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Wrap artist: a retrospective remix for Max Mara embraces body and Seoul


Yiyun Kang at the DDP wearing a look designed by Max Mara to celebrate its exhibition in Seoul. Ian Griffiths was inspired to create the look on a trip to Seoul where he witnessed the presentation of food in Yughee (handcrafted Korean brasswear). Says Griffiths, 'Yughee encapsulates quality craftsmanship perfected over generations, like the Max Mara coat.' Photography: Hasisi Park

This is the fifth iteration of 'Coats!' which previously showed in Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow. ‘There were two big priorities,’ Griffiths says of the current exhibition. ‘One to convey the emotional aspect of the Max Mara story (not just cold hard facts and figures), and two, to describe the contrast in scale between the quasi-familial nucleus at the heart of the story and the massive pan global structure that it has become.'

Max Mara was founded in 1951, with a principle of ‘making the ordinary extraordinary.’ The house's wool and cashmere coat is a signature of design of the house, and modern wardrobes

The exhibition brings together fabric samples, magazine editorials and finished silhouettes to convey the artistic heritage of Max Mara's coat designs

'Coats!' charts Max Mara's outerwear silhouettes over time, from belted trenchcoats to fur-trimmed belted shapes

Max Mara has commissioned London-based Korean artist Yiyun Kang for its latest exhibition, ‘Coats!’, being held in her home town of Seoul. Kang, known for her large-scale, site-specific digital mapping projections, has remixed imagery from the Max Mara archive into her installation, ‘Deep Surface’, which projects animated, vibrant patterns onto a specially-constructed 20m dome, designed by architects Migliore + Servetto and located in Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). The dome arches atmospherically over a central space divided into seven different rooms, each representing a different era in Max Mara’s past, from the 1950s to the 2000s.

The starting point for the exhibition, the concept of the perfect coat, ‘combines the idea of surfaces, from the way the fabric folds, to the way it meets the skin, and sits on the body’, says Kang. The dome itself also reflects the sensations of being wrapped in a coat. ‘It’s an environment that really immerses the human body.’

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A digital render of Migliore + Servetto's Cupola that will house Yiyun Kang's installation. Photography: © DDP Museum Seoul 2017 and © Migliore + Servetto Architects

'Max Mara is more than fashion,' says the label's creative director Ian Griffiths. 'Our coats have an renowned cultural value that merit artistic exploration.' The Italian fashion house was founded in 1951, with a principle of ‘making the ordinary extraordinary.’ This has meant taking everyday items and transforming them into garments that can completely revive daily experience.

'For me, a perfect example of this cultural conversation, was our collaboration in 1999 with Goldsmiths,' adds Griffiths. 'Together with artists Volker Eichelmann and Ruth Maclennan’s, our Designer Coat Swap invited people to make offers for a classic wool and cashmere 101801 coat. The results offered a fascinating dissection of the coats' complex layers of meaning and symbolic worth.'

As part of her research, Kang visited Max Mara's archive in Reggio Emilia in Italy. ‘I was mesmerised by the collection – it’s not only about the object, but about human history, about the Maramotti family, who founded the brand, and the history of Reggio Emilia, about men and women’s fashion in the past, present and future. It’s alive and breathing.’

Kang, who usually works alone, admits that exchanging ideas with a large team from the fields of fashion and architecture was a tricky transition but ultimately enlightening. ‘I remember Luigi Maramotti mentioning the idea of collective creativity – for him it was a real focus because not a single product can be completed without the help of many people.’ Griffiths points similarly to ‘a great synergy’ with Kang. ‘Her installation reflects the monumentality of the brand’s image, while showing that human element.’

What does Kang hope local visitors will take away from the experience? ‘As a South Korean, everyone is aware that we’re in a very politically tense situation. Through this amazing collaboration I hope to create some soothing moments for the people who live in Seoul during this time.’

A version of this article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*225)

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