K8 Hardy Ripped Fashion a New One at Her Riotous Whitney Biennial Runway Show

K8 Hardy's fashion show at the Whitney
(Courtesy the Artist and the Whitney)

A video artist, photographer, and rogue stylist known for her underground zine “Fashion Fashion,” Whitney Biennial participant K8 Hardy recreated all the smoke and mirrors of a professional runway presentation this Sunday in an immersive performance-cum-fashion show at the Whitney. Hovering ambiguously between avant-garde design and “anti-fashion,” Hardy’s “Untitled Runway Show” effectively placed self-reflexive quotation marks around the concept of the fashion show and its fraught relationship to both art and commerce.

In an interview with Elle, Hardy explained that she wanted to “do a fashion show so that we can look at [fashion] in a different context outside of commercialism.” She added that she wanted to “make a statement with the looks of a more democratic expression outside of luxury.”

On the fourth floor, guests were assaulted on arrival by a pulsating mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” and a frenzied nail art tutorial, courtesy of celebrity DJ Venus X. In place of relentless fashion show attendees Kayne West and Alexa Chung, art critic power couple Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz sat in the front row. Saltz was wearing earplugs, possibly to muffle the show's soundtrack of throbbing reggeaton beats spliced with irony-drenched one-liners like, “Money or lack of is the number one cause of divorce or suicide,” and, “If you do a cost benefit analysis of the laser hair removal, it’s worth every penny.”

In a rather literal display of détournement, a bevy of waifish models strutted backwards onto the runway, which was built by another Biennial artist, Oscar Tuazon. Each model boasted a multi-tiered cocoon wig. Designed by Bumble and Bumble stylist and famed wig purveyor Duffy, these towering topiary-like hair sculptures looked like the brainchild of a drunk Bjork and Madame de Pompadour. The fashions on parade ranged from defiantly schlubby to eerily beautiful to just plain bizarre. Hardy didn’t manufacture any clothes from the show. Instead, she sutured and pasted bits and pieces of thrift store rags to create piecemeal, Frankenstein-like ensembles: A raglan sleeve blouse cut from a Nascar T-shirt and a dental hygienist’s scrubs was paired with women’s career pants and dowdy nude pumps. The External Bra — not the lacey, diaphanous variety,  but the “hoist-em-up” memory foam species — was a pervasive trope. The show’s piece de resistance was a confection-like mini-dress made entirely from stacked multicolored brassieres.

Granted, remixing used articles of clothing is hardly a radical proposition. Everyone on the sliding scale of hipster credibility and economic means — from Mary Kate and Ashley to Lena Dunham and her coterie of perpetual interns — pillages flea markets for their grandmother’s housedresses and their grandfather’s navel grazing trousers. That said, Hardy’s creations are far beyond the confines of Williamsburg-sanctioned quirk. They’re closest in sprit to the rag-and-bone aesthetic of pioneering underground filmmaker Jack Smith.

“Untitled Runway Show” succeeds in divorcing fashion from luxury. Commodity fetishism is thrown out with the bathwater alongside quaint notions like “taste” and “quality.” By dint of juxtaposing rebellious, haggard looks with radio ads for hair removal treatments, the artist’s feminist implications are clear. Hardy’s aesthetics are by no means programmatic. A delightfully random eclecticism reigned over the project. Some of the pieces — namely a pink taffeta prom dress and a mutton-sleeved princess gown — could even be called “girly.” Intentionally or not, Hardy touched on some currently trendy silhouettes, including the geisha-style platforms, crop tops, and the aforementioned high-waisted pants. Who knows? Maybe butt-less bathing suits with chain-link garters are the next big thing.