TRADITIONALLY, there has been an uncomfortable relationship between fashion and art. When we think of art appreciation we think of it as scholarly, but an interest in fashion is considered airheaded. Art-lovers “collect” art, fashion enthusiasts “shop” for clothing.
There is a much-disputed list of ontological differences between art and fashion. Some identify the fashion industry as being tied up in commercialisation and industrialisation, whereas art is seen to be a higher entity, holding a greater value by virtue of the hallmarks of the artist. People might say that ‘art has a value whereas fashion has a price’ (Oakly Smith in Oyster 2013). However, that’s a folly we know to be untrue as the contemporary art world has just as much commercial imperative as fashion does, and contemporary artists need to produce work on an almost seasonal basis to keep up with the demand of art fairs, ‘the new fashion shows of the world’ (Oakly Smith in Oyster 2013). Others might distinguish the two based on their very nature; that is, fashion’s purpose to regenerate itself and reinvent itself continually, ‘Fashion is designed to render itself redundant’ (Kubler in Oyster 2013), therefore being constantly changing, whereas art endures and aspires to longevity and desires to last.
However, what is often misunderstood is that fashion and art are both cultural and commercial systems that operate at both a high and low level: they are mainstream and elitist, simultaneously. The challenge for art AND fashion is to remain ahead of the trend, of that which is popular. Therefore, art and fashion are more interchangeable than irreconcilably different:
‘To my mind, the best of our designers are indisputable artists; it just so happens that they have chosen fabric as their medium’ (Guiness in Oakly Smith and Kubler 2013).
And the two are cross-pollinating now more than ever. For example, in Paris, Karl Langerfield presented a collection for Chanel at the Grand Palais, transforming the exhibition hall into an art-fair-style, white-walled hangar. Langerfield played with the brand’s iconography – pearls, perfume bottles, camellias, double CCs- and created 75 sculptures and paintings that the models strutted amongst. Many pieces were accompanied by little red dots reminiscent of those seen on sold paintings at gallery exhibitions, portraying a feeling of being at once both provocative and commercially viable.
While this interbreeding of art and fashion is by no means a new phenomenon (last year, Jil Sandar offered a confetti-printed take on the kinetic works of the late Italian artist Alighiero Boetti and black and white photographs of Parisian graffiti by the late photographer Brassaï lent inspiration at Céline) the connection is becoming more hybrid, but also stronger, more diverse and definitely more interesting. The most successful fashion, in the effective transmission of ideas, innovation, experimentation, and in the challenges it poses to its audiences and wearers, has ‘benefited substantially from the skills of its designers and makers’ (Clark 2012).
As fashion is being presented internationally in galleries, museums, and in public spaces as much as on the runway, it also gains the potential to ‘have a greater impact conceptually, that is to reflect on itself, and on people, bodies, identities, ethics, aesthetics, and notions of beauty’ (Clark 2012).
This is, after all, the very stuff that fashion is really made of.
Oyster 2013, ‘Interview: Art/Fashion in the 21st Century’, Oyster, viewed 2 August 2015, <www.oystermag.com/interview-artfashion-in-the-21st-century>.
Oakly Smith, M and Kubler, A 2013, ‘Foreword’, in Daphne Guiness, Art/Fashion in the 21st Century, London, Thames & Hudson.
Clark, H 2012, ‘Conceptual Fashion’, in Adam Geczy and Vivki Karaminas (eds), Fashion and Art, London, New York: Berg, pp. 67-75.