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Blurring the Lines Between Art and Fashion

It’s said art is the window to the soul, an interpretive voyage into the eyes of the beholder. Art, just as fashion, is universal and evocative as it takes on various forms. Despite your interpretation, art is a significant escape to the individual who perceives it. Perception is key, and for students aspiring to have careers within the creative industries, it goes without saying that the arts are an essential stimulant within their curriculum and coursework, particularly between art and fashion.

That art and fashion are practically synonymous is an emphatic idea taught throughout elective courses at LIM College. Students majoring in fashion media, fashion merchandising, marketing, management, and visual merchandising are taught early on that there is a recurring love affair between art and fashion. The connection is almost intuitive, dating back to the ‘Le Magnifique’ master couturier, Paul Poiret. Poiret incorporated the Art Nouveau movement of fluidity and impeccable draping that mimicked the ethereal romance found within the decorative arts of the 20th century.

An even closer depiction of art and fashion’s entangled love affair is brought to light through Italian-born couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who found an aesthetic synergy with the Dada and Surrealist art movements exploring the techniques of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, and Pablo Picasso. Schiaparelli went on to create the “Lobster Dress” in 1937, made of printed silk organza, synthetic horsehair with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted by Dali onto the skirt reflecting the elusive motifs brought to life through dreams/unconscious mind. Another famous design was the “Tear Dress,” a slender gown and veil patterned with Dalí’s trompe l’oeil rips and tears to give the illusion of lacerated flesh.

art and fashion
Experimental designs like the “Lobster Dress” are examples of how art and fashion can merge.

Yves Saint Laurent later fueled the blurred connection between art and fashion by stating, “Fashion is art, and you are the canvas.” In fact, the most recognized art and fashion culture clash was Saint Laurent’s homage to Dutch contemporary painter and founder of the Des Stijl art movement, Piet Mondrian with the “Mondrian Dress” in his 1965 Fall Women’s Collection.

Today, the present very much mirrors the past as fashion designers such as the late Alexander McQueen’s 1999 Spring/Summer runway show replicated a Jackson Pollock-like design. Shalom Harlow emerged on a revolving platform where two robots—industrial sprayers made by Fiat—sprayed her with black, green, and yellow paint, staining a canvas-like dress to mimic the abstract expressionist movement. Rising fashion talent is also paying homage to artists: Erdem referenced female artist Julia Margret Cameron during his Spring/Summer ‘15 collection, with a piece that stemmed from a portrait of Marianne North, a botanist and female scientist during the 18th century.  Most recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior introduced feminist art historian Linda Nochlin during her Spring/Summer ‘18 collection entitled: “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Thom Browne also paid homage to pioneering French painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, who famously painted a  portrait of Marie Antoinette.

Art and Fashion as a Curriculum

Whether it be courses such as History of Art, Cultural Connections to Fashion or Intro to Visual Merchandising, art has frequently brought many student’s academic careers full-circle.  Students aspiring to fulfill their passions within the creative industries are taught to view art on a multidisciplinary level to apply towards their research; this presents an opportunity to explore fashion from another vantage point other than ‘what’s trending on VOGUE Runway.com.’ As Professor and Fashion Historian Amanda Hallay notes, “If Anna Wintour references a specific period for an upcoming story during an editorial meeting you better know from A-Z about that era – its artists, fashion designers, cultural significances, and sociopolitical impact.”

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art and fashion
Students are taught to view art from a multidisciplinary vantage so they and apply that perspective to fashion.

Creative tastemakers, including artists, designers, stylist, visual merchandisers, editors, and curators, do not pull information or inspiration from one specific source; instead, they create an overview that paints a fuller picture of the creative landscape today. This practice asks academic institutions to consider how art might be used intuitively and academically to implement research methods, propositions, and initiatives during various stages of a fashion curriculum. Several students from diverse backgrounds, majors, and career paths speak of their journey of art and fashion, and whether or not art was a signifier during their academic years at university.

Art was woven into the curriculum for students from diverse educational backgrounds. Daishu Washington, a former Visual Merchandising student at LIM College, says, “I did incorporate art into my curriculum during my academic career.  It was during a class called Color Theory, where I explored the fundamentals of color, shapes and how it creates moods. There was one project where I had to create a paper version of Andy Warhol’s work. Otherwise, there was no specific art that I fully incorporated because I’ve always taken my inspirations and split them up to create my own themes throughout my work.”

art and fashion
“I did incorporate art into my curriculum during my academic career…there was no specific art that I fully incorporated because I’ve always taken my inspirations and split them up to create my own themes throughout my work,” says Washington.

Elaix Vincent Jr., a former Fashion Merchandising student, said that art and fashion collide most furtively in this area of the fashion world.“During a classed called  Intro to Visual Merchandising in order to build window displays for class projects I had to think outside the box. My projects consisted of painting, drawing, and even sculpting objects,” he says.  Although Vincent’s and Washington’s majors differ, art seamlessly acted as the binding factor – while one major deems to be hands-on, exploring various design and artistic techniques, the other relies on business savvy tactics to explore fashion and art from a multidisciplinary approach.

Art takes on various mediums, from exhibitions to scholarly journals and documentaries. Students absorb art and fashion in myriad ways contributing to their research and analysis. Washington explains that she “gravitate[s] towards exhibitions, books, and documentaries. All sources are visually stimulating while still providing tangible context to what it is you’re seeking.” Leila, a former Fashion Merchandising, and Publishing student, says, “Personally, I prefer documentaries and exhibitions for the simple fact that I enjoy education on various levels,” she says.“As much as I appreciate art, knowing facts over opinion puts me into the mindset of the artist and what was happening at that moment.” The analysis of art, then, depends on the researcher: While one student prefers the visual aspect of exhibitions, documentaries or even social media, others opt for a more textbook approach that is conducive to their learning style and overall experience within the classroom.

Many believe art is intuitive, and just like fashion, it’s an element of the creative industries that cannot be taught. Students debate that art is a fundamental element that should be taught and discussed. Several students were in agreement on this point. “Art cultivates creative thinking and rationalizes alternative perspectives. That’s something that can be utilized in all facets of business in general. It gets people thinking outside of the box as opposed to within,” says Washington. Art, just as English, math, science or health, is a justifiable additive to a student’s curriculum. Whether they are majoring in the creative industries or not, art acts as an outlet to allow a student ’s imagination to roam free in a way that is daring, unusual and thought-provoking.

art and fashion
For many students, art left a lasting impression on them and informed their careers.

This brings us to life after university –  has art left a lasting impression on students or just a fading figure? The students chime in on their final verdict of art’s contribution presently in their careers.  Lelia says, “I am currently working on a few side projects that incorporate art and fashion, and it is very helpful for finding myself to draw from my life and personal experience.”Ose Sesay, a former MBA student at LIM College, takes an entrepreneurial approach to art. “ I have previously owned my own fashion business and worked for several other fashion related businesses where I was able to incorporate art more regularly,” he says. ”

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The importance of art within academia is both a crucial and critical factor for students pursuing a career within the creative industries, as the incorporation of art challenges you to think differently, work in new ways, and push your ideas to the next level. Some may debate that art cannot be taught each of the former students had a united front that art played a part in the learning curve of their academic life. In a sense, art, just as fashion, is found within everything we do. The lines between art and fashion may blur, but when collided create a symphony that is incomparable.

Do you think art and fashion are intertwined?

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About the author

Iesha Coppin

Iesha Coppin obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Fashion Merchandising with a concentration in Publishing. She is currently an Editorial Assistant at RAINE Magazine.

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