Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Flipside

I was curious to experience this exhibition, the remit of which was to explore the meaning of luxury in what was once the old Selfridges hotel behind the Oxford street department store of the same name.

We queued until the appointed hour, and then magically, a circular portal opened out of a nondescript cement block and we were allowed entry into a futuristic environment worthy of any Bond villains lair.

Sadly that was about as exciting as it got, as the exhibition was a bit of a damp squib. The most exciting aspect of it was the abandoned building itself, which was infinately more interesting than any of the "luxury" set pieces presented. There has been a trend of late of fashion houses taking over interesting spaces and galleries as backdrops to display their wares with varying results. The Burberry and Chanel projects here, here and here, have been good to interesting, but this exhibition had very little of either substance, or luxury. An annoyance was the almost total darkness which cloaked the whole exhibition. It's as if the designers thought the near total darkness would make the space more dramatic, or perhaps pull the wool over our eyes to hide the flimsiness of the exhibits, and dearth of real content.

The first exhibit was a display by Loewe contrasting the natural environment with outmoded technologies now consigned to landfill. The gilded columns are from Spanish winepresses which also feature as sculptural elements in their own right in Loewe stores.

Next up was an interactive display by award winning mixologist Mr Lyan - the celebrated cocktail maker in which visitors were encouraged to handle samples, and then have a bespoke scent made for them based on a questionnaire they are asked to fill in. The scent turned out not to be so exclusive as you were led to believe, but based on one of three choices from the questionnaire.

Visitors are then led to a display of what looked to be New York fashion designer Thom Browne's fashion interpretation of the Willendorf Venus in a magical music box setting.

After this you follow the grey carpet trail round to a curtained double screen video installation by another fashion designer - Gareth Pugh. There is a sand floor to give the impression that you are immersed in the seashore landscape of the video.

The Louis Vuitton display was meant to evoke futuristic travel and other worlds, but again the lighting was so poor that it did not do justice to the "luxury" goods it purported to display.

In a spin on one of its bestselling perfume lines - Gypsy Water - luxury goods firm Byredo saw water itself as a future luxury, displayed in these large environmentally unfriendly plastic bottles. Visitors were given samples of drinkable water in recyclable glass bottles to take away.

Selfridges' own display was an interactive light installation based on sundials, mechanical clocks and the concept of time speeded up.

As mentioned before the building itself was really much more interesting than any of the displays, and had I realised that you could book tours to see different areas of it I would have done so. Perhaps next time.

The last element of the exhibition was an installation playing with technology by Google Pixel 2, in which visitors were engaged in creating luxury portraits of themselves. It looked exciting and like good fun, but I'd had enough of the gloom and darkness of the exhibition by then and just wanted to get out into, and make the most the spring sunshine in London.

The Flipside
until 20th May
The Old Selfridges Hotel
Orchard St