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.