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Analysis out of the box

Art and Fashion, where evolutions and revolutions collide (Second part)

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | Contemporary Art | In 2009, as in 1929, an economic crisis was sweeping the world like a tidal wave. The crisis phenomenon meant that references were lost and a series of unavoidable transformations came about slowly : revival landmarks. Like ultra-sensitive visionaries, the artists went off to explore new imaginary landscapes and were immediately captivated by the highly-creative world of Fashion. Where evolutions and revolutions collide.

 © Martin Margiela

The 20th century and the triumph of new imaginary landscapes

The modernity of the 20th century was born of a new perception of time and space and the combination of technical advances which were, within a few years, to eclipse everything that had been accomplished in the past few millennia : electricity, photography, radio, telephone, rail, aircraft, etc. This new circulation of knowledge awakened the world?s conscience in unprecedented ways. The enjoyment of modernity, colonial expansion and a warlike spirit cœxisted until the first of the great wars which set Europe ablaze between 1914 and 1918 and ultimately contributed to the crisis of 1929. Around the same time, new questions and imaginary landscapes began to emerge in the art world. Artists sought to sweep away established methods in order to create new forms of freedom : the expression of life-force (Fauvism and German Expressionism), the glorification of progress (Italian Futurism), the deconstruction of the body and space (Cubism), « abstract » art (Kandinsky, Mondrian) and the supremacy of pure feeling (Malevitch). In 1915, Marcel Duchamp had fled the war and was already famous in the USA. In his freedom, he abandoned painting and invented the « ready-made » concept. An already-manufactured everyday object is elevated to the status of a work of art and produced many times over; examples include ?the bottle rack? (1913-15), and a tipped over urinal entitled « the Fountain » in (1917). These gestures were the result of a vision that shunned all that had come before, anticipating this notion of « readiness » that has become a part of our everyday lives, from ready-to-wear to « ready-to-consume ».

From art to life

From this vast experimental field naturally arose another necessity : linking art and life. Deep-rooted links between the worlds of Art and Fashion were then forged in the effervescent modernity of the times. By embracing clothing, certain artists were key in the development of the creation in couture concept, just as certain fashion designers were to capture these changes.
In 1912, at the age of 59, the famous fashion designer and sponsor Jacques Doucet wiped the slate clean of his collections of 18th century pieces to turn towards art and modernity. In 1924, on the advice of André Breton, he acquired the « Les demoiselles d’Avignon » (The Young Ladies of Avignon) by Picasso, a seminal work in the development of cubism. Until his death on 29 October 1929 (four days after Black Thursday), new forms of art, literature and pœtry from the contemporary era would feature heavily in his designs.
French painter, Raoul Dufy, transformed the world of fashion and textiles by creating material for the Bianchini and Férier silk manufacturing business in Lyon. He worked with fashion designer Paul Poiret and between 1909 and 1930 he completed sketches for dresses which express the liberation of the woman’s body in the fluidity and gusto of the lines. On the other side of the coin, futurist Italian artists also explored new forms of sensoriality via the body and fashion, which were seen as a means of unleashing endless possibilities. The main experiments involved Marinetti colours applied directly to the surface of the skin, the « tie sculptures » by Giacomo Balla, one of which dons a little light bulb that he liked to switch on when somebody walked by, or even the « TuTa » invented in 1919 by Ernesto Michaelles - known as Thayaht - a suit inspired by the uniform of American labourers that he integrated into his creative process.
The same Thayaht also collaborated with the Madeleine Vionnet fashion house. His designs, inspired by Cubism and the work of Le Corbusier, were the catalyst for the revolutionary visions of the designer who stated that, « the idea of a dress is mental ». And without preparatory drawings, she would cut primary geometric shapes (squares, rectangles and circles) directly into the bias of the material that she then transmuted, in « quasi-alchemic » fashion, into beautifully flowing drapes. Releasing women’s bodies from the grip of the corset and setting it free were her guiding principles.
The avant-garde Russian artists that emigrated to Paris after the 1917 revolution are also to work in the world of fashion, employing an industrial aesthetic developed in their home country.
Sonia Delaunay reflected upon the appropriateness of the pattern and the cut, assembled and employed the collage technique, taking inspiration from Cubist paintings. She collaborated with the Redfern fashion house, creating pœm dresses with Tristan Tzara and materials with Lliazd, a Russian pœt and art critic who produced mathematical drawings. The latter was also to work with Gabrielle Chanel between 1928-33 on the design of the famous jerseys. With Surrealism, the links between the art world and the couture elite were to multiply : Dali’s collaborations with Elsa Schiaparelli were to give rise to symbolic creations such as « the Lobster dress » (1930) and the « shœ hat ». Artist, Man Ray, a fashion photographer sought-after by prestigious magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar played his part in spreading the surrealist aesthetic far and wide. And Chanel also worked with Dali and Cocteau and produced ballet costumes for Ballanchine. In the midst of this effervescence, Jean Lanvin broke new ground through the depiction of an image in line with the fashion of the times, with support from architect-designer, Armand Rateau, who was very popular between the two wars. This world was in transition and extensive experimentations were taking place in France, from the most marginable to the most functional in nature. The new concepts of mobility, diversity and the need to industrialise clothing that artists had anticipated were actually taking place after the Second World War, with the advent of Ready-to-Wear clothes.

Creative effervescence after the shattering events of 39-45

After the Second World War, the world political spectrum was structured around an East-West bipolar system. The economic and cultural centre of gravity moved towards the USA who was to demonstrate its omnipotence as it conquered new ground : space. After a period of restructuring, European nations were to enjoy consumption in line with newfound prosperity. In the field of art, this was reflected in the emergence of an international scene dominated by the USA; a proliferation of new movements and aesthetics that built on the freedoms explored pre-war. In Paris - which remained the fashion capital of the world - a new generation of fashion designers continued to widen their field of inspiration through the lens of painting, sculpture and architecture. Yves Saint Laurent paid homage to the artists that he admired with the famous « Mondrian dress » in 1965 and his 1966 Pop-Art collection, which reflected the influence of this American artistic movement. Braque, Matisse and Van Gogh were also brought back to life through his collections. Firmly focused on the future, using audacious materials such as PVC, André Courrèges took inspiration from architecture and design to come up with a revolutionary collection : « Moon Girl » in 1964, where he constructed and functionalised clothing, and the « second skin suit » in 1969 - a worthy successor to Thayaht’s 1919 suit. Paco Rabanne’s metal dresses from the 1970 « Unwearables » collection went as far as to abolish the very notion of textiles in favour of vibratory and luminescent effects specific to sculpture. This experiment was reminiscent of the aesthetic model of 1966 William Klein film, « Who are you Polly Maggoo » ?, for which sculptors Bernard and François Baschet created sculpture dresses which played on the radiance and sonic vibrations of the metal sheets that they were formed from.
More recently, in the 1980s, a new generation of highly-publicised artists touched on the street, cartoons, the social melting pot and sexuality, breaking down the barriers between « high and low culture » . Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, immersed in the times, created collections where he invited his artist friends, Combas, Blais, Di Rosa and Haring to make use of clothes as a means of expression, design the sets for fashion shows or become the models for his collections for men. These years marked the beginning of a slow transition towards the current age of communication where contemporary art, architecture and the artists have become the image builders for large luxury goods groups.

Art, fashion, luxury goods... based on aesthetics of emotion

During the first decade of the 21st century, the world of contemporary art was in a state of constant change owing to the increasing power of new buyers from emerging countries and the spectacular rise in prices in a highly speculative field where dreams of success and fantasy existed side by side.
The worlds of luxury and fashion joined forces and, together, infiltrated the world of art. Large groups developed a method of communication where art, artists and architecture formed the cornerstone of their corporate strategy. François Pinault presented his collection in famous locations in Venice, such as the Palazzo Grazzi and the Punta de la Dogana, whose restoration was handled by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. He also made determined efforts to have his work showcased in museums in France and abroad. After having the classic Vuitton bag revamped by Japanese artist Murakami, Bernard Arnault called on Frank Gehry to design the ?architecture-sculpture? for his Paris Foundation. And with Zaha Hadid’s « Mobile Art » , Chanel designed a new mobile communications tool in which artists were invited to reinterpret the famous 2-55 bag. Hermès also took up this wandering concept by entrusting artist, Didier Faustino, with the design of its « H Box ».
In this context, the artists to have emerged onto the international scene in recent years have all integrated aesthetics of emotion into their creation processes - pre-established forms belonging to a collective memory in order to spark the empathy of the viewer. This is the case for Jeff Koons whose work reflects the Neo Pop trend. And by drawing on the mysticism of interesting objects from the 17th century, Damien Hirst produced spectacular sculptures, dissected animals preserved in formaldehyde and numerous vanities including the dazzling « For the Love of God » , which is entirely encrusted in diamonds and cost 20 million dollars to make. Other examples include Murakami who developed a « Manga » aesthetic model based on emotion, and the « satirical » work of Maurizio Cattelan. Furthermore, references to Art have proliferated in the collections of a number of fashion designers who have linked their name to some of the great artists : Chloé/ Joan Mitchell, Missoni/Monet, Balenciaga/Warhol.

Crisis and transformation : new imaginary worlds in context

The current crisis, like that of 1929, began with the crash of the stock market in 2008. It affected middle class consumption around the world and impacted all sectors, including luxury goods. It was also to have an impact upon ourselves and modify our habits. The confused desire observed in the last ten years, a symptom of underlying depression in society, is beginning to shift towards the core elements of sense and innovation. And several early indications of this are already evident in the fields of art and fashion. Counteracting the media effects of the art market, the international Venice Biennial (2009) exhibition, Fare mundi (making worlds), was an advocate of pœtry, of the utopia necessary to all invention and the creative process for artists.
Some artists explored new perceptions and behaviour with entirely dematerialised pieces (Jean-Baptiste Farkas and Tino Sehgal, for example). Furthermore, the new Paris Biennial, organised by Ghislain Mollet-Viéville, plays the role of a manifesto, questioning the status of a work of art through a « non-exhibition ». This phenomenon ties in with the haute couture fashion show by Olivier Saillard, fashion historian, whose invisible outfits came to life through the imagery in texts read out by model, Violetta Sanchez (2007).
In the same vein, some fashion designers have demonstrated a desire to break free of fashion-specific codes. Alongside their commercial collections, with ultra-discrete communications protecting their creative space, Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan have developed experimental creations reminiscent of art. In his arts and crafts line, O, Margiela creates unique pieces via transformed items of clothing, accessories and recycled objects, while Chalayan - drawing on philosophy, anthropology and architecture - feeds his futuristic imagination via technological experiments where dresses transform, metamorphose and even disappear.
The return to utopia and the questioning of artwork exist alongside other imaginary pathways born of new scientific, biological and technological explorations : notions such as « the Living » (animality, alchemy, etc.), forms of language and its interferences, the networking of the individual and a new perception of time and space redefining the concept of memory.
It is true that the creative process for an artist takes place over a different timeframe than that of the fashion designer who must work to tight deadlines. But the worlds of Art and Fashion continue to interact with their silent transformations exuding new imaginary landscapes in a newly developing world.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 24/02/2010
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© Martin Margiela