Why art has never been so fashionable

Published 28th June 2016
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Why art has never been so fashionable
Written by Afsun Qureshi, CNNLondon
When fashion's top influencers glided through the entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum's inaugural summer party last week, we had cause for pause.
Big ticket fashion personalities at even bigger ticket museum events: haven't we seen this before?
We have, and perhaps we should plan on seeing a lot more. According to the editor of British GQ, Dylan Jones -- also a member of the organizing committee for the V&A summer party -- the two industries aren't merely flirting but on course for a head-on, high impact collision.
"Fashion and art have never been so closely entwined," he argues. "Fashion is now considered to be an art form -- and art has never been so fashionable."
Leading this charge was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's May gala for current exhibit Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, drawing interest on an international scale to an exhibit that presents fashion from a curatorial point of view.
In London, last year's Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A smashed all attendance records. Presently, Vogue 100: A Century of Style at London's National Portrait Gallery and Making and Unmaking at the Camden Arts Centre, hosted by fashion designer Duro Oluwu, are both seeing a steady stream of traffic. Around the corner is the Serpentine Gallery Summer Party in July, traditionally hosted by a fashion house. This year's co-host is Tommy Hilfiger, an appropriate choice since his early work was heavily influenced by the pop art movement.

Early adopters

While the conflation between art and fashion roars ahead, a special mention must be given to the V&A, an early adopter to this movement.
"Fashion has always been a pillar for us, and our fashion curators are very active," says Nicolas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast and chairman of the V&A. "There is no doubt for us that certain elements and moments in fashion history are art, pure and simple."
It appears that this volte-face of the art world's view towards fashion could have much to do with the elevation of fashion's techniques and use of materials.
"There is a very contemporary return of interest in craftsmanship and skill in the use and development of new materials," says Cassie Davies-Strodder, series curator of Fashion in Motion. "These interests are very much in line with 'one off' garments being made which have far more in common with works of art."
"The work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen is a good example", she argues. "Her sculptural designs use new materials and new techniques such as 3-D printing, and she also employs very specialist hand-craftsmanship."

Hunting for art's bad boys

Designers are also going deeper into artistic archives. Historically, designers have referenced inoffensive, universally liked art -- Yves Klein "Blue", Matisse's "Cut Outs" or Van Goth's "Sunflowers", for example -- a 'safe option' by fashion supremos with a focus on the bottom line.
However today designers are exploring less obvious mainstream art references. Now we see inspirations from the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Megumi Igarashi.
This is exemplified by the Louis Vuitton men's show last week, where designer Kim Jones collaborated with art's bad boys version 2.0, Jake and Dinos Chapman. Bags and jumpers featured the Chapman Brother's illustrations of what looked like rabies-infested, feral animals, with wide eyes and bared fangs, ready to pounce -- not your usual LVMH fare.
Looks from Louis Vuitton men's SS17 collection
Looks from Louis Vuitton men's SS17 collection Credit: Louis Vuitton
Even Kanye West got into the action for his Yeezy Season Two show, via a catwalk where models did little catwalking. His stylist for the show was performance artist Vanessa Beecroft who had the models line up in military formation. Disturbing and dystopian, fashion is now embracing the unsafe.
The time is ripe to explore the intersection between the two industries, but Coleridge tells us there's no reason to recreate the Met Gala in London.
"The Met Gala is the Met Gala, there is no [event] like it and never [will] be, it's unique." he explains. "We just want people to raise a toast to art and fashion at our home. Goodness knows the world needs some levity about now."