The Genteel
April 22, 2021


Art is in the very fundamentals of fashion (Source: Blockwomenmanagement).

Two cultural entities expand and converge over centuries, complementing one another as they age aged and evolve. From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and stories told in primitive figures painted on cave walls, art has been informed and influenced by society and culture. Fashion's societal presence, too, has grown and developed over time, capturing our attention and becoming increasingly popular and ubiquitous in the past 100 years. 

Marie Antoinette, featured here
in this portrait painting, was
considered a fashion icon of
her time

Art and fashion met centuries ago, and began a delicate flirtation. From painters striving to capture the form, colour and texture of clothing, to models walking the runways draped in masterpieces.

The Impressionism movement saw art shed the restrictions of capturing objects as perfect reflections, instead adopting subjectivity and a more liberated, fluid expression. These radical artists, such as Monet and Cézanne, were considered "fashionistas" of their time - avant-garde in their technique and later in their dress. The Impressionists eventually parlayed their free brush strokes and romantic imagery into their own attire, adopting looser garments and softer materials. They used both their style and their paintings to convey the idea of "modernism." 

It wasn't until the 1900s that the fashion and art really began to move together. Just prior to that, in the late 19th century, fashion evolved from the work of independent dressmakers and bespoke tailors into a thriving industry. It was then that fashion really began to track and echo modern art trends, and the two elements began a dance - a slow and swirling waltz that had been building over the epochs.  

Matisse was so preoccupied with fashion,
he named the painting of his wife
after a pattern on her dress
(Source: Encore Editions).

At the beginning of the century, as fashion came into itself, the label "artist" barely distinguished between a painter and a textile creator; all works were beautiful, all were forms of art. For instance, French couturier Paul Poiret - famed for his parties, modern art décor and elaborate costumes - was as ardent an art collector as he was a fan of  theatre. This passion would eventually spur his work as a couture designer. He was quoted as saying, "I have always liked painters. It seems to me that we are in the same trade and that they are my colleagues."  

It was at this time, around 1905, that a group of artists know as the "Fauves" (Wild Ones) were taking the art world by storm. Matisse had abandoned the palette of Impressionism and he and Gauguin and Derain were celebrating a post-Impressionism, what later became know as "Fauvism." As they painted wildly colourful scenes, those around them began donning new flat, colourful garments. In fact, fashion was so significant to the artists, that they often named their paintings or garment's colours or patterns, for instance, Matisse's striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse).  

The modern aesthetic continued to evolve in both mediums, moving from the organic motifs and Art Nouveau interpretations of the female form to the first simplified figure just prior to WWI.[1] Cubist painters, whose canvases presented disjointed and abstracted objects, predisposed a new era of fashion silhouettes. Tubular dresses and rounded cloche hats turned women's bodies into geometric shapes and resonated modern paintings. This streamlined design was dubbed Moderne (now understood as Art Deco), and combined Cubism's geometric base with sinuous embellishments.

Makeup and fashion and art complete an
interesting dichotomy of imaginative
elements that work seamlessly to convey
a trend (Source: Fresh Bump).

From the chemise and cloche of the 1920s carrying through to the body-skimming silhouettes and reflective evening dresses of the 1930s, each design trend had a particular relationship to the cultural zeitgeist, continuing to mirror life and art. After that, the demarcation between art and fashion began steadily blurring, bringing the pair into a more intimate jive. Both became commonly considered a medium for expression, particularly in terms of political ideals. In a culture of homogeny, fashion and art grant a stimulating, unpredictable and liberating visual canvas to paint.[2] For example, the rebellious spirit that the permeated the 1960s was emulated in the "hippie" garb that defined the era. In art, painters and sculptors were exploring the limitations of their craft, using the 1948 dubbed "abstract expressionism" as a way of speaking to the political tone of the time.  

As the 80s began, the art scene was trending towards the agonized graffiti of colour and lines, and black leather, lace and acid-washed were suitable the fashion crazes. The decade saw a resurgence of painting and conceptual art that seemed to try to advance the movements of the 40s, 50s and 60s to a new level. Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Conceptualism were the labels appropriated to define the works of Frank Stella and Cindy Sherman. The art world as a whole seemed vying for a voice - but not knowing how it would sound. Thus, the frenetic anger and frustration was salient in everything art and fashion: from the desperate and raw sexuality of pop trendsetters like Madonna and Michael Jackson, to the bombastic arrogance of Julian Schnabel's 1986 12-foot-tall canvas of a building's façade bedecked with incongruous ornaments. The 80s made way to the 90s and on to the 21st century, where art and fashion continue to dance expressively - forever testing the waters and pushing the proverbial envelop.

In our contemporary civilization, art and fashion have become nearly synonymous, and "artist" is a term given to anyone who can perform an "art," whether it is musical, figurative, theatrical or visual. The lines between fashion and art are no longer blurred. They have become implicit. The waltz that began so deliberately, so slowly with two identifiable entities, is now a fast swirling movement, which frequently spins off into bizarre and skeptical spaces that are often misunderstood - or deliberately meant to insight incomprehension. One thing is for certain, from fashion to food, "art" has become a term liberally applied to anything of fantastic or imaginative propensity. It is everywhere: in how you dress, decorate your home, serve dinner or present a business plan. Today, there is no fashion and art. Art is all, and all is art.  

[1] [2] FASHION AND IMAGINATION: About Clothes and Art [Paperback] Jos Arts (Author), Patrizia Calefato (Author), Jan Brand (Editor), Jose Teunissen (Editor), Catelijne de Muijnck (Editor) 



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