Body of Work
AS PRADA PREPARES TO OPEN A CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM IN MILAN, FASHION AND ART HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE CLOSELY ALIGNED. Elisabeth Galvin INVESTIGATES THE NEXUS BETWEEN THE COMMERCIAL AND THE CREATIVE
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.