When fashion & art collide
Is fashion art? One might say that fashion is inextricably connected to consumerism and human vanity, therefore it will never achieve the aesthetic purity & conceptual complexity of art. Nevertheless, the collaboration between fashion and art is by no means a new phenomenon.
Charles Frederick Worth
The modern fashion industry is a product of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the mid-19th century, virtually all clothing was handmade for individuals, either as home production or on order from dressmakers and tailors. The mid-nineteenth century marked the beginning of haute couture, whose earliest designers, like Charles Frederick Worth, believed themselves to be artists. As a young man, Worth worked as an apprentice for two London textile merchants. He also visited the National Gallery to study historic portraits. Elements of dresses in these paintings would later provide inspiration for Worth’s own designs. Many of his designs show the influence of the Art Nouveau movement that swept the world at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Inspired by nature, Art Nouveau was known for its curvaceous vines and serpentine florals, which took shape in embroidery, applique and lace motifs.
Paul Poiret dominated French haute couture in the early 20th century. His designs were particularly influenced by Fauvism (specifically works of Henri Matisse and Andre Derain), which was characterized by bright colours and strong brushstrokes. Inspired by such paintings, Poiret started using vivid colours in his designs, such as pink, blue, purple, gold & green. This preceded the arrival of the Ballets Russes in Paris, which sparked a wave of interest in Eastern fashions. His Oriental designs are often cited as an example of Art Deco in fashion.
One of the most famous artists to cross the boundary between art and fashion was Gustav Klimt, the most prominent member of the Viennese Secession movement. Secessionists believed that all forms of art, including the “minor” arts such as fashion, were important. Apart from designing robes for himself, Klimt made dresses for his life partner Emilie Louise Flöge, who ran a fashion boutique in Vienna. Klimt’s dresses contrasted haute couture – they were loose & exotic.
Meanwhile, in Italy, the Futurist art movement had it sights on reforming every aspect of life to make it more modern, including fashion. Futurists believed that when it came to artistic value, fashion was on a par with painting, and they issued manifestos to outline their approach to modernizing dress. Amon the Futurists, the first to design fashion in 1912 was Giacomo Balla. He designed for both men and women, and his creations utilized asymmetrical cuts and color blocks to create a feeling of movement.
Though couture borrowed from art and art rebelled against couture, it wasn't long before the two collaborated. The outrageously provocative couturier Elsa Schiaparelli finally brought artists and couturiers into creative union in the thirties. Schiaparelli always aimed to shock, and for her the weird and dreamlike creations of the Surrealists were serious fashion fodder. She integrated Surrealism into fashion, but with the explicit involvement of the artists themselves. Her work with Salvador Dalí is her most famous; among her collaborations with him are a coat inspired by his woman made of drawers, and her “Lobster Dress," featuring a crustacean painted by Dalí onto the skirt. Her 1937 work with Jean Cocteau also turned heads: an embroidered coat where the outlines of two kissing women form an optical illusion of a vase with flowers.
The late-sixties art world was also the source of one of modern fashion's most influential themes: minimalism. Originally seen in the work of artists like Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, its simplicity was soon integrated into fashion design. Sixties fashion became fascinated by straight edges and clean lines; Yves Saint Laurent's “Mondrian" dress, even as it referenced an earlier art movement with its print, was an excellent example of the sixties minimalist form.
In the nineties, minimalism staged a comeback with the sleek forms of Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein.