atmosphere and indeed the entire experience from the casting and fitting, over the hair and make up to the rehearsal, the line-up ahead of the show and the show itself or the finale.
Anaïs Huyghe: "We've had full access to the archive of Belgian photo journalist Marleen Daniëls. Marleen's photos have been published in magazines and newspapers around the world, but much of her time she spent reporting on fashion. She worked for the daily De Standaard, Weekend Knack, Elle Holland and even Newsweek. Marleen used to join the mob of photographers frontstage snapping shots during the show itself, but got a little fed up. The result was always the same. Everybody was taking the same shots. Eventually she decided it would be far more interesting to head backstage. This is what she did obtaining unbridled access to the build-up of some of the most iconic shows."
Limburger Marleen Daniëls started her fashion photography career at the tail end of the Eighties. Belgian fashion designers like Dries Van Noten and the Antwerp Six were doing ground-breaking work and became all the vogue. Backstage/Frontstage makes good use of Daniëls' photography. Some 300 of her analogue and digital photos are on show and have been used to make an impressive backdrop to many of the dresses that featured in the fashion shows she reported on.
Daniëls worked with Belgian greats Dries Van Noten, Olivier Theyskens, A.F. Vandevorst, Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene and Veronique Branquinho, but also shot shows by international stars including Jean Paul Gauthier, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld. She shot some of the world's top models such as Hannelore Knuts, Naomi Campbell and Anouk Lepère too.
In her own words Marleen Daniëls brings to life the world of fashion reporting in the Eighties. It sounds like everything is possible. She would fly out to Milan to report on a show. "We shot countless thousands of francs' worth of film in those days" she tells us. Every day she had to get up at 5AM to get the rolls of film off to the airport. Everything of course changed with digital, when photography became cheaper and the number of photographs available increased exponentially.
Walk through the exhibition and it's as if you have gone backstage. Frontstage everything is perfect. Backstage it's a cruel world. The casting director decides which models are in and which are out. Together with the designer and the art director the decision is taken on which dresses and ensembles will be shown and which will fall by the wayside. It's all about telling the story of a collection and what kind of image do we wish to project. The Hasselt show includes a piece by Yohji Yamamoto that never made the final line-up.
Backstage/Frontstage has been able to draw on the Hasselt Museum's own collection and that of its partner in Groningen (The Netherlands), but also on a dazzling array of pieces from fashion houses. All the big Belgian designers are here: Dries Van Noten, Olivier Theyskens and A.F. Vandevorst, but also John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto and Viktor & Rolf, Vivienne Westwood too, who with her punk style had an important impact on the Belgians and the Japanese. For French designers, bound by conventions and rules, she was far too revolutionary. Rare works by Belgium's Dirk Van Saene too get a rare outing (below).
All this is displayed against the backdrop of the fashion show backstage. Genuine recordings have been made of the hustle and bustle that goes on behind the scenes, while at various points you can listen to Marleen Daniëls as she conjures up the magic of the backstage.
The finale of the exhibition is a recreation of Dries Van Noten's 50th fashion show. It was held in a factory on the outskirts of Paris. Five hundred guests were invited to dine at one long table waited on by a staff of 250. After the meal was over the chandeliers were raised and the table became the cat walk. The central piazza of the Hasselt museum recreates a scaled down version of this famous event!
Backstage/Frontstage is curated by Eve Demoen and runs at the Fashion Museum in Hasselt until 17 March 2019.