Dressing Up Calamity

  • Wellcome Collection
< Back to features
6 May 2011 By Kasey Noziska

Dressing up Calamity

In addition to that incessant talk about the ultra prevalent 1980's trend at nearly every show, during every major fashion week this season, there was a much grimmer common topic of conversation.

What labels will survive this nuisance of an economic downturn? Exactly how will the buyers divvy up their trimmed and tightened purse strings to appease the new conservative, trend-weary shopper? What iconic department store will hold on, keeping their heads above the red? No, this wasn't the same old, same old credit crunch talk that has been ping-ponging for the last year. It was about the question, the anxiety of survival. 

And while most of the fashion crowd was in distress about that in-between the shows, during the shows, and okay, at the after-parties too, the creative forces behind the labels voiced something of an entirely different sort, and with that "let us eat cake!" spirit, backstage I heard phrases such as "Oh, this is a good thing!" "The fashion world needed a good cleanse" "Only the truly strong and talented will remain. Can remain"

Doll dressed up in fireplace

Ah, fashion folks. But they may be on to something. Aren't the stories of triumph over tribulation the most inspiring? The sort that check all the right boxes? Taking the grim and finding beauty isn't exclusive to the fashion industry. Mark Clarke, a 3-D narrative artist, inspired by historical and seemingly discouraging tales of scurvy and malaria, created a series of charming cabinets that convey stories of medicinal misfortune - with both sad and happy endings.

Each cabinet features a delightful scene with a stylish heroine, all made from bits of fabric and offbeat DIY remnants. There is the Countess of Chinchón, sporting a pair of golden designer trainers as she campaigns for natural malaria treatments on the back of an elephant. Or the Biba Nova mermaid basking on a seabed of sequined fruit, keeping clear of scurvy-riddled sailors.

Doll dressed up riding an elephant

This grisly installation at the Wellcome Collection is a rare foray into this kind of medium for Mark Clarke, who normally works in illustration and film. But Clarke had a penchant for these troubled tales and wanted the opportunity to share what he says are "the stories, myths and legends behind these fascinating and colorful characters." Clarke explained that materials themselves had a history. "The materials have been sourced from the markets of Belfast and the skips of Paris, while decommissioned cabinets have come from the ceramics department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, porcelain tiles have been derived from the bathroom department of a local DIY superstore."

If Clarke can create joy with stories of surviving malaria, the fashion industry has nothing to worry about. We will have our own stories of triumph and survival, that will inspire future generations. So, let us eat cake!