Is fashion truly an art form?
We ask Georgina Ripley, curator of Fashion and Style, the largest permanent gallery in Scotland devoted entirely to fashion, for her thoughts on the subject.
“The best fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier have pushed boundaries with directional and iconic collection but is fashion truly an art form? “Whether it is or not has always been in debate but essentially depends on your definition of art,” explains Georgina. “Fashion is concerned with beauty and design, as are the fine and decorative arts. It can also be incredibly conceptual, particularly as designers exploit advances in technology to push the boundaries of what clothing can be. Designers such as Zandra Rhodes, who founded her own fashion and textile museum precisely for this reason, passionately believe in fashion as an art form. Others believe you cannot compare an artist to a designer. Hussein Chalayan, whose interdisciplinary approach to fashion has earned him a reputation more as a conceptual artist than as a fashion designer, hates the very word conceptual.
“Important figures in fashion have helped to change the perspective over the years – Charles Frederick Worth in the mid 19th century was among the first to “sign” his work, establishing the concept of designer as artist. Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s famously married fashion and art in a literal sense through her collaborations with surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Leonor Fini. I think there’s also been a shift again more recently –Iris van Herpen, for example; her collections utilise 3D printing and she is considering how to integrate emerging disciplines such as 4D printing and nanorobotics into fashion.
“There are designers who have treated the catwalk more as a space for performance that have had a lasting impression – Viktor and Rolf for example, or Hussein Chalayan. Certainly Alexander McQueen, who has created some of the most memorable catwalk moments with shows such as Voss (spring/summer 2001), constructed to resemble a mental hospital holding cell and more recently Gareth Pugh, whose spring/summer 2015 show was an immersive presentation featuring high-octane video installations, dancers, and architectural set pieces. The spectacle of these sorts of shows leads the whole experience to be more about art than about commerce.”
And from the catwalks to installations and exhibitions in museums, fashion has firmly - and successfully - taken its place. The latest fashion and textiles collection on display at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh is one of the most significant in Europe with over 50,000 items in its collection.
“Fashion and Style presents over 400 years of fashion history, looking at how designers, producers and consumers have all shaped fashion at different times, tracing the impact of new technologies and cultural exchange, and considering the issues dominating the industry,” explains Georgina. “Many of the great names in 20th century fashion feature, such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Paco Rabanne, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Saint Laurent, Comme des Garcons and Alexander McQueen, as well as rare historic garments from the 17th and 18th centuries. It also has a changing display of cutting edge contemporary fashion to bring the displays up to date.”
To find out more visit www.nms.ac.uk or Tel: 0300 123 6789. National Museum of Scotland, Chambers St, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF.
Main image: Jean Muir outfit inspired by the Great Barrier Reef, Australian Bicentenary Collection, 1988.
Second image: Woman’s dress, multicoloured optical floral print, of cotton poplin London, England, by Mary Katrantzou, Resort Collection 2016.