Framing Fashion

For Swedish designer Sandra Backlund, knitting is a signature technique. Influenced by Sweden’s strong history of craft practices, she creates pieces that build on these traditions, yet display an independent approach and unique visual language. Since establishing her studio in 2004, Backlund has created work that bears links to the output of masters such as Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Gareth Pugh, who have all experimented with knitwear. Yet she also likes to “consciously dress and undress parts of the body” in an effort to “highlight, distort, and transform the natural silhouette with clothes and accessories,” which recalls the interest of Comme des Garçon’s Rei Kawakubo in deconstruction. Subverting traditional ways of making clothing, Backlund, like Kawakubo, aims to break down hierarchies and suggest an alternative approach based on new rules and production techniques that are in tune with contemporary life.

Despite Backlund’s bold output, she has found it difficult to illustrate her collections with fashion photography. In 2008 she commissioned Swedish photographer Ola Bergengren to shoot her collection Last Breath Bruises as if the pieces were objects in a still life. The resulting, close-up images portray details of the garments that reveal the tactile texture of the knitted pieces and emphasize the innovative formal qualities of the work.

Commissioned by the Art Institute to photograph additional pieces of Backlund’s portfolio for this exhibition, Bergengren created images of the garments—devoid of the human body and set against monochromatic backgrounds—that achieve a lack of scale that invites inquiry. The works take on the appearance of three-dimensional objects whose exact function is thrown into question. By removing Backlund’s clothing from the narrative context of traditional fashion photography, the images focus the viewer’s gaze on the craft of the garments themselves, an alternative narrative that is key to interpreting the designer’s work and working process.