|The Doll’s House of Petronella Oortman, Rijksmuseum, c. 1686-1705 (source)||Waist Down, Prada Transformer, Seoul, 2009 (source)|
In Amsterdam it is possible to walk from one miniature house to another.
The Rijksmusem’s dollhouses are precious, cross-sectioned structures, enclosed in glass vitrines and lit appealingly. They represent a particularly lush period of Dutch history, one which is known as the Golden Age. The period was not so-called without reason; its title refers to a time when homes were well-furnished with elegant fabrics, lined with spectacularly patterned wallpapers and well-stocked with preserves and meats. There was also enough money for miniaturization—for tiny, expensive, scaled versions of full-sized structures.
These dollhouses were not toys, but rather, the possessions of wealthy women. Serving as elaborate parlor tricks, they allowed a woman the pride of a home in a state of permanent perfection. Rather than drag guests up notoriously steep stairs, past potentially unmade beds, the Dutch hostess might display the refinement of her decoration in miniaturized form. Condensation reinforced a sense of possession by connecting super-vision with ownership.
Besides the famous Golden Age of Holland, the period which perhaps places second in a tourist’s knowledge of the Dutch capital is that of the Second World War. This era’s local centerpiece is the Anne Frank House—her hiding place somehow conflated with her home, in the museum’s misleading title—which attracts crowds daily. Lines of people assemble, along the canal, to walk through a now mostly empty attic space.
While the annex’s original furniture has been removed, there exists, in one of the museum’s first rooms, a scaled miniaturization of the space as it had been in the 1940s. Frank’s father, responsible for the museum’s realization and preservation, felt a great discomfort at the prospect of recreating the domestic realms of his exile and arranged instead for these models, to make public, the space he also once inhabited.
These dioramas of spaces once occupied, which are dense with memory and family history, also present in their totality, a comprehensive vision. While small spaces might be associated with intimacy, these scaled reproductions are not cozy. These two idealized Amsterdam miniatures, constructed three hundred years apart and now located only blocks away from one another, are distancing devices not made to be inhabited or for the messiness or the misery of a real life, lived.
Skirt lengths, shapes and drapes often embody social messages, and since its invention, the mini-skirt has been seen as both a symbol of liberation and of control. Originally introduced as sportswear, because of the freedom of movement they allow, by the 1960s they were popularly adapted by women as tools of self-empowerment. Following this period however, minis tended to be seen as complicit in the objectification of women.
With these sorts of narratives in mind, Miuccia Prada carefully selects the cuts of her skirts. Skirts have consistently played a significant role in Prada’s repertoire since the inception of her women’s ready-to-wear collection in 1988. However, in lieu of the mini, she favors lengths that land around the knee. In the typical Prada collection box pleats, kick pleats, and gathers are variously configured on A-line and full skirts—these often appear alongside a smaller selection of pencil-skirts. Her skirts are built to perform as devices of subtle expression, employing vaguely matronly designs that heavily signify bourgeois ideals of feminine propriety—a combination which is generally interpreted by fashion’s pundits as some loose synthesis of subversion, politics and intellect.
In Prada’s Waist Down exhibition, one of the fashion house’s many collaborations with AMO, this sense of politesse is thoroughly eschewed. Numerous skirts are mounted on motorized hangers which send their hems high into the air. Their display is further aided by the placement of mirrors on the floor, giving the viewing public a glance of what lies beneath. Without relying on the revealing qualities of the mini, Prada and AMO have developed a way to engage the skirt in the act of display.
Erandi de Silva