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ART REVIEW: Dare To Wear: Glass Dresses/Walker Art Gallery

Stunning workmanship, but anti-fashion sentiment not so crystal clear, says Samantha Grimes

Published on May 13th 2010.

ART REVIEW: Dare To Wear: Glass Dresses/Walker Art Gallery

DIANA Dias-Leao does not, as her name might suggest, hail from some exotic corner of the Mediterranean, but from Scarborough.

Her soft, unmistakably northern accent and quiet demeanour seem somewhat at odds with the glittering, fragile works she has created for the Walker's latest exhibition, Dare To Wear: Glass Dresses, but hers is an interesting journey to this destination.

She completed a BA in fashion and textiles in Newcastle, but while fascinated by the ability to create beautiful designs which her studies gave her, she says she found the pretension and obsession with the surface image of fashion too oppressive.

The result was an almost accidental stumble into the art of glass-making, and a subsequent design course led to her first experimental glass dress. A short interview with Diana can be viewed on a touch screen next to the exhibits, along with a brief look at how she creates these pieces, and it's particularly interesting to explore the motivation behind the message: “The image may be glittering but the person inside is priceless”.

The exhibition is held in the Craft & Design room on the ground floor of the Walker, and, on entry, it's somewhat difficult to make out the works themselves, which lurk towards the back of a dimly-lit room.

Approach them more closely, however, and it's clear that the minimalist lighting only serves to enhance them: light from the traditional stained glass windows and downlighters bounce and dance off the 14 dresses and two corsets, displayed suspended from heavy chains. This is a genuine cross-over between the worlds of haute-couture and glass art, and the results are stunning.

There is a wedding dress complete with handmade glass chrysanthemums, and a long dress which consists of delicate wire cobwebs linked together by shards of milky, iridescent glass and mesmeric beadwork, trailing down the body and culminating in a flourish of twirling wire at the ankles.

The Blue Hologram dress (2005) hugs the contours of the hanging dummy's torso in a riot of azure-faceted glass, in which every bubble created by the melting and cooling process can be seen. The edges covering the bust undulate over its curves, and from the armour-like body of the piece stream a thousand strands of “cotton” threaded with sequins and beads, creating a waterfall of colour and light from the hips.

The Graffiti Dress (2005) is perhaps the only jarring point in the collection – along the same lines and beaded skirt as before, but this time covered in hand-written slogans, with more than a hint of anti-fashion about them.

“Our image is a non-spoken language through which we communicate”, for example. Smacking a little of an A Level art piece, it reminded me of the old saying about jokes: if you need to explain them, they aren't funny.

More successfully, and therefore most thought-provoking of all, are the wire corsets. One, with its structured and boned body and almost conical bust brings to mind Jean-Paul Gaultier meets Vivienne Westwood, except that the structure is entirely fashioned from barbed wire. At odds with this vicious material sits a trail of delicate handmade pale pink glass roses, and across the whole body are scattered and threaded a shower of amber beads. Even the pale candy suspenders are glass.

While appreciating the sentiment behind the artist's message, I'm not sure the pieces really support it. Surely the whole point of fashion is that it IS wholly about the visual image? Issues of body image aside, the dresses and corsets are beautiful works of craftsmanship in their own right, however, and people may prefer to judge them as such.

The artist has said, “Eccentricity is one of the great talents of the English, and I think we should take more pride in it”. I am inclined to agree with her.

*Dare To Wear: Glass Dresses by Diana Dias-Leao, runs at The Walker Art Gallery, William Brown St, L3, until September 11 2010. See www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.

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