Body of Work


Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Fash­ion and art have never been so closely aligned. We in­ves­ti­gate the nexus be­tween the cre­ative and the com­mer­cial

At first they seem like diametric op­po­sites. Fash­ion rep­re­sents per­fec­tion, as­pi­ra­tion and ma­te­ri­al­ism; art is all about por­tray­ing re­al­ity. Yet, es­sen­tially, both are about self

ex­pres­sion, and the crossover be­tween the two is grow­ing ever more com­plex, in­trin­sic and cre­ative. “In the end, art and fash­ion aim to achieve some­thing that is stim­u­lat­ing and vis­ually ar­rest­ing,” says Jonathan Akeroyd, CEO of Alexan­der Mcqueen. “Fash­ion is an ap­plied art and they are both aes­thet­i­cally driven.”

Alexan­der Mcqueen is a part­ner of one of the lead­ing con­tem­po­rary art fairs, Frieze, held in London in Oc­to­ber. Frieze at­tracts the world’s hippest crowd, in­clud­ing many from the fash­ion world, such as Kate Moss, Stella Mccart­ney, Elle Macpher­son, Marc Ja­cobs and Ric­cardo Tisci.

“Art can pro­vide huge in­spi­ra­tion for many de­sign­ers and fash­ion houses and it be­comes a two-way di­a­logue,” says Vic­to­ria Sid­dall, di­rec­tor of Frieze Masters, the part of the fair that presents a con­tem­po­rary take on his­tor­i­cal art. Its Talks pro­gramme is sup­ported by Gucci. “You see some of the best-dressed peo­ple from around the world at Frieze, from col­lec­tors to gal­lerists, cu­ra­tors and mem­bers of the pub­lic both in London and Frieze New York. The col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween a num­ber of artists and fash­ion brands are of course large-scale ex­pres­sions of how the re­la­tion­ship can work.”

This year’s ma­jor fash­ion col­lec­tions were burst­ing with art. At Burberry, clothes were hand painted with il­lus­tra­tions from A Trea­sury of English Wildlife; Ric­cardo Tisci’s work for Givenchy was in­flu­enced by per­for­mance artist Ma­rina Abramovic; pop art in­spired Prada’s en­tire spring/sum­mer col­lec­tion. “By go­ing to fairs like Frieze, art im­prints my sub­con­scious,” says Fleur Wood, a New York-based fash­ion de­signer. “I ab­sorb art through os­mo­sis and it in­flu­ences my de­signs in terms of pro­por­tion, colour com­bi­na­tions and ma­te­ri­als.” Wood de­tails how pho­tog­ra­pher Vee Speers in­spired her win­ter 2010 col­lec­tion. “In fash­ion you need to find that bal­ance be­tween cre­ative ex­pres­sion and the com­mer­cial. For most artists, art is an ex­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of their in­ter­nal feel­ings with less con­sid­er­a­tion of the com­mer­cial.”

As well as aes­thetic ben­e­fits of col­lab­o­ra­tions with artists, the CEOS of fash­ion houses are wise to the com­mer­cial and fi­nan­cial spin-offs. Limited edi­tion pieces de­signed by cel­e­brated artists of­fer ca­chet to the con­sumer and have proved lu­cra­tive—spear­headed by Louis Vuit­ton in 2003 with Takashi Mu­rakami’s col­lec­tion, which trans­formed the brand’s im­age and con­tin­ued un­til 2007. LV’S largest col­lab­o­ra­tion was with Yayoi Kusama in 2012, fea­tur­ing the Ja­panese artists’ de­signs on ac­ces­sories, ready-to-wear and jew­ellery. The cam­paign was rolled out in 460 stores in 64 coun­tries and was the largest takeover of any brand in London’s Sel­fridges. Other la­bels have grabbed some of the art ac­tion, in­clud­ing Longchamp pair­ing with Tracey Emin and Sarah Mor­ris, Damien Hirst with Alexan­der Mcqueen, and Anselm Reyle with Dior.

Spon­sor­ing art fairs has be­come big business for fash­ion brands, too. Fendi has been a part­ner of De­sign Mi­ami and De­sign Basel since 2008. Swarovski is Basel’s main spon­sor and backed for the 14th year its Crys­tal Palace, a space for in­stal­la­tion art. Th­ese col­lab­o­ra­tions are a unique sort of mar­ket­ing, giv­ing fash­ion brands ku­dos and cre­ative ex­po­sure. One of the in­stal­la­tions at this year’s Crys­tal Palace fea­tured 8,000 golden Swarovski drops. At this year’s De­sign Mi­ami, Fendi’s striped Pe­quin pat­tern was given a dif­fer­ent sort of brand­ing when artist Maarten De Ceu­laer brought it to life on fur­ni­ture.

Auc­tion houses long ago spot­ted the com­mer­cial worth of fash­ion as art. Although per­haps more val­ued be­cause of its owner than be­cause of its style, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s white

“sub­way” dress sold for more than US$5.6 mil­lion at auc­tion. El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor’s di­a­mond col­lec­tion fetched a record US$115 mil­lion.

“A good dress is a thing of beauty for­ever— but if you know who wore it and why, that makes it even more in­ter­est­ing and an­chors it in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture,” says Christie’s in­ter­na­tional spe­cial­ist in tex­tiles, Pat Frost. “Com­mer­cial value rises with the im­por­tance and in­ter­est in the prove­nance; this is true of paint­ings, but also true of cloth­ing and peo­ple some­times for­get this.”

Artists and de­sign­ers have al­ways worked to­gether, Frost points out. “Just think of Elsa Schi­a­par­elli work­ing as an equal with Dalí and Cocteau in the 1930s on dresses, prints and jew­els.” She de­scribes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween fash­ion and art as like brother and sis­ter. “One in­flu­ences the other. In my opin­ion, the best fash­ion works in the same way as art, draw­ing on con­tem­po­rary cur­rents, pas­sions and fears. When it does, fash­ion steps out of the cloth­ing ring and starts to walk the globe and be in­ter­est­ing. Look at Yves Saint Lau­rent’s Mon­drian dresses—sold by Christie’s for £30,000 to a ma­jor art mu­seum.”

Although mar­ket forces have brought fash­ion and art closer in re­cent years, there re­mains an au­then­tic cre­ative link be­tween the two, be­lieves Ori­ole Cullen, se­nior cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary fash­ion at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in London. “There is a gen­uine con­nec­tion be­cause many de­sign­ers come from an art school back­ground,” says Cullen. “This is par­tic­u­larly true in Bri­tain, which has led the world in fash­ion ed­u­ca­tion for the past 50 years; many de­sign­ers are grad­u­ates of the Royal Col­lege of Art and Cen­tral Saint Martins.” In­ter­na­tional ex­am­ples in­clude Bel­gium’s Martin Margiela and Ja­pan’s Issey Miyake, both de­sign­ers with an art back­ground.

The V&A has been show­cas­ing tex­tiles since the 19th cen­tury. Es­tab­lished in 1852, it was set up as a mu­seum of de­sign and has al­ways worked with con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers, from Wil­liam Mor­ris in the 1850s to Alexan­der Mcqueen in 2015. Its Fash­ion in Mo­tion pro­gramme is ded­i­cated to show­cas­ing de­sign­ers. “His­tor­i­cally, there has al­ways been a link. Artists have de­picted fash­ion for hun­dreds of years through por­trai­ture and sculp­ture,” says Cullen, re­fer­ring to a re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion held by the Musée d’or­say and the Chicago In­sti­tute of Art, Im­pres­sion­ism, Fash­ion and Moder­nity, which ex­plored the im­pact of fash­ion on the im­pres­sion­ists. “They used fash­ion as a way of stat­ing the im­me­di­acy of their work and the fact that they were de­pict­ing con­tem­po­rary life.”

Cullen points to a Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil project ex­hib­ited at the V&A in 2012 that paired Bri­tish de­sign­ers and artists to col­lab­o­rate on a unique se­ries of works. Bri­tain Cre­ates 2012: Fash­ion + Art Col­lu­sion in­cluded de­signer Jonathan Saun­ders and artist Jess Flood-pad­dock.

The in­ter­net has boosted the art-fash­ion re­la­tion­ship, says Cullen. “Be­fore, fash­ion was a closed-off world. Only those who worked in the in­dus­try would see the shows, and then print pub­li­ca­tions would de­cide which images to publish six months later. By con­trast, fash­ion is now ac­ces­si­ble to a big­ger, global au­di­ence. Any­one can view the shows im­me­di­ately on­line and peo­ple are in­ter­ested in the his­tory of fash­ion and want to see ret­ro­spec­tive exhibitions. It’s great that gal­leries and mu­se­ums are en­gag­ing

with fash­ion now. When you think about it, the out­put of a fash­ion de­signer in con­trast to an artist is vast. A lot of de­sign­ers merit ret­ro­spec­tives, such as [JeanPaul] Gaultier and Mcqueen.”

When the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York staged Alexan­der Mcqueen: Sav­age Beauty in 2011, it be­came one of its most vis­ited exhibitions. Tick­ets for its run at the V&A, which be­gins in March, went on sale almost a year in ad­vance. The in­ter­na­tional pub­lic’s hunger for fash­ion exhibitions seems in­sa­tiable—from the New York Guggen­heim’s showcase of Gior­gio Ar­mani to the his­tory of Cartier at the Grand Palais in Paris ear­lier this year (in­ci­den­tally, the Palais has be­come the ha­bit­ual home of Chanel for Paris Fash­ion Week).

Karl Lager­feld, ever the out­spo­ken one, is not a fan of th­ese ret­ro­spec­tives. “I hate this com­plex of the fash­ion world with art,” he says in a re­cent Van­ity Fair in­ter­view. “De­sign­ers’ art—what­ever it is—has to be ap­plied art, be­cause no­body’s wear­ing it oth­er­wise. If it’s a con­cept—and maybe it is con­cep­tual—then we have gal­leries, and in that case it should not be in a fash­ion show. Ba­len­ci­aga, Chanel—they never had this com­plex. They never even did a ret­ro­spec­tive of their work in their lifetime. I am proud to be in trade, but I know de­sign­ers who say, ‘I’m not a de­signer—i’m an artist who’s been picked to do col­lec­tions.’ Ugh.”

Nonethe­less, all the ma­jor brands ap­pear to dis­agree with him—and per­haps the epit­ome of the art-fash­ion crossover will be from his great­est ri­val when Prada opens its epony­mous con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum in Mi­lan in time for Expo 2015. The mu­seum will be the cul­mi­na­tion of 15 years of com­mit­ment to con­tem­po­rary art by Mi­uc­cia Prada and part­ner Pa­trizio Bertelli, who set up the not-for-profit Prada Foun­da­tion in 1994. The foun­da­tion or­gan­ises two ma­jor in­ter­na­tional shows a year, has pub­lished more than 30 books on art and ar­chi­tec­ture, hosts con­fer­ences on the sub­ject and runs film fes­ti­vals.

It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that ar­guably the world’s great­est model has been im­mor­talised in art. Kate Moss al­lowed her­self to be painted by re­al­ist Lu­cien Freud—and the re­sult couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from her glam­orous photo shoots. Her body is laid out bare almost as if it is a slab of meat, de­void of all gloss and sex ap­peal. The choice by Moss was a brave one and clearly in­di­cates she un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates art.

It seems that when the Jimmy Choo is on the other foot, fash­ion and art re­gard each other with mu­tual re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion.

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