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Mint's Viva Moschino! Captivates through Couture

by Kimberly Lawson

Mint's Viva Moschino! Captivates through Couture

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Picture by Kimberly Lawson

November 1, 2015

Photos: (top) A peek into the Sartorial Splendor section of Viva Moschino!; (middle) the Tassel Twirler dress; (bottom) Olive Oyl adorned ensemble.

Popeye’s one true love Olive Oyl was hardly a fashion icon, but there was something captivating about her—Popeye and Bruno fought over her regularly, after all.. And that tall, slim stature would have given Olive Oyl a foot up in the modeling world—except she was clumsy and often found herself stuck in awkward and unflattering situations.

Yet somehow she caught Italian designer Franco Moschino’s eye. Reportedly, he gravitated to her because she was “a little bit silly.” (He also looked a little like Popeye.) And thus, in the Mint Museum Uptown’s newest exhibit, Viva Moschino!, the first American retrospective of his work, Olive Oyl, featured in a framed scarf, greets visitors. Later in the collection, you can also find her silhouette dancing and kicking a ball (symbolized by red buttons) along the border of a cream-colored jacket and skirt ensemble.

The stick-figured cartoon character represents a few of the themes you’ll find in this fashion-centric exhibit: a whimsical sense of humor; a challenge to the status quo; and scrutiny of the female form. The exhibit offers approximately 40 ensembles and accessories from 1983 to 1994 and is on display through April 3, 2016.

Born in 1950, Moschino refused to identify as a fashion designer, despite the fact that, by definition, he certainly was one. Instead, he called himself “a painter; a decorator,” and launched Moschino Couture! in 1983. He died 11 years later, having created a body of work that both celebrated and criticized aspects of the fashion world.

The idea for Viva Moschino! came from longtime Mint supporter Deidre Grubb of Charlotte, whose female family members have been collecting Moschino for decades. “Deidre wore a surreal dinner jacket with cutlery on the bodice designed by Franco Moschino in 1989 to the opening of our F.O.O.D. exhibition in 2013,” says Annie Carlano, the Mint’s senior curator of craft, design & fashion, and “it sparked a series of conversations with her about Moschino, and visits to see her mother’s and other collections in the Midwest.”   

Upon entering the gallery, you’ll be greeted by five smiley faces against a black backdrop in the foyer—make that six, if you count the happy grin adorning the bright yellow jacket worn by a faceless mannequin, poised atop a black 

and white checkered floor. The spotlighted treatment is an example of one of the window displays Moschino was known for. You can’t help but want to smile at the bright yellow face; it exudes happiness in a dark world.

But the yellow smiley jacket, accented by a dark hem and buttons, also recalls Walmart’s former roll-back icon from their TV commercials. Though they post-date Moschino, it’s doubtful he would have had a problem with that. The designer despised the excesses of consumer culture in the 1980s, and one way he delivered his criticisms was through messages painted boldly on T-shirts. In fact, Moschino was arguably the founder of the smart-ass T-shirt trend. While standard in form, each of the nine shirts displayed on a gallery wall offer the viewer some nugget of wisdom. “It’s better to dress as you wish than as you should,” one contends.

Another display (“Black is White!” 1994) features the black silhouette of the upper torso of a woman with the words, “Let’s love each other.” We have no idea what she looks like—like the mannequins in the show, she’s essentially faceless—but we can’t help but imagine she’s beautiful, thanks to the attention the designer pays to her body: her slender neck, her sculpted breast, the perky detail of the tip of her nipple. In short, Moschino points out women are often defined by their bodies.

The shirt is not the only piece in the collection that draws such explicit attention to the female body. The golden yellow Tassel Twirler Dress fits snugly on the mannequin, accentuating her hour-glass curves. Spaghetti straps hold up the brassiere with tassels hanging from the center of the cups—hello, breasts!— and the end of the skirt gathers upward and pins below the pelvic bone about mid-thigh with another tassel, creating an upside-down V and an arrow leading the way to a woman’s golden treasure, if you will.

Of the themes identified on signs throughout the exhibit, the cocktail dress is found in the Social Commentary section. On display in a museum, the look speaks to Moschino’s disdain for the fashion industry’s pedestal placement of women. According to the information packet accompanying the show, the designer’s goal “was to liberate women from a fashion business that marketed ideal looks for ideal bodies.” In light of that ideal, Mochino’s pieces were meant to be sold and worn—and on a woman’s body, outside of the context of an organized art exhibit, the Tassel Twirler, for instance, offers a completely different message, one perhaps not so eloquent

It’s a message Moschino was well aware of. ''I think we've been successful because we're not trying to be chic,'' he once told the New York Times. ''We've been doing vulgar, unfeminine, tasteless clothes. People say they're not very refined. But just go out on the street and see how unchic is humankind.''

In terms of craftsmanship, Moschino paid tribute to other designers who’d already laid down the groundwork in fashion (Chanel and Versace, for example). Instead of trying to improve upon established cuts, he took these shapes and added his own touch, sometimes going in a surrealist direction. An outfit may look traditional, even safe to wear to even the stuffiest of corporate office environments. But upon closer inspection, you might discover something weird: a pair of bunny ears peeking out of a pocket, faucet handles in place of adornment buttons, shoelaces tying (pun intended) the garment together as stitching. It’s obvious Moschino liked to have a little fun.

Some of the pieces in his collection, though, lose a bit of their sparkle because they lack the ability to showcase the movement Moschino banked on. In the Sartorial Splendor section, a black blazer with rips in its sleeves is paired with a fluttering evening dress. A pants suit (“Car Wash Suit,” 1990) is shredded at the legs, leaving plenty of room for the model to showcase her leg muscles and, perhaps, take off running away from tradition. Both exemplify Moschino’s skill at deconstructing classic forms, and thus, his resistance to the status quo.

Moschino designed for nonconformists – individuals who were comfortable standing out from the pack. That’s why Viva Moschino!, the latest of “fashion is art” exhibits to hit Charlotte, works. In a city known for its finance and business industries, where on a Friday afternoon, faceless Uptown workers scurry past the Mint Museum in a blur, the message is clear: Be captivating.

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Tags: couture, dress, Olive Oyl, Franco Moschino, Mint Museum, Deidre Grubb

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