This past year, I’ve fallen into a rather bad habit of waving my hands at the fashion world’s attempts at “activist” art. I’ve found, mostly, that they’re too wrapped up in celebrity engagement and advertorial benefit to mean much beyond the pristine walls of the MoMA or far-off runways of Paris. But there are moments of genuine inspiration that lie in the refuse of Art Basel and Berlin art-zines. FKA twigs, fashion prophetess, is evidence of that.
In a collaboration with Dazed Beauty and multimedia artist LYLE XOX, twigs’s seventh issue of her award-winning digizine Avantgarden made use of the discarded waste of celebrities and fashion designers: Christopher Kane, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Courtney Love. Even Extension Rebellion Youth activist Daze Aghaji contributed to twigs’s zine, resulting in alien sculptures made of bras, corsets, burlap sacks, purse handles, egg cartons, and magazine clippings.
Most notably, however, is the cover of Avantgarden’s latest issue, which features twigs in a face mask made from an upcycled bra, corset, and lingerie lace adorning her face like makeup, while a harsh perspex eye guard fashioned from a “stripper heel” allude to the PPE worn by healthcare workers across the world. Except, this wasn’t twigs’s, XOX’s, or Dazed Beauty’s intent. According to the outlet, “the series gains an urgent new perspective” because it was idealized “weeks before social distancing and self-imposed isolation invaded everyday discourse.” Rather than a paltry attempt by fashion bigwigs to couture-ize disaster—I’m looking at all those “WW1 inspired” collections of the 2010s—twigs and her collaborators accidentally peeked into the immediate future. Well, “accidental” might not do justice to twigs’s apparent prophetic talents.
In her interview accompanying the latest issue, twigs tells Dazed that she spent the week before the shoot asking friends and collaborators if she could raid their trash bins for inspiration. Benny Blanco contributed discarded pistachio shells, while Courtney Love had to be bothered for two entire hours before agreeing. Twigs recounts the journey: “My life is so weird! Of all the things I’m calling Courtney Love about, I’m calling her to be like, hey, can I have your rubbish?” LYLE XOX, meanwhile, had been planning on this shoot for years, saving items that were dedicated “specifically to her.”
Fashion dilettantes have, for the entire conception of the “fashion industry,” used found materials to create sculptural makeup looks in editorials and on the runway. But like Dazed Beauty writer Nellie Eden observes, there is an “urgent” new reading of this. XOX admits:
I also found it really interesting that the cover image is so ‘prophetic’. In the moment, I was just like, ‘I want to take this bra cup and I want to turn it into this mask, and then the clear plastic from the stripper heel, I want to use it as a face shield’ and to see the images that are all over the news now...
It’s a fascinating example of how art transforms its meaning to viewers in different times and places. Sure, the sentiment is a bit “Art History 101.” But I’m feeling sentimental! I haven’t been moved by much, as of late. All that handwaving almost made me miss the fashion visions of those around me.
Meanwhile, I do worry about what the spate of “coronavirus art” will look like in the coming years. I already dread the sight of masks on runways, whenever those will return, or PPE “inspired” photoshoots. But until that time comes, I don’t mind taking the extra moment to marvel at the ill-omened wonders twigs and her collaborators created.