Fashion design, or any task that contributes to the designing or the construction of garments, has been, and to be honest maybe always will be, up for debate in the high art world.
For a practice that is based purely on creativity, both from the designer and the wearer, why is it still not taken completely seriously in the art world? Fashion is something that has constantly gone hand in hand with many other artistic mediums like painting, photography, and music. Fashion has been welcomed with open arms by many musicians like Madonna, Grace Jones, and Lady Gaga - who dedicated her whole album ARTPOP to the debate and idea that anything is art if it is created with a completely creative and self-expressive method by the creator.
It's hard not to wonder why historical and creative garments are not showcased and displayed in the same manner as, or even beside traditional artists. The thought of having a Picasso displayed near an item by Issey Miyake seems to make sense, but is somehow not done. If we can display sculpture, photography and painting side by side, why not add fashion in there too?
Some designers come immediately to mind when you think of high fashion and fine art crossing lines, none more so than Alexander McQueen. The first piece that comes to mind is his performative runway show No.13, which saw Shalom Harlow wearing a dress constructed of multiple layers of paper while spinning on a wooden turntable, before two machines came alive and spray-painted her. This closing look was not just a look but an artistic statement, it invokes feeling and gives open ended interpretations of what it all could mean.
It’s said that McQueen was influenced by the artist Rebecca Hawn and her piece Two Guns firing paint, but the show was also heavily influenced by the arts and crafts movement from the 1860’s. Art is often inspired by art and McQueen showcases this ability by encapsulating painting, design, and performative art all into a two-minute live performance.
Even the colours used to spray Harlow’s dress are chosen from an artistic perspective. She was covered with black and neon yellow; the whole collection before this was made up purely of neutrals, greys, and blacks. This pop of colour at the end had to be completed with intention. The significance of the colours used could be discussed in an in-depth manner and, while cliché, may represent the battles of light and dark in the modern world. Harlow is placed on a classic wooden floor underneath intense and almost futuristic type lighting, to elicit the marrying of new and old, and she is placed in a symbolic white dress, then both “ruined” and reborn again much like modernity and her surroundings.
Again, she displays threatened body language as the table turns, shielding herself from what is being thrust upon her, serving as a comment on a woman’s life, in this supposedly modern world.
Of course, there is a designated museum for fashion which is the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour hosts the Met Gala every year to fund the museum by inviting celebrities dressed in the very best of what fashion has to offer. But again, it’s difficult not to wonder if we tend not to take fashion seriously because of celebrities, or because it can be a mundane part of people’s lives.
Celebrities do not have to conform to social or fashionable norms since they are in the public eye to be interesting, to look at and to learn about. We live vicariously through celebrities even if we don’t know it. Has this made the everyday person resent clothing?
Most working-class people view clothing as practicality since most jobs require a uniform. And with fashion houses like Balenciaga making high fashion high vis jackets, is fashion shooting itself in the foot when it comes to trying to relate to people? Or is it all on purpose? For years artists like Renoir and Seurat found art in the mundane creating popular paintings people know and admire, but Balenciaga taking a pair of work trousers and charging insane prices means these designs will be copied and filtered throughout retailers; lessening the meaning of art in the mundane, and instead just being interpreted as another cash grab type of consumerism.
So, the question remains; can fashion be taken seriously in the art world because of its roots in consumerism – or does this really matter, as throughout history artists have created art to gain money and fame? For many art can be classified as anything created with the intent to make the viewer feel a sense of something when they see it and designers have done this successfully in the past from feelings of sadness, joy, confidence and even discomfort. But again, good art should evoke, even if the feelings awoken aren’t always pleasant.
Art like McQueen’s was meant to make people feel, and No.13 has a feeling of melancholic sadness as we witness the birth of the new and the rebirth/ death of the old through highly tailored women’s wear. Classical art itself has had fashion as the main focal point of its’ painting for years like Botticelli’s Primavera where the three graces and Flora’s clothing all represent a vital part of their being. This fashion can be seen as one of the truest epitomes of self-expressional art, with both the designer and the wearer engaging in a sense of communal creativity to design the clothing but to also style the piece to their own personal tastes, meaning that unlike painting, clothing can be styled in many different forms the designer couldn’t have thought of. Fashion is living breathing art that we all take part in.