Is Fashion Art?

“I think Fashion is an art form – you might call it decorative or applied art, as opposed to fine art, but what’s the distinction?” Zandra Rhodes

I agree entirely with Rhodes, this question poses to be far more complex than it appears however. Not only is there the consideration of whether fashion can be regarded as art, but also how do you define art? Can it be defined? If so, who defines it?

Alice Rawsthorn Director of the Design Museum believes it is “pointless questioning whether or not it is art. Of course it is not, it is fashion.” I disagree with Rawsthorn. Fashion is merely a sub genre of art and can not be a considered a completely different subject. That is like saying photography or sculpture are not a forms of art work, just because they are produced in different mediums. 

What is the definition of Art then? It is something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing on the eye. Art is a constant change moving through different movements, just as fashion moves through different trends. Art is also subjective, so who is one person to tell another what you can consider art work. But surely there has to be a limit? There is a general rule that has been applied to identify art, art is a form and content. Form being; the elements of art, design, and the actual physical materials used by the artist, for example, canvas, water-colour, silk, chiffon, film, paper, projection, clay, marble, bronze etc. The content is idea-based and means what the artist meant to portray, what the artist actually did portray and how the viewer reacts. This rule can be applied to both fashion and art, subsequently telling us that fashion is art.

An example of the rule being applied to fashion is Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection 

Alexander McQueen Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear

The form is the creation of the digitally enhanced patterns and prints applied to the material; the content is McQueen’s ideas behind his collection, which are all about the unknowing of life, having his models parade his collection looking like underwater animals and aliens. It was also McQueen’s opportunity to push the boundaries and restrictions of fashion, showing that the ugly can also be beautiful. 

Zandra Rhodes further argues her case, stating that “the same amount of artistic expression goes into clothes as a piece of pottery or painting.” It is know that great fashion designers, such as, Roberto Cavalli and Alexander McQueen are inspired by other forms of art. For example Cavalli was inspired by Millais’s Ophelia in creating a voluminous white chiffon dress; and McQueen was inspired bu 18th Century paintings in his Fall 2006 RTW collection. This shows the close ties between the typically classic considered art form of painting and the art of fashion. 

Fashion is an industry that covers a great spectrum of expertise; there is illustration, marketing, journalism, sewing, and the attention to detail in choosing the materials. All these aspects are forms of art in themselves. Illustration. David Downton, a famous fashion illustrator is a fine example of how creative and artistic fashion illustrations can be. Marketing fashion is a creative form promoting and expressing the product, just as conventional painters convey a message through their work with a particular market in mind. For example, David Downton was emplyed by Harrods to produce the art work for their marketing promotion. The aims and concepts do not differ ; it is merely the subject matter that varies. 

Fashion journalism combines writing, fashion photography and advertisement campaigns. Photography is an accepted area of interest in the genre of art, so why therefore is the acceptance of fashion controversial and undecided? Fashion photographers, such as,Mario Testino, Steven Meisel and Annie Leibovitz are all extremely established within their careers. They have produced extensive spreads for Vogue, the leading fashion magazine of this century. These spreads however are not all about selling the clothes and making the models appear glamorous. Steven Meisel’s spread for Italian Vogue “Make Love Not War”, was an opportunity for him to highlight a current, controversial and topical subject, the Iraq/Afghanistan war. The seriousness of this subject matter showed that is was more than clothes and aesthetics; it was about conveying a message. The idea that the clothes in the shoot were not that main focus is clear by the fact that in most of teh shots you can barely see the garments. Meisel even goes as far as covering them in mud and ripping them. His main aim was to create an authentic message through the art of photography. This is a blatant example of fashion and art being inextricably linked. 

A fashion catwalk show is another example of a form of art. It can be considered as two different art forms; the first is an installation, consisting of a theme, music, atmosphere and message; the second is the idea of live walking sculptures. The models are dressed to convey the designer’s masterpieces and creations, made to look exactly as the designer/creative director wishes. Viktor and Rolf’s Fall 2010 show is a prime example of symbolism and meaning being the key focus on the collection. Viktor and Rolf wanted to give a message of workmanship and the idea of old and new. The undressing of the older model and then passing it on to the younger model, suggests the idea of age and passing time. The actual workmanship of Viktor and Rolf dressing the models on stage highlights the labour of love. Tim Blanks from refers to Viktor and Rolf as “performance artists”, who takes a “show concept and makes it wearable.” The idea of teh show as a “Glamour Factory” with all the symbolism and meaning being present; it gives definite evidence of catwalk shows being a form of art.

Another example of fashion and art being linked, is through the famed French Couturier Paul Poiret who moved in artistic circles and employed Parisian artists. In Particular Poriet became extremely interested in modern art and said, “I have always liked painters. It seem to me that we are in the same trade and that they are my colleagues.” Poiret sums up the argument that he naturally felt the link between fashion and conventional art. This is further suggested by the following of trends. Through the first half of the 20th Century, fashion design tracked and echoed trends in modern art. For example; the developing aesthetic of modernism can be followed in the progression of fashion design from the heavily corseted S-Curved silhouettes that reflected the art nouveau interpretation of the female form from early in the century.

An example of fashion designers echoing artistic trends was the cubist movement. As the cubist painters would decorate their canvases with greatly abstracted objects to shock the world, designers decorated their garments and echoed the geometric shapes within the silhouette. Yves Saint Laurent a well know and highly respected fashion house, created a collection of garments inspired by famous art movements. One of Yves Saint Laurents most famous and recognizable designs was inspired by his love of art: The Mondrian dress, which was part of his 1966 Pop Art Collection. This was not only regarded as a form of art  by the fashion industry, but also by the two largest auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s who fought over who was to gain the deal and auction the collections. This proves that even the highly regarded art dealers acknowledge fashion as a form of art.

I have therefore come to the conclusion that, fashion is art, it is a creative industry that encloses a great deal of skill, ability and talent. It would be insulting to the fashion industry to disregard fashion as not being a form of art. 




About parisianparamour

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