There have always been those who would dismiss fashion as an insignificant or shallow frivolity, hardly akin to art. In actuality, the interwoven relations between the two crafts have been linked for years on end, nurturing a creative marriage of sorts- nourishing a fruitful and symbiotic relationship. In the 2006 cult-followed fashion film The Devil Wears Prada, the character Nigel laments, “Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created, was greater than art because you live your life in it.” Of course, this may very well be considered an idealistic take on the subject. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the art of dress has the capability to express that which one would like to convey to the world; individuality.
While art has always been taken as a subjective form of expression, making that very case for fashion hasn’t always been the most straightforward. Skeptics have consistently underestimated and frequently dubbed a fashion a meaningless cog in the machine of mass production and consumerism, bereft of any substance, contradicting any and all ideologies of transcendent poetic essence. To invalidate the narrative that the industry’s financial worth somehow negates the beauty it facilitates, filmmaker and photographer Alex Prager once said, “Some of the greatest works of art were done on commission.” Of course, not all fashion is art- but to dismiss or dilute an entire field of revolutionary visionaries whose unparalleled works translate to forms of timeless expression would be to simply deny oneself of more beauty and classic sartorial statements. From Jean Cocteau’s influence, Jeff Koons’ partnerships with Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney, and Coach’s Basquiat collections, to Dior’s Kim Jones finding inspiration in artist Amoako Boafo, and Helmut Lang joining Saint Laurent’s Rive Droite Project, what was once a rarity, the designer/ artist collaboration is now seen as a common and sought after pairing.
Navigating the enduring, culture-defining dialogue and calculating how the two spheres intermingle, either through collaboration or paying homage to iconic and beloved pieces, CR dives deep into a retrospective expedition on the abundant examples of fine art making its way onto the catwalk.
A partnership that would go down in fashion history, surrealist creatives, Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and Spanish artist Salvador Dalí are responsible for setting the standard as a catalyst for artistic collaborations in fashion. The two avant-garde creators joined hands on a myriad of occasions, from ad campaigns and fragrance bottles, to Schiaparelli’s dresses featured in Dalí’s paintings and her notorious hat-shoe homage to the revolutionary artist. While the creative union brought about many pieces of wearable art, none have ever held a candle to their 1937 lobster gown made famous by Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of Windsor. The light and flowing silk organza A-line gown with a painted lobster sprawled across the skirt caused quite the stir at the time of its inception, due in large part to the socialite who adorned the gown. Photographs of the Duchess in the garden of the Château de Candé by Cecil Beaton came right off the heels of her highly publicized affair with Edward VIII and his subsequent abdication of the British throne in order to marry the American divorcee.
The evening gown with Schiapparelli was far from Dalí’s first rodeo with the famed crustacean when a just year before, the artist completed his sculpture Lobster Telephone. The artist was known for having integrated red lobsters into his designs as an overt sex symbol, calling to mind that the sea creature is considered to be an aphrodisiac. The sexual nature of the lobster made Wallis Simpson’s debut of the gown all the more scandalous. The jaw-dropping collaborative effort has become such an influential staple in fashion and art history, Schiapparelli’s former creative director Bertrand Guyon called upon the iconic crustacean of the house’s past in his Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection to honor the frock’s 80th anniversary.
An arbiter of style, fresh and budding fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent had developed quite the impressive fine art collection at a relatively young age. He and his partner, Pierre Bergé began accumulating acclaimed pieces in the early fifties from artists all around the world. The one that would make the most distinct impression on the fashion visionary would be that of the Dutch abstract impressionist Piet Mondrian. The artist’s geometric compositions of the early 1930s, dubbed Neo-Plasticism utilized contrasting shades of black and white with primary colors red, blue and yellow. Only three years after opening his very own burgeoning atelier, Yves Saint Laurent’s profound appreciation for art played a hand in the creation of his Fall/Winter 1965 Haute Couture Mondrian collection, made up of six different styles. By taking inspiration from Mondrian’s color-blocked pieces so literally and integrating such modern design elements into his clean-lined shift dresses, Yves Saint Laurent’s renderings were able to tap into the cutting-edge style of the swinging sixties’ youth quake, becoming some of his most copied works.
While Yves Saint Laurent gained a reputation for having amassed a hefty and impressive collection of art, he continued on in scattering these artistic codes throughout his collections. YSL’s Spring/Summer 1988 Haute Couture presentation saw tributes paid to legendary artists from Picasso and Braque to Matisse and Van Gogh. In fact, the 1980s saw a plethora of Saint Laurent garments paying homage to the paintings, sculptures, and collages of the Spanish artist. From his wide array of Cubist depictions of guitars and violins to 1938’s A Rooster, Yves Saint Laurent’s Picasso references ran the gamut.
More recently, Moschino’s Creative Director Jeremy Scott took inspiration from the famed painter in his Spring/Summer 2020 collection with models appearing to have stepped straight out of a Picasso piece. Directly referencing specific works with each garment, Scott’s sartorial takes on 1907’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1914’s Guitar, and 1932’s Girl Before a Mirror featured modelesque harlequins and even women donning actual framed canvases signed, “Moschino.”
Vincent van Gogh
Quite possibly the most renowned artist in Western history, the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s influence has been seen throughout all facets of creative media. With well over 2,000 pieces of art under his belt, replicas of his works have been seen in the collections of Yves Saint Laurent, Maison Margiela, Dior, Rodarte, and more by way of prints, embellishments, and impeccably detailed embroidery.
His entrancing countryside landscapes and expressive floral imagery translates with ease on a romantic sartorial palette. For the enchanting and ethereal fashion label Rodarte, designing sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy have been known to often take inspiration from high profile members of the art world, most notably the late van Gogh for their Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Filled to the brim with esoteric references, the Mulleavys rendered tea and floor length gowns depicting 1888’s Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, 1889’s The Starry Night, and 1890’s Almond Blossoms for a flourishing and whimsical array of prints.
Pop Art provocateur, multi-media artist Andy Warhol is best known for his graphic appropriations of everyday objects or previous popular culture staples. While many artists have ventured into the realm of fashion, Warhol’s works may display the most blurred lines and elusive barriers between the two creative worlds. Beginning his career illustrating for some of America’s top fashion publications, gaining notoriety philandering with New York’s fashion set at Studio 54, and helming his own fashion and culture magazine, Warhol spread his creative vices throughout the two sectors. With the replicated Campbell’s Souper Dress leaving just as much of an impact as Warhol’s 1962 installment Campbell’s Soup Cans, the artist proved that the cultural significance of both art and fashion stood formidably. Favored by distinguished designers from Halston and Versace to today’s Raf Simons, Warhol’s works have been seen traipsing the runways for years now. While Roy Halston and Andy Warhol had a long history of collaborating throughout the bodacious decade of the seventies, Halston’s 1972 dress made from a single length of material referencing Warhol’s Flowers stands as their most fashionable. In 1991, Gianni Versace put muses Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista in his iconic, slim-fitted, printed dress with Warhol’s depictions of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, cementing the pop artist as a high fashion staple. For her Spring/Summer 2018 showing, Donatella Versace paid homage to her late, great brother for the 20th anniversary of his untimely death by pulling from his design archives and reimagining some of his most prolific pieces and prints.
Bringing along his Warholian aesthetic to each fashion house he has been appointed, Raf Simons has highlighted his inspiration from the artist from Christian Dior to Calvin Klein. The designer featured Warhol’s early sketches throughout his Fall/Winter 2013 collection for Dior and integrated everything from vintage polaroids lensed by Warhol in his Calvin Klein collections while securing a four-year contract with the Andy Warhol Foundation, allowing him to utilize the artist’s work.
Woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the prolific Japanese ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai has transcended generations as one of the most famous artworks in the world. Dating back to Japan’s Edo-period, the piece has been estimated to have been conceived anywhere from 1829 to 1833 as the first installment of Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Quite possibly one of history’s most seminal pieces of Asian art, The Great Wave’s influence has exceeded the boundaries of the classical art world and has seeped into pop culture and the fashion industry.
During his five year tenure at French fashion house Givenchy, avant garde designer Alexander McQueen rendered a fully fringe beaded cocktail dress with Hokusai’s wave depicted against a tangerine sky for his Spring/Summer 1998 Haute Couture collection. With John Galliano at the helm of Christian Dior, the renegade designer reimagined the house’s quintessential bar jacket for his Spring/Summer 2007 Haute Couture showing. The oversized kimono-esque piece featured origami pleats and The Great Wave hand-painted and embroidered along the skirt’s edge.
Lucas Cranach the Elder
German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1526 piece, Adam and Eve depicts the first man and woman standing bare amongst a menagerie of wildlife. It appears as though Eve has just taken a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge, contradicting the word of God while Adam considers his options, reaching to take a bite of his own. Former designing team for Italian fashion house Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli curated an exquisitely crafted collection of intricately embroidered opera gowns for their Spring/Summer 2014 Haute Couture showing, one of which classically reinterpreted the secular work of art. Highlighted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition, the charcoal floor-length gown donning the Renaissance painting taps into the historical and symbolic significance of the ethereal and ecclesiastical aesthetic.
Known as the “Mother of American modernism”, the intriguing and mysterious Georgia O’Keeffe garnered a reputation and admiration for her paintings of erotic and blooming flowers, graphic New York skyscrapers, and expressive New Mexico landscapes. The uniform by which she chose to present herself also became a recognizable staple of O’Keeffe’s– bolo ties, gaucho hats, and an all around southwestern aesthetic. So much so, that in 2017, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hosted an exhibition on the revolutionary artist, showcasing both her work and her signature attire in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.
Taking sartorial cues from the American modernist, Italian fashion designer Maria Grazia Chiuri channeled Georgia O’Keeffe’s personal style for her first resort showing for Christian Dior in 2018. Topped with gaucho hats by Stephen Jones, the ever-chic collection blended and earthy and rustic elements with a unique form of stoic simplicity.
While Chiuri’s collection was rooted in O’Keeffe’s personal wardrobe, others have paid homage to the bold and enduring paintings that made her one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century. From Gareth Pugh’s Spring/Summer 2015 papier-mâché ox skull, to Michael Kors’ feminine and blooming poppies, O’Keeffe’s works as a source of inspiration proves endless.
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