Fashion and the ‘Other’

30 Years of Japanese Fashion at Barbican Art Gallery

 Although what you are about to read is nothing new – given the amount of exposure that artists such as like Yolanda Dominguez, Kaarina Kaikkonen, Andrea Hasler, Chloe Wise, Jarod Charzewski are getting these days – Fashion as an Art form  (an area which is under critical scrutiny) is in desperate need of some affirmations.


Today, the fine line which separates Fashion from what is Art is almost obscured. With Fashion entering Museum doors and Art trading traditional aesthetics for works that mirrors our world, the question of what is Art is therefore merely impossible to answer.


The debate between Fashion and Art began long before 20th c. pioneers like Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, who have played with fashion and performativity and designer like Jean Paul Gautier, Yves St. Laurent, Versace who have allowed their designs to be read within the context of a museum settings, arrived on the scene.


During the mid 1850’s, founding father of Haute Couture, Charles Frederick Worth began playing with fashion and its relation to art. As a dressmaker Worth thought himself to be an artist, a craftsman. He often placed himself in the same role as that of painter. A women’s body was his canvas and his designs were regarded as works of art. Worth often mirrored historical paintings, recreating dresses from the past.


Charles Frederick Worth
Charles Frederick Worth Gowns


In time, Worth would eventually have followers like Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli who sought to take the relationship between art and fashion to another level and sought to create an alternative mode of dressing. Both Poiret and Schiaparelli were highly concerned with constructing works that were about the imaginary, the idiosyncratic, and the provocation of concepts that derive from the creative process itself, almost mimetically mirror art movements of their time.


Paul Poiret (1879–1944)
Paul Poiret (1879–1944)


The involvement that these designers had in the art scene would have their contemporaries like Coco Chanel retaliating for a more standard taste of beauty found in fashion designs. A true patriot of the fashion industry, Chanel and her contemporaries sought to minimize the line between what is Art and what is Fashion. Fashion is Fashion. Art is Art.


While the debate that started almost 100 years ago is concerned with defining works of arts and the aesthetics of fashion both in terms of process and context, I am less concerned with it and more concerned with understanding the role fashion and art play today. And why is this debate so relevant in understanding fashion culture today?

Contrary to the attempt of designers like Mademoiselle Chanel, Fashion has reinvented itself and so has Art for that matter.

Times are changing, especially within our visual culture. Art is not what it once was. Art has changed and so has Fashion. Today anything can be seen as art when framed within the four walls of a Museum or Gallery space and more importantly when the artwork is given some symbolic value. (Please let me say that just because anything can be seen as art, doesn’t mean is should).


Fashion, although still very embedded within its system, has also shifted, becoming less and less practical and more about the spectacular.


30 Years of Japanese Fashion at Barbican Art Gallery
30 Years of Japanese Fashion at Barbican Art Gallery


Fashion has long been criticized for being nothing short of vain and artificial. While this is true for the most part, I believe that if we begin to read fashion in the same manner as we do art, then we can gain a better perspective and undo some of those negative perception fashion carries. And this is precisely why contemporary artist are using fashion as their muse in order to stimulate a new conceptions of art and fashion.


Some of theses artist you may have already heard of while others may be new. What you should keep in mind is that artist like Yolanda Dominguez, Kaarina Kaikkonen, Andrea Hasler, Chloe Wise, Jarod Charzewski are trolling the Fashion Industry, masking their works of art as Fashion in order to critically comment on the other side of the fashion spectrum. These artists are pressing issues of frantic consumption on branding and the body, in order to raise consciousness.


andrea hasler miu miu bag designboom
Andrea Hasler, Yolanda Dominguez “Fashion Victims”


Art is perhaps the only means of creative practice that can be untainted by commercial implications. It is a form of self-expression that comments of contemporary events that go unseen by the average passerby. The job of an artist is not about creative works of mass consumption, but rather about creative performativity that critically speaks to cultural phenomenon of fashion and today that phenomenon is absolute based on labelism, and consumerism. Perhaps this is the reason that Fashion is frantically rejecting Art. Art has breeched and made a mocking reality of the Fashion system and this in turn negatively reflects the image of fashion.


Chloe Wise “Bagel No.5”



You are probably shaking your head right about now, telling yourself, why I already know this, who cares? And where can I buy that Chanel Bagel Bag? Well, you should care. And no you cannot buy this bag (at least not yet).


If you’re going to participate and live in a culture that is basically built on the blocks of our consumption habits, then I think we should have some sort of basic understanding of what we are participating in and understanding Fashion in the same context of Art can help shed a little light on this matter.

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