Imagine walking into a clothing shop and wanting pretty much everything there—only nothing is for sale. No, this isn’t a fashionista’s nightmare, it’s WORKWEAR, a travelling exhibition produced by the Triennale di Milano and curated by Italian designer Alessandro Guerriero. Imaginative, stylish and utterly original and unusual, it’s a collection of whimsical work outfits one has no choice but to fall in love with—and rightly so. The exhibit features clothes for a “Vegetable Ice Cream Man”, a “Cloud Hunter”, and a “Researcher of the Divine.” These are uniforms for occupations you may say have never existed and perhaps never will, yet they help us examine how work clothes can be transformed from protective gear and symbols of a profession, into the expression of individual identity. All 40 thought-provoking examples were designed by creative professionals from a wide range of disciplines; art, architecture, design and fashion.
Undeniably, the meaning of work wear has dramatically changed over the years. Our work clothes used to be a direct representation of our role in society and of our related class. Once defined by our collars – white or blue – work clothing today is more and more an expression of our personal style. Nowadays it can be practically impossible to differentiate, for example, a barista from an internet company founder and billionaire. What seems to be certain though, is that the less manual work there is, the more sentimental work clothes have become. Blue denim overalls or boiler suits have become the latest fashion craving in trend-conscious circles – a phenomenon the fashion industry has noticed and is cashing in on, originality be damned.
Fashion, despite its flamboyant reputation, tends to prefer predictability and safety. It favours flooding the marketplace with a singular “look” and merchandise that’s surprisingly similar to the competition’s. Taking unexpected risks can come with pricey consequences––but so can boundless rewards. Clearly Allessandro Guerriero, the Italian designer and curator of the WORKWEAR exhibit, has taken plenty of them. However, by collaborating with people like the internationally renowned artist and designer Faye Toogood as well as fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood and Issey Miyake, he’s managed to transform the potential risks into definite rewards.
Not unexpectedly, the exhibition has been a success since its opening at Milano’s Triennale in 2014. Making its way to New York and now Toronto, the exhibit continues its dialogue on the value of design, in the fields that Italy truly excels. For the Milano Triennale, it’s the first in a series of projects bringing art, architecture, design and fashion together. Hopefully brands of all kinds will soon join this incredible collaborative platform where good design and art meet and create something truly spectacular.
The travelling exhibition was also produced with the Associazione Tam Tam, who made the clothes with the assistance of the Arkadia, a nonprofit organization. The exhibition is on display at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Ontario until April 23, 2017.