Keeping the art on the catwalk

With fashion designers constantly getting inspiration from the various art forms, we look back and forward of how the art, when transformed into an illustrated inspiration primer, brings new life to clothing and accessories

Prada S/S 2014
Prada S/S 2014

As Tate Modern opened its doors for Henri Matisse and Malevich, and catwalks are embracing the art look, the bond between fashion and art today seems even stronger than it was a decade ago. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, artwork, dance – from traditional art, the Renaissance, the Humanism era, through 16th century explorations, through the Rococo and the Neo-Classicism, the Romanticism, the Realism and the Art Nouveau, to nowadays modern and contemporary and abstract forms, fashion and art have been linked for centuries. And the importance of this link has been manifested through aesthetics of catwalks, in advertising campaigns, editorials and street fashion, therefore embracing the everyday cause and effect relationship that fashion and art experience.

This two-way communication goes back to at least the Renaissance era, states Alice Macrell in her book “Art and Fashion”. Artists like Jacopo Bellini, Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Antonio Pisanello, were not only depicting fashion in their paintings, they were also creating costume models and designing textile patterns and embroidery. Leaving the Renaissance era, the Flemish Baroque artist known as Rubens was producing costume studies for his subject paintings and portraits. Thomas Gainsborough, English portrait painter, captured the liveliness of the Rococo through fashion. Later on, through the Neo-Classical movement and the Romanticism, fashion became more fresh and individual. Along with the Impressionism and the Realism, the artwork brought the new contemporary way of dressing up, transforming women into a modern vision of the painter’s imagination.

“The Lobster Telephone” dress by Elsa Schiaparelli
“The Lobster Telephone” dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

When the Art Nouveau created a diversity of trends, the Surrealism struck with the new image of a woman. By translating it into the clothing, that surrealistic image was brought by none else than Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. With the father of the Surrealism himself, Salvador Dali, Elsa Schiaparelli made a new avenue in fashion. They collaborated on two of the most iconic dresses of the 1930’s, with the organza dress with painted lobster being one of them. Naturally, the dress was inspired by Dali’s famous surrealistic object, “The Lobster Telephone”.

But over the recent years, it seems that the relationship between art and fashion has hit a new level, and that one of the biggest trends in fashion is to tie it in what’s seen in the galleries. Ready-to-wear collections are becoming more closely related to the drawings, expressed through colours and shapes of art forms. A lot of big brands are now putting more energy into designing their pieces with a splash of art. These movements reflect the profound comfort that occurs when the fantasy behind the painting comes alive on the catwalk.

For many the creativity is the key – the bridge that connects these two spheres. The imagination must never stop travelling and through decades and centuries that imagination gave some pretty effective bold lines in clothing, rectangular and trapezoid-shaped accessories, which seem to give off a scent of a gallery land. The pieces are often taken from the image of a kaleidoscope, and therefore highlight the importance of art being biggest liaison to fashion.

The proof of fashion’s equal cultural relevance as art is vividly everywhere. Pierre Bergé, the keeper of the Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy used to say that Saint Laurent was an artist, underlining that even Andy Warhol himself had proclaimed YSL as “the biggest French artist of our time.” The exhibition “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York placed the designer among very traditional artists, which additionally gave his evening gowns almost the same value as some art objects from centuries ago. During his creations Henri Matisse was always interested in fashion, and a lot of designers still reference him and his work. For example, Paul Smith was always captivated by the “exceptional way he puts colours together and mixes patterns”. So what’s the situation nowadays? Where is art on the catwalk? 

Celine S/S 2014
Celine S/S 2014

As far as the fashion industry, 2014 was definitely inspired by several art forms, and catwalks were walking exhibitions. It seemed like the designers spent hours in the galleries before making the collections. This season portraits were splashed across shirts and skirts, and coats were edged with giant brushstrokes. Jil Sander used collage prints inspired by Alighiero Boetti, a famous Italian conceptual artist, while Roksanda Ilincic tuned in with Cubist jugsaw artwork by Gary Card, a designer and illustrator. LK Bennett included a Monet paint splatters on shoes, YMC had Rothko’s bold brushstrokes on dresses and Chanel has sprayed the graffiti on bags, thus paying an homage to street art.

S/S 2014 Celine runway was full of their trademark covetable totes with a glance of art effect. Trademark colours were replaced with graffiti strokes and this art theme continued on their accessories as well, and not only bags but also jewellery. With a hint of some of the most recognisable Piet Mondrian’s motifs, this season is playful, practical and very chic. For its S/S 2014 collection, Zac Posen borrowed some lightness from the Impressionist era to effectively highlight his vision of a woman, and latest Dolce & Gabbana accessories have a dash of Sicilian rococo flow. Even Salvatore Ferragamo turned to architecture for his S/S 2014 inspiration. Influenced by the work of the architect Miguel Angel Aragones, the designer made very sharp geometric pieces, focusing on Miguel’s minimalism.

Burberry A/W 2014
Burberry A/W 2014

London Fashion Week was surely the place to be for the clash of art and fashion, vividly present on the Burberry catwalk. The first women collection by the new Burberry’s CEO Christopher Bailey was full of Matisse-like big flowers spread on every single piece of clothing and accessories. Bailey focused on art inspired pieces as if they were splashed directly with brushstrokes on the cape-like trench coats and open-toe ankle heels that perfectly match with oversized handbags.

And Milan Fashion Week followed the trend, with Miuccia Prada’s colour-burst collection. The collection was entirely inspired by Mexican muralists and the film industry – the famous German film noir “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The dresses were splashed with huge specially commissioned portraits. Thanks to Prada’s bold overcoats with zingy orange patterns on the catwalk, shopping became a fun and technicolour dance with clothes and accessories.

Even the resort collections couldn’t avoid the art effect. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli referenced the magical, colourful world of Frida Kahlo for Valentino resort 2015. With Frida Kahlo as one of their jumping-off points for Resort, parrots and monkeys—both of which appeared in the artist’s famous self-portraits—played starring roles in their new collection.

The art hits the jewellery designs very often. Austrian jewellery mansion Frey Wille has a special art-inspired collection every year. In the last decade, the collections included motifs by some of the most famous artists in the world, such as Gustav Klimt, Claude Monet and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Mayfair jeweller Lucas Rarities has 14 abstract expressionism pieces, which were manufactured in the 1960s, inspired by the works of Wassil Kandinsky.

However, the loudest examples of the communication between art and fashion are through collaborations. Stella McCartney’s newest collaboration includes fabulous drawings of women and their faces by Gary Hume, an English artist who is famous for drawings of people portrayed through two or three colours. McCartney said that this collaboration represents the marriage between fashion and art by bringing Gary’s work to life. On the other side of the English Channel, Marni used the works of three visionary artists for the latest range of its shirts and totes, as part of their pre-fall collection. The works of Francois-Xavier Tavy-Sacley, Christophe Joubert and Stefano Favaro will be the covers of Marni’s casual clothing and accessories. Jeff Koons' "Yellow Balloon Dog" for H&M

Design collaborations nowadays are considered a mandatory thing. And every year H&M surprise its fans with some unusual one. To commemorate the retail’s flagship store opening in New York’s Fifth Avenue, H&M is partnering with Jeff Koons, a very famous American artist of banality and balloon art. Koon’s most famous “Yellow Balloon Dog” will appear on the limited edition bag available from July 17. And the art effect doesn’t stop there! H&M’s store will be shaped as an art museum, with herringbone woodwork, mirrors, vitrines, and pillars.

Sometimes dubbed as the poor statement of an art form, fashion managed to prove its power in the inevitable mixture of these two forms. After all, the relationship between a woman and her objects de désir is quite intense. And if we use art to reconstruct emotions and communicate the sentiments, I’m sure that fashion too screams the way we scream, and cry the way we cry.

Undoubtedly, the relationship between art and fashion has ambiguous interpretations. Today’s fashion industry plays by the same rules art did and still do, and their respective realms of creativity permeate through this liaison which can, overnight, easily become a new art form. Maybe it already is?



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