As the countdown to the annual Met Gala gets underway, Lucy Mortell asks the question: is fashion art?
“BULBOUSLY sculpted”, “screwed up brown paper”, “swirled blobs” – not a description of a pre-school craft project but rather words used to describe Rei Kawakubo’s AW17 collection for Commes des Garcons at Paris Fashion Week. Fashion critics were perplexed as they watched shapes and forms, not even close to resembling clothes, shuffle down the runway. When asked, Kawakubo simply described the collection as “the future of silhouette.”
It was announced in October of 2016 that the theme of this year’s Met Gala was to be Kawakubo’s Commes des Garcons. This is the first time since 1983 that the Gala’s theme will be based on a living designer. Kawakubo established the brand in 1973 and has consistently brought the outlandish to the catwalk since.
“Audiences don’t go to her shows to catch the latest trends but rather to witness the enactments of ideas.”
Andrew Bolton, curator in charge at the Costume Institute, has said that Kawakubo invites us “to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.” Audiences don’t go to her shows to catch the latest trends but rather to witness the enactments of ideas.
In keeping with Kawakubo’s innovation, the exhibit at the Met will be unlike any other. Gala attendees will be at eye-level with the designs. There will be no physical barriers between them and the art — and art is the best word to describe Kawakubo’s designs.
Her designs go beyond our norm. She explores fashion at a much deeper level, working in the grey area in-between boundaries. Her work requires active viewing from spectators as she seeks to inspire new ways of thinking about fashion, art and the body. This approach, while intriguing, prompts the question – at what point does a fashion show become an art exhibition, and is there a difference?
“The reality of fashion today is that it goes so much further than the visual.”
Museums like the Victoria and Albert in London are permanently showcasing fashion in their exhibition halls and it’s clear that society has already adopted fashion as art. Recently, the V&A showcased designer Alexander McQueen’s body of work in an exhibition entitled “Savage Beauty”, it became the most viewed exhibition in V & A history with over half a million people queuing up to see his work. The reality of fashion today is that it goes so much further than the visual. It’s not just about clothing one’s body; it’s now yet another way to communicate concepts and emotions.
Fashion and art are intricately entwined and the entwining is getting ever more complex. Of course, they have their differences but as Karl Lagerfeld said; “Art is art. Fashion is fashion. However, Andy Warhol proved they can exist together.