14 Jul, 2009

Savile Row meets the Borrowers

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The Fire Station, London W1

In what was once a Victorian fire station in London’s West End, there is now an exhibition, commissioned by Artangel, called Mens Suits – a title that incompletely prepares you for what you are about to see.

This is as artist Charles LeDray intends (he is not one for explanations). When I walked in, I gasped: I had not realised that this was a show in which suits are cut down to size for little men no more than two-and-a-half feet tall. You have to crouch down to admire the tailoring which is exquisite (not much for Fireman Sam here). There is a wheel of tiny ties made of second-hand fabrics, mainly conservative but with occasional radicals: leaping fish, psychedelic abstracts. I longed to rifle through the tiny racks and half expected to see a changing room of minute customers. But it was not until my eyes spotted a rail of immaculate, minuscule leather gloves that I suddenly felt light-fingered, longing to sneak a pair into my pocket.

LeDray, who lives in New York, began his career as a security guard in a Seattle museum and has had no formal training as artist or tailor. His mother taught him to sew. Everything is hand-stitched. The show took three years to prepare. It is hard to believe he hasn’t been working in the rag trade forever: he has such feeling for what he does (check out his audacious orange-tartan velvet jacket).

The scale excites tenderness, delight and a sort of pity. It is extraordinary how the clothes look old and new. Fastidiously refashioned, they wear their hopeful hearts on their sleeves. Yet they are also tired, telltale and secondhand. But what I love most is LeDray’s determination to release the clothes from any need to be worn, leaving them free to have lives of their own.

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