Fashion meets fish at Selfridges exhibition
Lady Gaga's lobster hat is among the aquatic-inspired gladrags in a show that aims to raise awareness of overfishing
When Lady Gaga wore a crystal-encrusted lobster hat last year, crustacean chic was seen as the height of fashion frivolity. Now, thanks to a new exhibition, ocean-inspired designs have been unexpectedly invested with serious meaning.
The Washed Up exhibition uses marine-inspired vintage and haute couture designs to highlight the potentially disastrous impact of overfishing in the world's oceans. The installation forms part of Project Ocean, a five-week programme of events at Selfridges in London. The department store is working with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to raise awareness of the plight of marine life.
Judith Clark, curator of Washed Up, is more used to working in traditional museum settings such as the V&A and believes the exhibition's focus is unique.
Alongside the surrealist Lady Gaga lobster hat – designed by the milliner Philip Treacy – sit 26 sea-themed exhibits. The earliest dates from the 1870s and the newest has been commissioned for the show.
One highlight is a dress featuring watery prints by the late Alexander McQueen from his last 2010 collection, entitled Plato's Atlantis. A dress by the avant garde designer Hussein Chalayan, which is formed of clear bubbles and resembles giant fish eggs or underwater oxygen air bubbles, is surrounded by dead coral seized from illegal smugglers by customs officers. It is usually in storage at London Zoo rather than in Selfridges' Wonder Room.
Among the exhibits is a 1930s-style wig commissioned by the curator. Entitled Pearl Waves, the faux-jazz-age skull cap recalls froth-edged waves.
"I wanted a narrative that went beyond dresses designed with fish prints," said Clark. She said the exhibition's inspiration was the drawings of Ernst Haeckel, the 19th-century biologist and illustrator who coined the term ecology.
"A lot of what the conceptual designers are referring to in their work is the ocean under the microscope, rather than just fish," said Clark. Each of the exhibition's nine thematic sections is concerned with making the invisible visible, she added.
The Project Ocean campaign is the brainchild of Alannah Weston, the creative director of Selfridges, whose family owns the chain of department stores. In addition to the ZSL, the initiative is backed by the Marine Conservation Society, Greenpeace and WWF. In total 22 environmental NGOs and high-profile activists from creative industries are taking part.
Selfridges calls the programme "retail activism", as it is intended not only to entertain and raise awareness but also to raise money. Jonathan Baille, director of ZSL and co-curator of the event, hopes to "sell" the campaign to the store's 40,000 daily customers. The worst-case environmental predictions are that the world's major fisheries will collapse by 2050, Baille said, and so the bottom line must be that the project "measurably leads to more fish in the sea".