‘Katie Pye: Clothes for Modern Lovers’,
Object Magazine 53, August 2007
Katie Pye: Clothes for Modern Lovers
NGV Ian Potter
26 May 2007 – 13 January 2008
Katie Pye states candidly that her aim as a designer was always to be a provocateur. An art school drop-out from East Sydney Tech, Pye’s love of painting fuelled her design approach, drawing her to bold textiles, and allowing the freedom to incorporate what she calls ‘silly’ elements into the work, like shower curtains from the 1940s or odd plastic appendages. Her fashion was a self-conscious retaliation against the conservatism and isolation of suburbia. It worked – these are clothes for exhibitionists.
'Clothes for Modern Lovers' presents a selection of Pye’s designs, from 1978-1990. It’s a fashion saturated in theatricality: from the angular futurism of Kabuki (1980) to the Rococo frivolity of Dragonfly Outfit (1990): a two-piece playsuit with ruched ribbons in yellow and duck egg blue, cut from a printed textile resembling Louis XIV/VI imperial wallpaper. The Party (1980) with its tunic jacket and capri pants draws from the style of an eighteenth century footman, although decorated with a hand-painted image redolent of Kandinsky. Junk Jacket (1979), inspired by Chinese sailing vessels, has huge bat-wing sleeves reinforced with wooden battens.
There’s a love of exaggerated forms – over-sized cowl necks, cartoonishly-large pinafore pockets and voluptuous amounts of fabric. It’s a kind of peasant-meets-harlequin garb. It’s also 80s rock-chic fashion. Through her former husband, George Nezovic, Pye became involved in the local Sydney rock scene, and started styling bands like Pseudo Echo and Composite for performances and video-clips. She also designed for her artist peers – Susan Norrie and Paula Dawson – who doubtless had the chutzpah to carry off her style.
At times her clothes are downright ugly – like Linocut Outfit (1985), whose frottaged, hand-painted surface coagulates in turgid colour. Leo Schofield once quipped that her clothes were like ‘unmade beds’. Garments from the mid-80s featuring swathes of neutral-toned fabric and ragged, knotted ends do drape over the body like bedding.
The point is, these aren’t tasteful garments – they’re insouciant. They’re also artefacts from the same era that produced the sartorial aesthetic of bands like Split Enz, Boy George and Adam Ant. If that thought stirs fond recollections, this exhibition is for you.
Katie Pye, 'Katie Pye: Clothes for Modern Lovers' exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, 2008.