The Desire For Eternal Youth

Exhibition at Kunsthal, Rotterdam (The Netherlands) Jan. 23, 2021 – Aug. 22, 2021

Recently I visited the lovely Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam where the exhibition Youthquake: The Desire For Eternal Youth runs. The exhibition trailer can be viewed below (caution: the clip contains bright, flashing lights and/or imagery that may cause discomfort and/or seizures for those with photosensitivity or epilepsy)

Trailer for the Youthquake exhibition at Kunsthal. Via YouTube.

The exhibition explores the perception of youth and youthfulness through the ages and notes how youth, and particularly being and staying young, has increasingly influenced fashion, marketing, and (social) media. I particularly loved the installation of two synchronised projections playing the movie Forever (2006) by Julika Rudelius, in which four different American women, some more obviously ‘enhanced’ by plastic surgery than others, talk about ageing well and how growing old affects their bodies and makes them feel.

As a history enthusiast, I particularly enjoyed the history of dress, and the history of children’s fashion in particular, which makes up a large part of the exhibition. With loans from the Fashion Museum in Hasselt (Belgium) it is illustrated how children and teenager dressed in different time periods. From the mid-sixteenth century until the early twentieth century, for example, boys and girls both wore dresses, as can be observed in portraits and photographs.

Dressing young boys and girls in dresses was a common practice for practical reasons: boys were only given to wear pants after they were properly toilet trained, an occasion known as breeching. Clothing for children and adults wasn’t differentiated: young girls wore dresses that were basically the same as their mother’s, except for its size, and boys wore breeches or trousers where the only difference between young men and adults was that young men wore shorts or shorter breeches than adult men. The exhibition aptly termed this ‘mini me.’ Funny enough mothers and daughters wearing matching outfits has recently come back into fashion again, as the exhibition shows:

Since the early 2000s, designer brands such as Gucci have launched baby clothing lines, of which some examples being displayed at the exhibition, as well as matching clothing in both adult and child sizes.

Beside of all the glitter & glamour and plastic fantastic stuff, there was also room for a different view: that age doesn’t matter. The exhibition also feature some larger-than-life portraits of New York fashion icon Iris Apfel (b. 1921) who defies the idea of ‘dressing for your age’ and simply wears whatever the hell she feels like – and totally rocking her outfits. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it.

Youthquake. Iris Apfel. Photo by Luìs Monteiro.
Iris Apfel. Photo by Luìs Monteiro.

As the Kunsthal website aptly puts it: “This 99-year-old, world-famous style icon thinks, lives and dresses like a young person while her unique style simultaneously offers a positive counterbalance to the adoration of youth.” The exhibition makes you think: This adoration of youth, why is this a thing? Why are we supposed to strive to stay young forever, particularly when we all know it to be impossible? And then there’s the double standard: this exhibition, too, predominantly shows fashion for (young) women, movies featuring women, commercials featuring and targeting (young) women…. because for some reason men are allowed to visibly grow older without judgement.

I very much enjoyed the exhibition and would definitely urge you to go see it if you have the change – if only for the Iris Apfel portraits – they’re gorgeous! The exhibition runs until 22 August 2021. You can find more information and order a ticket at the Kunsthal website.