‘My father, a descendant of immigrants, showed me that everything is useful. On the street he collects bits of cable, screws, washers, nails he then straightens. It’s a big secret for me knowing this, a philosophy of war, of survival,’ explained Sergio De Loof in 2000. By then his name had long been synonymous with a unique sensibility, creating outlandish décors, clothes and fashion shows that made use of poor and vilified materials: a basket became an Egyptian fez, coasters morphed into elegant ear-rings, brown paper was used to mould lavish dresses.
De Loof had begun to make a name for himself in the late 1980s. With some friends he met during his brief spell at art school, he founded the Bolivia bar (1989). His career took off at a blistering pace, and he was soon the driving force behind El Dorado (1991), Morocco (1993), Ave Porco (1994) and other night-spots. Every one of these spaces was legend. They invented an unprecedented night-life for a Buenos Aires doing its best to put behind it the established ways of the dictatorship. In these spaces art and night-life became one. They were night-clubs, bars and even cultural centres. Their programmes included hundreds of fashion shows, exhibitions, theatre plays: there, in a context of freedom and experimentation, the previously antagonistic worlds of artists and intellectuals, businessmen, the fashion world and show business arranged to meet.
In the 1990s De Loof conceived his numerous fashion shows as collaborative community meet-ups. He saw them as small pieces that owed a lot to the theatre. They featured friends or acquaintances, whose bodies were far-removed from those of supermodels. His intention was to create ‘art and beautiful fashion for the poor and the ugly’, opening up his works to bodily and sexual dissidence. On his catwalks the models danced and performed in the clothes Sergio composed out of scraps, second-hand clothes, paper and magazines. He made use of techniques like Paraguayan ñandutí lacework, embroidery, patchwork and recycling. Through these he also valorised a craft-based culture that, against the background of peso-dollar ‘convertibility’ and so-called globalisation, was bound eventually to disappear. There is in his garments, therefore, as much beauty as nostalgia, as much celebration as farewell.
Fascinated by the world of television, cinema and magazines, De Loof flirted with fame and money. He visited chat-show host Susana Giménez’s living room and was also a familiar face in Gente magazine, the kind of public interest very few artists have ever incited in Argentina. ‘I still believe in staking my life on what I do. When I finish a fashion show, I feel like I’ve emptied myself out completely,’ he has said. So closely did he bind his provocative, unprejudiced personality to his work that it often became impossible to tell them apart. Always treading the line between art, fashion, design and scandal, with one foot in and the other foot out of any system, De Loof tested what we understand by art with his critical irreverence and corrosive humour.¿Sentiste hablar de mí? [Never Heard Of Me?] is Sergio De Loof’s response to the Moderno’s invitation to celebrate his mark and legacy. It is a mammoth work in which palatial corridors, theatre plays, a shop selling his creations, a library and a carnival all come together. The layout emphasizes his parades and costumes, and includes his diaries, a selection of unpublished documentary material, his contributions to Wipe magazine, his paintings and installations from the mid-eighties to the present day. The exhibition charts Sergio De Loof’s impassioned, unbounded creativity whereby he has combined community and individual expressions, poverty and luxury, an aristocratic palate and popular taste, and set them on an equal footing.
We would like to thank the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires, the Teatro Argentino de La Plata and the Museo de la Ciudad for their generous help in staging the exhibition, and the Museo del Cine for its digitalization of the audio-visual pieces.
The IDA Foundation, Research on Argentine Design, provided assistance with the restoration and loan of the Sergio De Loof archive used in the exhibition.