This engrossing exhibition, currently showing at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, attempts to reinterpret five Renaissance fashion illustrations of Matthäus Schwarz – 16th-century accountant and dandy – using modern fashion photography.
Schwarz is reborn into the 21st century as North Londoner Matthew Smith (though ‘Matthew Black’ would be a more accurate translation). Through these photographs, the creators of the exhibition – artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead, fashion designer Bella Newell and academic Professor Ulinka Rublack – make creative, but safe, responses to the original dress: Schwarz’s green doublet and hose becomes a shiny two-piece suit; a horse is transformed into a moped and a spear is upgraded to an iPhone.
The beautiful, well-crafted modern outfits hold clear parallels to their Renaissance inspirations and the heavy use of Photoshop makes the photographs of Smith look more like a stylised digital illustration than, say, popular street-style photography or even editorial fashion photography.
Ultimately, however, the modern photographs fail to offer any insightful responses to the contemporary London fashion of the 2010s – such as hipster beards, fold-up bicycles, Breton stripes and Tom shoes. Nor are the clothing so outlandish that they are making a sharp reference to modern haute couture. The outfits worn by Matthäus Schwarz are clearly late-Renaissance; the clothes worn by Matthew Smith, in contrast, do not point towards any particular contemporary trend; aside from the iPhone, there are no recognisable status symbols to suggest Smith’s love of trends and style.
The clothes of Matthew Smith are a brilliant interpretation of Matthäus Schwarz’s 16th-century outfits, but are still as far removed from 2015 fashion as a Rensaissance doublet and hose.
‘A Young Man’s Progress’ will be showing at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, until 6 September 2015.