Words by Pui Kuan Cheah
Fashion is essentially wearable art. Just like how painters may use canvas and paint, fashion designers may use fabrics and the sewing machine. In some instances, fashion pieces are collages – combining materials and designs to form a cohesive piece. Looking to the runway, an illustrative example of this is a look from Tom Ford’s Fall 2015 Ready-To-Wear collection. There is an obvious patchwork of materials – the skirt has two distinct portions, the denim top and graphic, coloured smoother bottom, providing visual contrast for onlookers.
The way in which collections are showcased like clockwork, at fashion weeks around the world throughout the year, demonstrate how the runway (particularly for high fashion) is fashion’s art gallery. Just like artworks, fashion pieces are the products of creativity and labour; an assembly to show off to the community. In the same way artworks can be controversial and start conversations, fashion can also stir debate. The likeability of a fashion piece is down to personal taste and preference, and it is in this way fashion is able to engage its audience like art. Whether it’s fast fashion that most people consume, or the more exclusive, luxurious Met Gala, people will always have an opinion about different fashion products.
Wrapping up, perhaps the largest cultural imprint fashion has on society is its association and marker for time periods throughout history. Fashion’s ubiquity is what has spurred terms like ‘60s fashion’ and ‘70s fashion’, and there is usually a common understanding of their references. Conventional art has identifiable historical movements like impressionism and cubism; fashion on the other hand has its eras like disco of the 1970s and grunge of the 1990s.
All things considered, it is hard to dispute that fashion isn’t art, given how many similarities both have. Institutionally, it is also recognised as so, given how many art schools offer fashion as a study option. Fashion encourages artistic creation and expression, and sometimes goes underappreciated despite its critical utility.
Words by Bethan Gwynne
To consider the idea that fashion could be an artform, there are two categories of fashion to examine. ‘Ready-To-Wear’ and ‘Haute Couture.’ Generally, the distinction between the two is that ready-to-wear has less time spent on the garments and is more day-to-day wear, and haute couture clothing has a team of professional tailors and seamstresses behind it that showcases structural and design skill at a high level, with less of a day-to-day wear element to it.
When looking at clothing design in terms of ready-to-wear, we see that designers are relatively restricted to work creatively within those restrictions to create something beautiful within the bounds of utility. Here, this form of fashion may perhaps be too vague to consider it art.
However, when we look at haute couture; it’s a different story. Stunning pieces of clothing are created to express the skills of seamstresses, tailors, and designers – much like artists use painting and sculpture to express their skills. Here, fashion can be seen as a form of art when we look at haute couture designs that are beautifully crafted to presents a set of skills rather than clothing designed to fit in with utility and trends. Prime examples of this are designs by Iris Van Herpen, who’s designs are artistic in terms of structure and looks. Her designs break the bounds of utility and are instead created to be visually pleasing and express the artistic skills of her fashion house.
Haute couture fashion certainly is an artform. Like a piece of marble, what becomes of it depends on the vision of the mason who cuts it – as it could either become a timeless piece of work or a paving slab. Haute couture is the same, and how designers present their skills and think outside the realms of utility determines this.