Is high fashion taking on the form of art in the most explicit sense? Collections for Autumn/Winter 17 presented in London this past fashion week urged one to think so.
Art, defined as being the ultimate expression of creativity and imagination, is commonly regarded as of sophisticated importance whilst fashion is generalised as frivolous. Despite ontological differences however, fashion and art are closely aligned; both are platforms for communication and applications of self-expression. What better way then to buck the misconception associated to fashion than by taking it head on.
Fausteine Steinmetz did just that by presenting her new collection at the Tate Modern in a format likeable to one of the museum’s own exhibitions. The focus of ‘Collection 009’ surrounds the celebration of jeans and the many forms they’ve taken on across the world in the past few decades; including acid-wash denim, the classic Canadian tuxedo, used ripped blue jeans, and bedazzled skinny jeans. Similar to the presentation of an art retrospective, Steinmetz introduces viewers to the collection’s concept with a short written description followed by twelve looks staged in clinical white squared pods (metaphorical to paintings). Also accompanying key looks are inspirational pieces showcasing her cultural references for the garments. Such an unequivocal exhibition idea induces the viewer to focus primarily and entirely on the works of fashion art on display, highlighting the craftsmanship and authenticity of the designs. Whilst Steinmetz may not directly be attempting to make a greater statement about the role of fashion in art, this message is nevertheless being perceived as is the engaging new style of presentation.
Another surprisingly art centric collection is that of Burberry’s. Christopher Bailey deviated from the brand’s classic fare instead opting for conceptual designs inspired by iconic Yorkshire artist, Henry Moore. The pallid unconventional silhouettes of the collection exemplify Moore’s sculptures whilst the striped and solid blue shirts pay homage to Moore himself. The artist’s well known love of found objects also is represented by way of the material detailing on various statement capes. Difficult to identify on the catwalk, these features are apparent when viewing them up close at Maker’s House – the brand’s London Fashion Week space open to the public from the 21st – 27th of February. Here the collection is displayed along with visual infographics and material that inspired it, bringing to light the entire process and insight behind this season’s theme.
The brand’s unique art-like exhibition introduces viewers first with the film of the catwalk collection on the runway followed by an impressive room filled with 78 bespoke hanging capes showing off the skills of Burberry’s atelier. A mannequin parade of all 79 runway looks is also displayed allowing guests to analyse the collection up close and shortlist their favourites. Sprinkled throughout too are Moore’s statues, lest you forget the origin of the designer’s idea, as well as an entire second floor dedicated to Moore’s design process. There, one is able to watch and listen to Moore in his workshop, experience his studio using virtual reality, attend workshops to replicate his abstract art forms, and see up close some of the artist’s tools, maquettes, and sketches.
By offering consumers access to this thorough storytelling, Burberry captures the opportunity to make the conversation with fans ongoing unlike other brands. The re-see platform, whilst always exclusive to editors and buyers in the past, now has been opened up to the public. In doing so Burberry has created a presentation similar to an art exhibition; blurring the lines between art and high fashion. This season’s literal translation of artistic forms into shoppable fashion looks even more so begs whether a line exists between the two. Whilst the latter is one that is less travelled by designers, it will be curious to whether it becomes a trend going forward. Nonetheless it is clear that the fashion art exhibition is here to stay.
Just looking at the past few years, many a curated fashion exhibitions have come and gone: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé, House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – the list goes on. And of course, lest not forget The Costume Institute’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which showcases either a thematic or monographic fashion exhibition annually. In fact, on show this year will be the wonderful designs of Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons, the first living designer since YSL to be presented at the New York City based museum. But if you’re not able to make it across the pond, London’s very own V&A will be offering a comparable alternative; an exhibition on the influential Spanish couturier Christobal Balenciaga (for tickets and dates for both upcoming exhibitions, follow the links).
Fashion, in its purest sense, meets the dictionary definition of art; indeed, what this long list of fashion exhibitions shows is that fashion is already presented as an art form. Then why still, is the distinction between the two terms unclear? It can be assumed that high fashion transforms into ones mind as an art only after being appreciated for a lengthy amount of time. And as considerations of current designer collections are mostly commercially focused, their perception as an art form first and foremost is even less likely. Burberry and Steinmetz’s presentations this past fashion week, however, did just that. Their explicit submissions of their collections categorised them alongside the more traditional forms of “art” – as creative masterpieces. This opens up the question; should we not consider masterpieces on the catwalk to be of the same value as what is hanging on the wall in the Tate?