Is fashion art?
This question, undoubtedly asked by many a fashion designer clamouring for a sense of legitimacy to their craft, has probably existed for as long as the two disciplines have.
Of the creative arts, fashion is perhaps seen as the most frivolous. Fine art has a centuries-long legacy of appreciation and academia, as do music, creative writing, and theatre. Even film and television enjoy a populist endorsement that leaves their existence immune to interrogation.
But despite its ubiquity – most human beings wear clothes, most of the time – fashion can often be seen as a superficial younger sibling.
But this all rides on the titular question: Is fashion art?
The creation of fashion definitely mirrors the process of making art; from conceptualisation, to sourcing of materials, to the production of the piece. Other than salary, what is the difference between the person who produced these paint-splattered Levi jeans and artist Jackson Pollock creating his iconic “drip-style” artworks?
That said, as Alice Rawsthorn notes for the Guardian, it could be said that fashion and art serve different purposes. Fashion is for expressing beauty – a duty that art, especially contemporary art, is often unconcerned with. Art’s function is to explore the complexities of life and to (at least attempt to) make meaning of the world around us; any beauty that comes from that is merely a by-product, Rawsthorn argues.
I, however, would suggest that perhaps our question is too simplistic. There is still much debate in creative communities over what does or does not constitute art, as well as many line-blurring and line-transgressing works, from performance art to street art to art installations. If we can’t even say for sure that art is art, surely we will struggle to agree on whether or not fashion is.
Regardless, over the years, fashion and art have in fact walked hand in hand. In the 1930s, Lola Prussac’s Hermes handbags wore Mondrian’s cubic aesthetic – as did Yves Saint Laurent’s dresses in the 1960s. Fast forward top the 21st century and Alexander McQueen has collaborated with Damien Hirst, Marc Jacobs with Daniel Buren (displayed, of course, at The Louvre), and even self-proclaimed genius Kanye West accepted help from performance artist Vanessa Beecroft’s when launching his Yeezy collections.
Art and fashion’s give and take is well documented, but the growing popularity of fashion sketches from the likes of Hayden Williams or Richard Haines is a perfect example. Are these drawings fashion or are they art? Or both? Or neither?
It’s difficult to say. But this lack of definition doesn’t make them any less beautiful.
Photo by Rob McConkey.