Excuse me, Fashion is Art
This article was inspired by interaction with some folks at Olympia’s Spring Arts Walk. After introducing myself as a style columnist, I asked this group of stylish women if I could take a picture and document some of their unique articles of clothing. Not only did they say no, they mocked me by saying what I do is “phony” and said that both fashion and its industry are “stupid” and “irrelevant.”
I tend to get this reaction from people often; it could be as subtle as a glare or rolling of the eyes and as crass as words of utter disgust. Yes, trends become capitalized. Yes, the fashion industry can promote unrealistic social norms and negative body image. But no, fashion is not fake and artificial. When people say those things to me not only do I find it personally insulting, but completely rude to artists who make beautiful garments, to the people who have started movements and used the fashion industry as their muse to define and defy society.
Different facets of fashion, such as the avant garde, runway and commercial, have had a rich and harmonious history with art. Whether it’s Yves Saint Laurent’s geometric shift dress via dutch artist Mondrian from 1965 or the 2011 Metropolitan Museum of Art costume exhibit on the abstract designs of Alexander McQueen, fashion loves art and art loves fashion. Is art sexier than we think, or is fashion more intellectual than frivolous? Art can rely on fashion for mainstream relevance. And fashion on art for sturdiness and credibility. Both fashion and art reflect the cultural landscape of the moment. They arise out of conflict such as wars and revolution and cross barrier of what we see and how we feel.
We tend to think of art appreciation as scholarly, but an interest in fashion is seen as airheaded. When an art-lover buys art, it’s called “collecting.” When a fashion enthusiast buys clothing, it’s called “shopping.” Art is supposed to be timeless and important, while fashion is understood to be short-lived and frivolous. Despite the list of differences between art and fashion, the two are cross-pollinating more than ever.
Increasingly, the world has given fashion a platform in spaces where art is traditionally showcased. Museums now display fashion with as much consideration as they do art. The successful exhibition “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York firmly placed a fashion designer among traditional artists like the painter Claude Monet and gave as much importance to evening gowns as to ancient art objects from many years ago.
Modern fashion, like modern art, is a catalyst for dialogue and an exchange of ideas. Thus, fashion has become more accessible to the masses today with museums paying more attention to the political and social effect of garments, their artists, and their muses. The democratization of fashion is parallel with the democratization of art.
So then, does it automatically follow that fashion is an art form? The answer is unequivocally yes. A person dresses in fashion because they express themselves through it, just like an painter expresses themself through canvas. We have the power to self-curate our identity with the use of fashion. An outfit pulled together can reference a period in history, art, culture and politics. We have the ability to make art come alive and use our style as a way to interact with society; a walking exhibit. In terms of profession, fashion is a form of design. You design everything on a shirt or dress, and you design how you dress, just like designing a painting. This weaving of art and fashion is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1937, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli paired with Salvador Dalí to produce a surreal, lobster-print gown made of silk organza and synthetic horsehair. It is precisely the tension between functionality and aesthetics that lies at the heart of fashion’s artistic potential.
The worlds of art and fashion have always shared a common bond, an almost mutual relationship. The connection between art and fashion has existed since before recorded history and continues to grow, adapt and reflect the trends through our present day. Fashion is art. It is but one of society’s many cultural manifestations that can be analyzed and decrypted.
The worlds of art and fashion have always shared a common bond, an almost mutual relationship. The connection between art and fashion has continued to grow, adapt, and reflect the trends through our present day. So, to address those who claim fashion is a small and puny part of art, and more largely culture, I hope this will perhaps give you perspective. We should not tear down fashion’s artistry and its gifts to society. We should not insult the art we wear and the free will of style. It’s quite simple—the art of fashion deserves the same respect as art itself.