Is it the 2000s or the aughts? Would you say post-9/11, the Bush years, or the war on terror? Housing bubble or housing crisis? Your twenties? MySpace? That time you lived in Williamsburg? Does “last decade” indicate our stern preference to not talk about it?
The same anxiety troubles “The Overworked Body: An Anthology of 2000s Dress,” an honest eulogy to that ten-year span of time. The exhibition collects radical fashion between spring/summer 2000 and fall/winter 2009 into a historical hall of mirrors in which dozens of studiously garmented mannequins recount the era’s feverish obsessions. Put another way, the show’s fitful attachments exhibit a budding angst.
There are many ways through this exhibition, which converts Mathew and Ludlow 38 into overcrowded showrooms. Connections between designers are largely intuited. Some were especially captivated by the apparatus of control. At the former space, Ann-Sofie Back’s cocktail dresses and reworked trench coat expose the shameless will to power behind the austerity of business casual. A Victorian-inspired Jean-Paul Gaultier dress employs new (at the time) photographic fabric printing to simulate patterns and ruffles, complimented by an infamous Stephen Jones shoe-hat flopped on the mannequin’s head. Decadence tends toward irreverence in other designers: Final Home’s mesh coat filled with all sorts of office trash (e.g., a Diet Coke can and FedEx shipping form); Margiela’s military-style vest made out of puffy ski gloves; the torched sequins in a Shelley Fox dress. Behind the naughty pastiche of ’90s styles is boredom in the KEUPR/van BENTM Fall/Winter 2000 show, a video of which is on view. Each time a model takes their turn, a Looney Tunes bonk-on-the-head sound effect is heard.
Neoliberalism spread rapidly during the aughts. Wealth flowed upward. Designers may have sniffed out clues to the nihilism driving our current predicaments, having made light of the ill-begotten popularity facilitated by the internet. It’s tough to name. The flipside involved special credence paid to New Age spiritualism and countercultural chic. Innocence, frivolity and joy describe several looks displayed on a catwalk-cum-skate park packed into Ludlow 38’s entryway — rejoice in fabrics and textures. Hideki Seo’s contributions, two school uniforms that transform the wearer into a scaly mythological chimera, speak to the narrow distance between animism and imagination. Bedazzled outfits by Andrew Groves and a gown by Arkadius balance frump and glamor; A.F. Vandervost’s dress is Weimar club gear; and an abundance of BLESS demonstrates their coy, cult-like sensibility, drawing connections between universal football fandom and featureless, unisex onesies.
The exhibition takes place definitively downtown, in a section of Chinatown and the Lower East Side that many of the designers included here, especially Susan Cianciolo or the late Ben Cho, helped to popularize. The proximity is voyeuristic. During the same era, galleries moved there, too. It’s been almost a decade and we keep coming back to sneak a peek.