Is fashion art? [Part 2]

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#NEWSERIE – Jose Romussi | cargo collective

We can look at fashion in two ways:

a) look at their functional aspect that enables clothing to keep us warm, giving us erotic appeal, adorning us

or

b) regard them as beautiful objects of aesthetic contemplation by “disregarding the concept under which they fall and therefore ignoring their functional dimension. They could be (as indeed they are) objects of admiration in a museum (Miller, 2007).

It is a quote like Guillaume Apollinaire’s (1927) in Le poète assassiné that could potentially help us understand what sentiments fashion could invoke within a person: “Fashion is becoming practical and no longer looks down on anything. It ennobles everything. It does for materials what the Romantics did for words (Apollinaire, 1999). It is this power of fascination, historical value and freedom of identity that makes fashion a strong subject of interest, regardless of whether one agrees to its status as art or not.

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Issey Miyake outfit on the cover of Artforum magazine, Feb 1982

The Artforum editor that put the Issey Mikaye dress on the February 1982 cover, Ingrid Sischy, sparked controversy by associating dress with art, but she even admits she doesn’t necessarily think fashion is art, but still poses the question as to why the definition for artistic creativity is so narrow as to be characterised purely as a painting in a frame (Spindler, 1996). She even described fashion designers from the likes of Muccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo and Karl Lagerfeld as the “equivalent breakthrough visually, as there was when artists broke through the idea of the picturesque’’ and carries on the comparison by saying: “The most creative and the most attuned designers are revolutionising what a palette means, what a line means, a shape. For fashion, it’s the equivalent creativity of Cubism” (Spindler, 1996).

For Sischy, the difference between art and fashion lies in the system in which fashion is judged. She points out the lack of system in which people could step back and really look at a piece of clothing or at a look and truly think about it: what it means, what it represents, what it might convey, as opposed to keeping a level of debate and interest to a low and superficial level (Spindler, 1996).

Fashion adheres to quite a few of the philosophies mentioned in a previous extract, in that is not always aesthetically pleasing, more often than not is based on a mood and an inspiration which gives it meaning and it portrays the personality of the designer or the house that design it. It can make us feel tremendous joy, pain, even shock, can be anchored in our minds forever and it can take us back to times we never experienced or lived in. Unfortunately, this might not be enough. There is no definitive answer as to whether fashion is art. This might have been possible if the fashion system was different if designers had more time to work on their creations, and if a real platform was offered to viewers to judge the art. Fashion can also still be linked to status and frivolity as it is not used as a marketing tool by celebrities and bloggers to manifest their status to the world.

This way of looking at fashion as a sign of status could be undermining its true meaning. Evidently, some of fashion’s best moments happened off the runway. As Ms Sischy stated so adequately:’’At the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum in May 1994, the most fabulous moment was when these dames emerged in their Halston-designed dresses when Andy had done the fabric’’ (Spindler, 1996).

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Andy Warhol x Rob Halston collaboration (Fall 1974) 
Halston and Warhol: Silver & Suede exhibition poster at The Andy Warhol Museum 

Indeed, fashion is not only about what happens in big fashion houses. It is as much about history as it is about contemporary happenings. Indeed, innovation was always at the forefront of the fashion world, as well as a constant shift in clothing styles. Most of these changes were inspired by art movements or social shifts in societies. This can even date back to the time of French king Louis XV’s time when his mistress Madame Pompadour established Rococo fashion, described as a happy, fresh style in pastel colours, and subsequently, light stripe and floral patterns became popular. We could even look at Marie Antoinette who became the leader of French fashion, as did her dressmaker Rose Bertin. She basked in extravagance and it became her trademark, which ended up majorly fanning the flames of the French Revolution.

In the next section, we will look at fashion in the 20th Century, how it cultivated ideas, what art movements were the catalysts of modern fashion, and take a look at what could be described as the early show-pieces.

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Fashion x Future

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Gucci AW18 – Illustration by Cynthia Bifani

The Gucci AW18 show took quite a few of us by surprise. It felt like the dawn of a new age, where fashion merges with fantasy. The movie industry is expanding its superhero/alien/fantasy genre and it seems fashion is following the trends of the decade of the Geek. I am glad to see the drama and storytelling of fashion are back, and I am beyond excited. It’s like a tame flashback to the 1999 Givenchy collection by McQueen, where women were imagined as robots. Fashion has become a show again, riddled with political messages and cyborgs, offering escapism for our cultural conditions and anxiety.

 

It seems that everytime the world faces the challenges of a cultural, political and social divide, we as a species tend to find a revolution in art and fashion. This is true of all major economic crashes throughout history. This is also true of all times of rebellion. The 60s brought us the emancipation of women while the 70s only wanted to find love and peace in the midst of a climate that was incredibly divided. Then we had the punks who had enough of the misery they were living. The 90s exploded sex rebellion and overt theatricals to make us dream. It seems we are now living in a time that encompasses all of the issues stated above, and this is so close to erupting through artistic consciousness. We want the future to be better. For us, for them, for you. Speculation turns into art now.

▽ Gucci x Fantasy

Models carry their own severed heads, a baby dragon, other seem to have grown a third eye or horns; a seminal work pf post-humanist theory.

▽ Moschino x Fruity Aliens

In true Moschino fashion: Alien Marilyn and Jackie O, hyper-glam robots, referencing the talk of “illegal alien”

▽ Alexander Wang x The Matrix

The Matrix meets working girl. Sharp and tailored looks, shoulder pads and patent trench coats and rectangular glasses, taking us back to John Galliano’s Dior 1999 collection.

▽ Prada x AI

Recruiting AI Instagram star @lilmiquela, offering a sci-fi twist a futuristic feminist utopia in fluorescent lights. Creepy AF, but this is one of my favourite collection this year.

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▽ McQueen x Metamorphosis

Models transforming into butterflies and moths; tailored jackets, exaggerated silhouettes, wing-looking bows and kaleidoscope prints.

▽ Balmain x silver metal

Shiny metallics, neon, and shitloads of sequins reminiscent of robotics, but keeping silhouettes incredibly feminine. This collection made my year.

 

Lacoste’s Save our Species series

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Lacoste released an endangered species collection last week. The polo shirt usual crocodile logo was swapped for the images of 10 endangered species in an effort to raise awareness and help counter their threat of extinction. On the left breast of the shirt, we can the Gulf California porpoise, the Burmese roofed turtle, the Sumerian tiger, the Anegada ground iguana and the northern sportive lemur, amongst others.

Only 1175 t-shirts were released on the market, and these numbers were calibrated for each series to the amount of the remaining animals in the wild; i.e. only 30 were released with the California porpoise, while 450 were available with the Anegada iguana. T-shirts have already sold out after less than a week on the market and proceeds went to the sponsor of the event, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is the start of a three-year partnership between the brand and the IUCN.

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“The Lacoste crocodile is one of the world’s most iconic logos, proudly displayed on the brand’s famous polos for the past 85 years,” said the Lacoste in a statement. “For the first time in the brand’s history, BETC has initiated a change of the logo.”

“Lacoste and BETC worked closely with IUCN’s experts to define and select ten threatened species, whose animals have been designed by the Lacoste studio to create the logos, adopting exactly the same embroidery approach as the historic Crocodile,” it continued.

The element of design in this campaign is so basic and yet so powerful. Lacoste has found a way to stay true to its aesthetic, raise awareness at all levels of consciousness, but also catered to the fashion fanatic. It is the sweet balance between targeting people who care about the endangered species and would love to spend about £135 for proceedings to go to the IUCN, and the people who crave and need the exclusivity of these polos. The hype and the cause all gelled into a recipe for success: sales, interest, fashion, nature, awareness, responsibility.

Is fashion art? [Part 1]

The theories

In her article Fashion as Art; is Fashion Art?, Sandra Miller (2007) asks if fashion can be regarded as a form of art.

In its February 1982 issue, Artform magazine featured on its cover an Issey Miyake outfit, which could have doubled as an aggressive/erotic sculpture or painting. It was the first time clothing had been featured on the cover of an art magazine (The Issey Miyake Foundation, 2009). This marked the beginning of all parties attempting to “bridge the gap perceived to exist between the worlds of art and fashion, culminating in the 1996 extravaganza that was the Florence Biennale” (Miller, 2007). Entitled Time and Fashion, the exhibition was the first biennial event to explore fashion in depth (Spindler, 1996).

 

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Muccia Prada x Damien Hirst Entomology bag

The Biennale held seven exhibitions with the only purpose of exploring the relationship between the visual arts: design, architecture, film, photography, music, costume and communication. The catalyst of this exhibition was the belief that fashion, in its complexity and innovative worth, was the most important expression of mass culture (Catalogue of the Biennale di Firenze, 1996). Miuccia Prada collaborated with art collector Damien Hirst in one of seven pavilions; Helmut Lang with neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer in another; Gianni Versace with pop-artist Roy Lichtenstein in a third. Works of Ms. Prada, Jil Sander, Rei Kawakubo, Mr. Lang, Mr. Versace and Karl Lagerfeld had been criticised for being unattractive, but were exhibited nonetheless to appropriately challenge what is considered beautiful (Spindler, 1996). 

 

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Issey Miyake outfit on the cover of Artforum magazine, February 1982

 

 

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Since then, the question of fashion as art has been constantly discussed in matter of art history and philosophy. George Dickie provided a deemed logical definition of art by proposing that “a work of art is an object of which someone has said I christen this object a work of art” (Dickie, 1977;436). If this theory is accepted, then conferring the status of art on fashion should be acceptable when looking at Elsa Schiaparelli’s work for example (Miller, 2007), especially her collaboration with surrealist painter Salvador Dali. This work will be discussed further in the section on Cubism.

On the other hand, Noël Carroll seems to disagree. He believes that “sometimes the mere fact that an artefact can be used to serve a historically acknowledged function suffices to call an object art, irrespective of the original creator’s intention” (Carroll, 1999). Art has to provide historical narrative. The reason for this theory is explained clearly: all famous theories of art have been replaced by the appearance of new ones, and experimental innovation should not be feared but embraced to ensure the never-ending evolution of art (Carroll, 1999).

The study of the history of clothing has not yet acquired the status of fine arts history. Nevertheless, the history of fashion is directly linked and dependent on the visual arts, if only because of its perishable nature. Clothing has always offered very important clues to art historians regarding issues of class, gender and social status and has been used as conveyors of meaning in many religious studies. If we were to consider the aesthetics of dress and how they have influenced economic, political and technological history, and even of social customs, we would see that they were very closely aligned. These matters can affect invention and sartorial craftsmanship, and help fashion expand its horizons (Miller, 2007).

 

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A collaboration between Gianni Versace and Roy Lichtenstein, showing an overlapping of artistic disciplines.

 

An association with frivolity offers yet another opinion as it links fashion to social customs rather than aesthetics. Kant (1892) defines this theory as an imitation of the other, especially holding a higher status than one’s own, like a child would his parents. The frivolous nature of imitation provides the justification for predicated vanity and recklessness of fashion (Miller, 2007): “thus fashion belongs under the heading of vanity for its intent is no inner value; and also under the heading of folly, for it is folly to be compelled by mere example into following slavishly the conduct shown by many in society” (Kant, 1892). An opposite view given by Edmund Burke, argues that our desire to imitate is especially important in a society as it shapes manners, opinions and lives (Burke, 1990). “It is a species of mutual compliance which all men yield to each other without constraints to themselves, and which is extremely flattering to them” (Burke, 1990). This is a proven theory in fashion diffusion and is called the trickle-down theory, a hierarchal process where individuals with high status establish trends, only to be imitated by lower-status individuals producing cheaper versions of the style offered. This circle keeps high-status individuals motivated to differentiate themselves from the masses, and this, in effect, is what fuels innovation and style changes.

 

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Ultimately, if fashion is not considered art, then it is a subject of aesthetics. In his book Art, the critics and you, Curt John Ducasse (1944) argues that man is a reflective being, but most of all a self-centred one (Miller, 2007), and goes on to place appearances at the centre of human happiness and states that clothing is “an ornamental mask for the human form, and whatever manages to serve as such constitutes clothing” (Ducasse, 1929). Thus beauty, mystery, interest, grandeur, glamour are means of fascination and therefore significant the flourishing of humankind (Miller, 2007).

A sociological view of art and aesthetics

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In an effort to better understand the relationship between fashion, art and aesthetics, I spoke to Antoine Hayek, sociologist and anthropologist. In this fascinating Q&A, I hope you will be a step closer in understanding the complexity and beauty of the ultimate question: Is fashion art?

Note: this interview was translated from French to English

Earth + Jade: What is your view on art and aesthetics? 

Antoine Hayek: Art has existed since the dawn of mankind even if it has not always been consciously and equally taken into consideration.

It has sometimes been mistaken for handicraft when the artist was only seen as the executor, as the hand of a creator god who was the sole receptacle of genius.

Greek thought was what gave art its first true dignity, a dignity which would be lost with the arrival of the Middle Ages.

Art acts as an intermediary between permanent reality—an external reality which remains substantially the same through time and space—and interior reality which is rather diverse, instable and changing. It varies from person to person, from community to community.

Each society, each era, each human group and each generation has its own, differing vision of the same objects. This vision came through by various modes of transcription, at first through the interpretation of shapes since it is through them that the human mind approaches and understands what the eyes see. It is art’s first and foremost function.

Aesthetics was first a reflection on sensation, and one of Kant’s discoveries was to link it to the judgment of taste, that is to the most intimate function of subject. The judgment of taste: “That is beautiful!”, “It’s late!”, “I like it!” and other such judgments express nothing on the work of art itself. They rather express the mindset of the person who looks at the artwork. Thus taste is entirely subjective. But is taste really personal? When someone says “That is beautiful!” they want to share their taste which is then communicated to others. People speak about their tastes but truly personal taste does not exist.

E+J: Do you agree with any of the notions mentioned in the text above, and why? 

AH: I share Kant’s vision of Art and Aesthetics, of Beauty and Taste. Nature’s beauties seem to have been created intentionally. How can we imagine that such beauties may have been created by chance? Everything there agrees with our own nature. All those things please our mind. But aesthetic response teaches us less about nature.

This vision, to me, calls for an approach of individual freedom within creation since both mechanism and freedom must be opposed to each other.

Art must also be seen as distinct from science. Art’s skills differ from those of science. We can know something without being able to create it. “Only that which we are unable to create, even if we know it thoroughly, can be ascribed to art. Art is not a lesser way of knowing, it is something else entirely.

It is just as important to be able to distinguish art from trade.

In these definitions, art is separate from nature. “By right, one should only call art what is produced through freedom, that is, through free will.” That is why the principle of art is genius. “Genius is the innate disposition of the mind through which nature sets down rules for art.”

Through genius, nature does not set down rules for science but it does so for art. Since genius is the ability to create beautiful things, a somewhat different faculty is required to judge it. “A beauty of nature is a beautiful thing; beauty of art is a beautiful representation of a thing.”

An art object always supposes finality. We must therefore always “take into account the item’s perfection at the same time.” But in that case, it is not purely a judgment of taste; it gives rise to a separation between genius and judgment of taste. “In a work which claims to be a work of art, one can perceive genius without taste, just as another will find taste without genius.”

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E+J: Why is art important and how did it contribute to man’s progress in your opinion? How do you judge art?

AH: The function of art is not its usefulness but rather the role it plays within society, its general effect on those spectators who receive it. Art’s function is certainly not forever fixed, but rather it evolves along with it.

The fight against homogenization and standardization can be seen in Pop Art, which appeared in the Sixties.

Art, and especially contemporary art, tends to turn the attention to facts within society, to the margins. It seeks to provoke. Happenings, body art, art brut (also called outsider art) carry with them a strong challenging charge. It hails to the idea of counterculture which arose around the Beat Generation, rock, and hippy culture, all of which went against consumer society.

Art’s expressive function, as an act of communication with the world, and its value as a reflection of social and moral transformations, is important.

Art, therefore, has one role to play: that of opening spaces where emotions and sentiments self-regulate. It allows for, and at the same time, avoids the outpouring of subjectivity that would be too irrational; and allows for its translation in a language that can be understood by more individuals than simply the artist himself or herself.

Plinio Walder Prado, a philosophy professor at Paris VIII University, discovered the existence of a “no man’s land”, a space not known to others, which belongs solely to the individual, without reservation, and which each person has within themselves without even knowing about it. In this place, a secret and free existence can be cultivated, which will evade all attempts at control. Thus, the public does not exist before the creation of the work of art—it is rather the work of art which creates its own public.

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E+J: Do you think fashion is one of the disciplines that could be considered as art, and why? 

AH: Indeed, fashion is an art form, but it is a nomadic and ephemeral art form.

Fashion as art is a dynamic and interactive phenomenon defined by an aesthetic and creative autonomy.

This art form is fleeting and ephemeral, it is in a constant state of evolution, in a perpetual flux. It transforms according to taste and social changes within the evolution of habits and values.

As La Bruyère wrote in his “Characters”: “Such is our giddiness that one fashion has hardly destroyed another, when it is driven away by a newer one, again to make way for its successor, which will not be the last.”

This same idea of fashion’s ephemeral nature was reprised and studied more in depth by Roland Barthes in 1967 in “The Fashion System,” in which he writes: “Changes in fashion appear regular if we consider a relatively long historical duration, and irregular if we reduce this duration to the few years preceding the time at which we place ourselves; regular from afar and anarchic up close, Fashion thus seems to possess two durations: one strictly historical, the other what could be called memorable, because it puts into play the memory a woman can have of the Fashions which have preceded the Fashion of a given year.”

Fashion is the collective conscience of a society; it evolves with the evolution of ideas and lifestyles. For fashion designers, it is a way to transmit a message, to expose something, to provoke and, finally, to influence habits (e.g.: women’s liberation with Coco Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, and others).

Fashion can rightly be considered an art since it is always a symbolic relationship, an exchange that is both coded and metaphorical. It is a way of being stylish while presenting to the world a way of being, an attitude, a behaviour.

Within fashion, representation carries numerous and plural meanings.

For Michèle Pirazzoli, Director of studies at École des Hautes Études, specialist in the art and archaeology of China and former curator at Musée Guinot, says: “Through the centuries, textiles have always been a preferred way of expressing a collective or an individual form of aesthetics; the infinite variety of patterns and colours, the various textiles themselves, are a true reflection of those expressions.”

Thus fashion is shot through with an aesthetic ideal of Beauty that is both timeless and immutable but a Beauty which remains temporary and furtive.

The imagery of fashion goes far beyond simple runway shows and appears in a variety of artistic manifestations.

This appearance of fashion in the world of art allows it to gain an artistic legitimacy as much as it permits it to be fabricated and created (through photography, cinema, dance, theatre, etc.).

Therefore, fashion is, as Yves Saint Laurent said it so well, a trade which “is not strictly an art form, but which needs an artist to exist.”  Is that not a magnificent definition?