Tomorrow sees the unveiling of stylist Julianna Sseruwagi-Nisbett’s new photography exhibition OFF-KEY, scheduled for a private exhibition at the Strand Gallery, followed by a public preview until 1st June. This exhibition focuses on photographs of famous people and how they express themselves through their apparel, with interspersed pieces from Italian fashion house Moschino randomly used in each picture. Using photographs shot by Linus Morales, Tom Beard, Alex Harley and Joe Miranda, the OFF-KEY exhibition’s aim is to create a kind of “lost advertising campaign”, where the observer is left to muse over personal expression and identity through fashion, appearance, branding and designers.
Within the exhibition, of the 35 people captured on camera, over half are musicians, including band members from Morning Parade, Life In Film, The View and Is Tropic, as well as Man Like Me, Kate Nash and Eliza Doolittle. These artists would not generally be considered the typical target market of Moschino, and would probably opt instead for more low-key British designers such F-Trope or at a push maybe Vivienne Westwood. The usage then of numerous musicians within this project, with only a few actors and sports stars to accompany them, could lead to a degree of confusion of intent within this exhibition. If these musicians are not typical Moschino fodder, and to complicate matters further, the very presence of Moschino is shrouded in mystery and open to interpretation, why include so many musicians in this project?
Initially one might presume that the inclusion of so many musicians throughout OFF-KEY is another example of fashion exploiting the popularity and prestige of music within popular culture. Over the past few years there have been numerous fashion house adverts featuring musician-models and there have even been perfumes released with names like Rock n Rose and Rock Princess. Musicians, hip indie musicians especially, seem to be one of fashion’s most esteemed resources whenever they feel an easily administered injection of cool, alternative edge is necessary.
Whilst these techniques may be perceived by many as a cynical capitalisation on the popularity and importance of music by fashion houses big and small, the link between music and fashion has in reality been very consistent and cogent. From teddy boys onwards, tastes in personal attire have always had a strong connection with musical allegiances. From punks to rastas, new-romantics to hippies, the whole genealogy of popular music has had some form of fashion heavily associated with it.
A simple exercise in people watching even today can perfectly demonstrate how strong this link is with all of us. You see a teenager with too much bling and a Croydon facelift – they probably like N-Dubz. A 20-something with ironic glasses – they are probably into the alternative indie/electro scene. Even someone wearing a seemingly innocuous t-shirt and bootcut jeans combo is indicating their chart-based, MOR tastes. Ultimately, identity and taste are not a collection of random choices – people usually have a cohesive identity that spans all form of expression, from music, to film, to fashion.
In review of this then, the concept of the OFF-KEY project is very astute and sound. Fashion is possibly the most direct, obvious expression of personal tastes, attitudes and alliances. Even though Moschino might be perceived as a completely irrelevant style of fashion to many of the featured musicians, the exhibition demonstrates with a significant degree of subtly, class and creativity that the way people chose to interpret and re-appropriate their clothing is a key facet and the first instance of personal expression.