The eternal question when it comes to fashion: form or function? For design studio Burnt Offering, there’s no reason that it can’t be both. Their self-titled fashion exhibition, Burnt Offering: The Art of the Imperfect, currently on display at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, aims to take traditional working-class men’s clothing and transform it into something transcendent.
The exhibit consists of a dozen or so pieces of menswear, topped with striking red orbs rather than traditional mannequin heads. Heavy cotton, denim and wool are the main media used, with an industrial style reminiscent of quasi-military or communist worker uniforms. Several pieces are distressed to the point of shredding, adding some texture to what is otherwise a minimalistic, raw collection.
For Mark Chilton, lead designer and head of the production studio, fashion offers a medium free of restrictions.
“With clothing, I can design with limited resources and largely without externally-imposed constraints,” he said. “Of course, one needs to be aware of the market and the need to appeal to a large enough group of consumers to make the work sustainable. And I find that all of my design pursuits use very similar approaches and logics.”
A working architect for the past 12 years, Chilton is self-trained in fashion but has studied art history and architecture at Universities in Heidelberg, London, and Toronto. For this particular exhibit, Chilton found inspiration in Edwardian menswear and the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi — a concept that stresses the beauty of the impermanent and incomplete.
“I tend to be omnivorous in my mining for inspiration,” he said.
“Japan has such a rich cultural and aesthetic tradition, in architecture and clothing, as well as so many other areas of design and art. Wabi-sabi turns on its head the western-centric notion that a machine-like perfection is the ideal. It celebrates imperfection and the human touch of the artist/designer.”
Karen Ruet, Gallery Coordinator at NBCCD, praised the individual vision conveyed in Burnt Offering. “Mark likes to call this work unisexy,” she explained, stating that both men and women have been inquiring about the clothing on display.
“Mark’s work is innovative, and the attention to detail — distressing material, mixing texture and type of cloth, creates a whimsical yet highly wearable and sophisticated collection of men’s wear, combined with quality that can live for an extended period of time.”
While Chilton doesn’t pigeonhole himself into any particular artistic category, he enjoys creating functional clothing that approximates art — without crossing the line into fine art.
“My designs are experimental and alternative, and could never be characterized as mainstream,” he said. “But my clothes are still very wearable and I strive to make them appealing, both formally and functionally. Some of my clothes are quite sculptural, which would contribute to the suggestion that they approach art, or are situated at that intersection of fashion and fine art. But they are certainly not art.”
Burnt Offering: The Art of the Imperfect will be running at The Gallery at NBCCD until March 5, 2015.