March 23, 2007 / 12:57 PM / in 11 years

Paper is the fashionable fabric at Athens exhibit

ATHENS (Reuters Life!) - You can write on it, wipe up a kitchen counter spill, make toy planes, hats and disposable smocks for medical use, but paper as haute couture?

An Athens exhibition appropriately titled “Rip!” is exploring paper’s wearable credentials in a show which tracks its use as clothes for poor Japanese farmers to catwalk sensations and mini dresses with political punchlines.

“We think paper is so fragile it couldn’t become fabric,” said Vassilis Zidianakis, a fashion scholar and curator of the Athens-based Atopos cultural organization.

“Few people are aware that clothes from paper exist, it takes you to another dimension, another planet.”

The organization has compiled garments from museums, designers and also has the largest collection of 1960s paper mini dresses, when paper made its fashion debut and became an explosive craze.

Originating from an advertising campaign of the Scott paper company, single-use throw away paper dresses were sold for just over a dollar. The concept was eagerly grasped by designers and artists, but also used as a bulletin board for companies and political campaigns for Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy.

“It was part of a lifestyle, it was not only disposable physically but emotionally, it went along with the youth culture,” said Canadian fashion historian Alexandra Palmer.

“You could try it on for size and if you didn’t like it, it didn’t matter.”

The Campbell’s soup “Souper dress” on display, inspired by Andy Warhol’s artwork, immortalizes the fad, and the artist himself is represented in the exhibit with his “Fragile” dress, made for model Nico of the Velvet Underground.

The fashion trend of that pop culture era continues to rekindle imaginations today, and paper still holds a place on the catwalks of top designers, even if only worn once.

A.F. Vandevorst’s brown paper ensemble in the exhibit, appeared on the catwalk for the 2004 Spring/Summer collection and fashion designer Issey Miyake’s futuristic “Starburst” suit is made from gold foil paper.

Garments from tyvek, a more durable paper material which can be reworn, is popular in many creations, as in a suit for Hugo Boss by James Rosenquist, and Hussein Chalayan’s “air mail dress” which wraps into an envelope.

“In tyvek this is the next level up, the textile is very modern and on the edge of what’s new and what’s promising for the future,” said Palmer.

Artists and designers were also commissioned to remake fraying 1960s dresses for the exhibition, breathing new life into the old style and once more fusing art and fashion.

“Designers are doing it to make a larger statement. It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s unorthodox,” Palmer said.

But paper clothes also appear throughout history as a necessity, such as clothes made by Japan’s poor farmers woven from shredded paper from the 17-19th century, or a waistcoat of a World War Two prisoner made from paper sacks.

In early 20th century Europe and America paper collars and ties for men were a cheaper alternative to fabric. American clothes designer Michael Cepress reworks the old concept with his paper ties and collars from telephone pages in the exhibit.

“The design challenge it presents is way too exciting to ignore,” Cepress said. “It’s not just about the paper but the images that can go on it, the different textures that can be created.”

The exhibition will also be presented at London Fashion week in September and at the Luxembourg Museum of Modern Art in 2008.

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