Arrrgh! Monsters in fashion

Have you ever thought of fashion as a series of disfigured silhouettes, humanoids in bright colors and gargoyles in search of self-expression? Fashion doesn?t always have to be about hemlines, the season?s palette or a long list of historical references to analyze designer clothes.

?ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion,? on display at the Benaki Museum until July 31, offers a novel take on the notion of garments by exploring the phenomenon of contemporary characters. The show is the result of extensive research conducted by ATOPOS Contemporary Visual Culture.

Are these ?monsters? a distortion of mankind?

?This has nothing to do with distortion, it?s about discovering another part of ourselves. Ancient Greeks used the word ?monster? to refer to the inexplicable and the unknown, to someone or something which you have to explain, like a rainbow,? said Vassilis Zidianakis, ATOPOS co-founder and curator of the Benaki show.

According to Zidianakis, the character phenomenon made a splash beginning in the 1990s, where a series of contemporary characters appeared in video games, graphic design and, eventually, in fashion.

?I despise fashion, in the sense that I?m not interested in the fashion system. I am, however, very much interested in what goes on on the catwalk, in those fleeting 20 minutes, when it?s about who we are and not what we have to wear,? said Zidianakis.

What?s the difference between these characters and the world of comics?

?If you look at Mickey Mouse, for instance, he has a human dimension, he copies the world of humans and you?re asked to get to know him through a story,? said Zidianakis. ?Contemporary characters are more simple and it?s up to you to interpret them and give them meaning.?  

At the Benaki Museum French artist Freek Tet curated the exhibition?s soundtrack, a collection of sounds and screams which accompanies visitors as they stroll around the show?s 90 exhibits. More than 50 artists and designers are taking part in the innovative display, which showcases garments by Walter Van Beirendonck, Maison Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Gareth Pugh, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Craig Green, Cassette Playa and Bas Kosters, among others. Besides the more established names, the show features works by rising talent, such as graduates of London?s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with various local and international institutions, including Rotterdam?s Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Antwerp?s MoMu and Tokyo?s Miyake Issey Foundation.

Established as a nonprofit organization in 2003, ATOPOS CVC is the brainchild of Stamos Fafalios and Zidianakis. At their recently refurbished headquarters in Metaxourgeio, the ATOPOS team is busy working on the construction of a fresh cultural platform focusing on the body and its garments. Among its various accomplishments is a collection of paper garments, the largest of its kind in the world.

As for ATOPOS?s stylish contemporary characters, they have now turned up in a book: ?Not A Toy: Fashioning Radical Characters,? was recently published by Berlin?s Pictoplasma. Developed by the Athens-based organization, the publication features a series of essays by noted fashion specialists, including anthropologist, curator and author Ted Polhemus and the director and chief curator of New York?s Fashion Institute of Technology, Valerie Steele.

While its contemporary characters will remain at the Benaki until Sunday, the ATOPOS team is currently working on its next project, a new chapter in its long quest for human expression. The subject matter? Sex, love and the body.

Benaki Museum Pireos Street Annex, 138 Pireos Sunday 10 a.m. to  6 p.m. To July 31.

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