Is It Time For Fashion to be Fine Art?
A shark suspended in formaldehyde, a dirty bedspread strewn with condoms and a fountain. Over the years we’ve accepted and praised the weird and wonderful from Hirst, Emin and Duchamp as art, but it seems we’re still a little unsure of our feeling towards those everyday essential items; clothes. With exhibitions at the V&A and Somerset House this year celebrating fashion, has the art world finally recognised clothing as fine art?
It’s easy to argue that clothes are too ordinary to classify as ‘art’ but at the same time, didn’t Miranda Priestley’s infamous cerulean sweater speech in the Devil Wears Prada justify the creative process of fashion? The amount of work behind a dress, from the initial idea to the final mock up, is a modern adaptation of classical artwork. Sceptical? So was I. Allow me to explain further…
Featured in his temporary exhibition at Somerset House, ‘Master of Couture’, Valentino, includes original sketches of his designs, as well as examples of fabric swatches, enlightening his audience as to what goes on behind the scenes. If we accept sketches from artists such as Piccasso, then why not from Valentino? Is it because his final creation is practical, as well as beautiful? Or because fashion is associated with frivolity, whereas painting and sculpture are classified as serious?
I did question myself whilst at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume the dual function of the outfits I was surveying. A private collector owned Dorothy’s renowned gingham pinafore for a number of years. How strange to think of passing the dress in a glass case every morning on the way to make a cup of tea in the kitchen! Yet, is this not the case with a painting hung upon the wall? What is it that defines an object as art?
Coco Chanel described fashion as “not something that exists in dresses only. It is in the sky, in the street, it has to do withideas, the way we live, what is happening”. Is this not the same as art, for example, in the romantic period? An idea influences and infiltrates a society, yet we celebrate the paintings, sculpture and prose of a time over the clothes. The V&A showcases clothes all year round, but they are presented as historical documents rather than pieces with aesthetic worth. On the other hand, an Amanda Wakeley dress from the Ballgowns exhibit was specifically presented in a more artistic format, with the mannequin positioned upon a chandelier, hinting at the potential ability for clothes to become art.
Perhaps if fashion were to have a permanent platform, at a more recognised institute – the National Gallery, for example – we would finally recognise clothing as art. In the meantime, although we are aware of the influence and importance of fashion, society does not seem quite ready to allow fabric to be seen as art; preferring to stick to the more classical modes of painting, drawing and sculpture.