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Madelief Hohé, Curator of Fashion at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, was certain of it: colour is a sure-fire pepper-upper for the human brain. When it was announced last May that the Dior exhibition – planned for this autumn – was to be postponed by a year, she quickly came up with a suitable alternative: Fashion in Colour. Join us on a journey through this vivid Valhalla of connection and hope.
A motley mix of – never before exhibited – fashion
Berlage’s art deco building in The Hague hosts this feast of colour, which runs until 28 February 2021. “In fashion, we always relish new things. So this was an exciting opportunity to think up something a little different, and with safety in mind, to primarily focus on our own collection of more than 50,000 pieces”, explains Hohé during the press preview. Selecting exhibits based on colour instead of theme has certainly paid off. It has resulted in an exhibition featuring fashion treasures that have never before been on public display, including a sand-coloured duster that folk travelling in open cars in the early 20th century donned to protect their clothing.
The spacious presentation guides you on a one-way tour to take in clothing and high fashion in natural colours (khaki, brown, black) and invigorating colours (red, yellow, orange), ending with chemical colours (green, ‘shocking pink’, purple and deep blue). By connecting items from a range of eras and cultures, in every colour of the rainbow (the ultimate symbol of hope, courage, pride and gratitude), Fashion in Colour offers a moment of hope. On the tour, roaring twenties flapper dresses share the stage with contemporary designs by Claes Iversen, you’ll see an ensemble of Chinese silk from 1750 alongside a dress by David Laport and a Buddhist monk’s habit side-by-side with the work of Nadie Borggreve.
Dangerous, modest and hopeful colours
The various stories introducing colour symbolism help visitors to appreciate and see the clothes on display from a fresh perspective. For example, did you know that yellow used to be a ‘dangerous’ colour, worn by street prostitutes so that they were easy to spot in dark alleys? Blue also has its own special story. Since the emergence of the veneration of the Virgin Mary in the late Middle Ages, she is depicted in ultramarine. It was the most expensive pigment at the time, and was associated with grace and modesty. And if we fast-forward a few hundred years, the combination of yellow and blue is seen as a symbol of hope, as in the dress from Bas Kosters’ HOPE collection (2018), also on display in the exhibition.
An almost sacred experience
The exhibition is all about experiencing colour, so the presentation and lighting also play a prominent role. ‘It’s only once the colours sing that they have something to say’, says Art Director Maarten Spruyt. Precisely in these uncertain times, he opted for what he called a ‘spiritual approach’, taking inspiration for the decor from the colour experiments of German-American artist Joseph Albers (1888-1976). This resulted in, for example, coloured areas and neon lighting. The visual experience kicks in right from the opening gallery, which – thanks to the lighting provided by De Theatermachine – is fluorescent green. ‘You first need to look at the colour for two and a half minutes, so that your eyes can adjust. This makes for a very conscious start to the exhibition. Have fun!’, concludes Spruyt.
The exhibition Fashion in Colour is on display at Kunstmuseum Den Haag until 28 February 2021
Written by Marjolein Lammerts van Bueren