While art is defined as ‘the creation of works of beauty or other special significance’, fashion is reduced to ‘the latest and most admired style in clothes and cosmetics’, yet surely the two are not such distant relations? When the designers of Paris, New York, Milan and London send their models down the catwalks twice a year, what else are they aiming for beside ‘the creation of works of beauty or other special significance’? How does one distinguish between creating an original work of art and designing an haute couture gown
When John Galliano said that clothes have the power to turn the wearer into a work of art, he continued a long tradition of blurring the boundaries between the two concepts that ostensibly exist as separate entities. Yet the two mediums are, in fact, deeply interrelated, and never before has this relationship been demonstrated so plainly as on the catwalks this season.
Designers seemed to have exerted their own creative license over artists throughout history taking inspiration from everyone from Monet to Pollock and everyone in between. Dolce & Gabbana commissioned young Parisian art students to paint silk canvases which were transformed into billowing ball gowns that looked like walking water lilies; a trend echoed on Zac Posen’s silk dip-dyed minidresses that evoked Turner’s stormy skies. In contrast, Marni and Chloe showed dresses patterned with blocks of colour, in homage to Rothko and the abstract expressionists.
Whilst this relationship has changed over time, the influence of art on fashion is unmistakeable; both artists and designers strive to create images and items of beauty, each group using the human body to different extents in their pursuit of this aim.
At the turn of the twentieth century art and fashion were far more visually cohesive concepts than they are today. In the early twentieth century, the artistic establishment saw a movement away from rigorous demands of realism to the emotion and freedom of expressionism, a school which saw radical changes in the perception and interpretation of the world. At this time, radical changes were developing in women’s clothing, from the first bra to the new styles adopted as roles changed in the First World War, resulting in a confusion and distortion the long established image of the artist’s muse, the female form.
The proceeding decades developed this transformation further with the ethereal loveliness and floating fabrics in fashion coupled with the organic and swirling forms of art nouveau. The flapper dresses, the skyscrapers and the artistic works of the 1920s and 30s were all inspired by the Art Deco movement, each medium using the same shapes and colours creating unprecedented artistic cohesion between art and fashion. The aftermath of the Second World War compounded the symbiotic relationship between the two artistic forms as Pop Art sought to pervade every artistic outlet on either side of the Atlantic.
The work and attitudes of Warhol and Lichtenstein created a climate of freedom and opportunity that was echoed on the catwalk as designers grew bolder with their clothes, making colours brighter and hemlines higher than ever before.The 1980s brought with it a marked contrast between those artistic groups that wished to operate within the Establishment, and those who defined themselves through their opposition to it, and these two opposing groups used clothes as a form of political expression, both of conformity and of aggression. Shoulder pads are as much a part of eighties fashion as pierced leather but both denote radically different political and artistic beliefs, both holding the other in equal contempt.
In today’s world this duality to the world of design has been taken even further, as artistic mavericks pursue ever more extreme forms of beauty, both on canvas and body; while those members of the Establishment create items of unmistakeable beauty, but also of unidentifiable imagination.
The democratisation of creativity in all its forms has led to greater inclusion and exposure of both fashion and art. Damien Hirst, Banksy and Sam Taylor Wood all fall under the category of ‘artist’ despite their radically different, and sometimes controversial, use of unconventional media. This democratisation has also meant that the appreciation and availability of art and fashion is no longer confined to the higher echelons of society.
Art and style are now whatever you wish them to be, not something dictated by those superior to you, and this egalitarian enjoyment of the two media has injected new life into both forms. Any expression of creativity is inextricably linked to notions of identity, and whilst art is an expression of an artist’s identity, fashion can be used as an expression of your own identity, moulded and fitted to convey a personal notion of yourself.
The medium of expression differs, but the objective remains the same; to create a vision of beauty, be it for purpose or for perusal.