Anthony Symonds is a British fashion designer. The “functional” in his title Functional Sportswear is an ironic pun, meaning both versatile (as in fashion) and not merely aesthetic (as in an art readymade). The problem with many recent art/fashion crossovers — mostly photography such as that of Mark Borthwick, Roe Ethridge, Steven Meisel and Tim Walker — is that the negative irony of taking fashion as a metaphor for art’s commodification is too facile and does an injustice to the immense craft, and even art, which the best fashion design involves. But Meisel’s staggering attention to detail and Walker’s theatrical flair transcend the “functional” and claim their art space.
Symonds attired nine headless, white, female mannequins in outfits combining allusions to football gear (sheer polyester), gymwear (vented latex and fleeced cotton) and sci-fi uniforms (recalling what the female Star Trek crew used to wear). They were presented as sculptures, including the mannequins. The sportswear/fashion fusion is current. A man of the moment, the thirty-year-old designer Alexander Wang, said of his 2012 collection, that he was “inspired by competitive swimmers, cyclists and girls prepping for marathons.” Symonds scaled the conceit back to purist art — the bold stripes of formalist painting — and hammed it up to suggest the sexual signifiers of bondage gear. Downstairs, innuendo became melodrama. A mannequin was draped over a round, spotlit bed, her peroxide wig spilling onto the carpet. Chemical flasks and bottles of Chanel suggested something very perverse and decadent was going on.
In the back room, garments hung from pegs alongside wall texts — tailoring instructions on how to produce them — that fell somewhere between craft-speak and prose poem. It is in exploiting such ambiguities that Symond’s art is more than a license to produce dysfunctional clothing. After all, the haute couture collections manage that every year.