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Arnhem, the Netherlands

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Arnhem Mode Biennale
Arnhem Mode Biennale Courtesy of the Peter Stigter Team & the Arnhem Mode Biennale

When one ponders the quirky and ingenious charms that characterise Dutch design, it is impossible to ignore the wellspring of young talent bubbling away in the small town of Arnhem, along the river Rhine.

When one ponders the quirky and ingenious charms that characterise Dutch design, it is impossible to ignore the wellspring of young talent bubbling away in the small town of Arnhem, along the river Rhine. As home to both the ArtEZ Academy for fashion and the HAN University of Applied Sciences, Arnhem has made its mark as the design capital of Holland – and is honouring that fact throughout June with the fourth edition of the Arnhem Mode Biennale.

Celebrating fashion through an imaginary muse named Amber (a clever pun on the festival’s initials A.M.B), the Biennale’s curator JOFF has devised a lively program of city-wide installations and creative happenings. Centred around a disused AkzoNobel factory, the major CULTURE exhibition houses works from an impressive selection of international fashion heavyweights – with large-scale offerings from Prada, Raf Simons, Rodarte, BLESS and the Maison Martin Margiela.

Utilising the themes of Atmospheres, Elements and Visions, the exhibition coaxes viewers to consider the essence of fashion as an untouchable, dynamic force – whether one looks at the concept, the process, the complements or the final visual production of a fashion idea. In the Atmospheres component, Central St. Martin’s Fashion in Film society have created the Fashion-Colour-Cinema Inventory – a collection of film clips across the history of cinema isolated for their monochrome costume and scenery. Nearby, the Six Scents perfume room provides an interactive olfactory element, showcasing the final formula of the ‘Amber’ perfume – a scent especially created by JOFF and perfumer Darryl Do to commemorate the Biennale. Static installations of the spring/summer 2011 collections of Prada and Jil Sander are a hypercolour highlight to the Visions room, where Rem Koolhaas’ OMA steel and light structures were relocated from Milan to elevate the Prada looks to their runway best, and panels of Fresnel magnifying plastic exploded the Jil Sander silhouettes into a literal expression of the season’s couture minimalism. Other pieces will see an evolution throughout the month-long event, with A.F. Vandevorst’s 250kg ‘sleeping girl’ candle melting down across her WWII hospital bed, Korean designer Juun J’s funnels pouring sand over trench-coat silhouettes for an hourglass effect, and Dutch artist Amie Dicke’s recreated illustrating studio being sprayed with a daily mist of foundation (a radical ‘self-portrait’).

Outside the main location, the city of Arnhem is bursting with smaller-scale displays, including Duologue in the Musis Kwartier showing upcoming designers like Nicholas Andreas Taralis and Pauline van Dongen and an exhibition by Antwerp's RA boutique. The Museum of Modern Art is hosting Get Real/Get Self, an exhibition examining the different resonations of fashion throughout history, politics, and everyday mass markets. Investigating archetypal garments like the cape and the parka (from the Inuits to Ann Demeulemeester), or the relationships between fashion photography and nature, it is a stimulating and in-depth look at garments from a philosophical viewpoint – removing the significance of aesthetic beauty to focus on context and function.

The Arnhem Mode Biennale runs until July 3 2011.

Text by Dan Thawley

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