Fashion Trend: Art

Every third week of October, crowds of jetset scenesters and fashion industry pros touch down in London for Frieze week.

Nick-named “the fifth fashion week,” the international art fair conveniently follows the Paris shows and is so firmly planted on the social calendars of the global style set that it increasingly feels like it’s less about the art and more like an unofficial catwalk. One of the most talked-about exhibitions at this year’s Frieze was the Gagosian Gallery’s The Show is Over, which boldly made the case that painting as an art form is dead. Featuring existentially bleak canvases by the likes of Ed Ruscha, Yves Klein, Christopher Wool and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, the show proposed that the brush (at least according to one of the art world’s most powerful players) is headed for the dust heap of history alongside the eight-track and the steam engine. Ironically, just days earlier, Paris runways had proposed quite the opposite. An adamant rejection of the notion of painting as passé, spring’s artful collections gave Gagosian’s grim theory the brush-off, celebrating the wonderful vigour and streaky irregularity of the characteristic marks a brush makes as if it were an endangered tradition.

In fashion terms, art itself is the New Black. At some shows, the clothes were a vehicle for iconic work by 20th-century artists, with the arresting imagery digitally “borrowed” and printed on silks and cottons like high-brow logo tees. Of course, the messages varied. At Prada, it was street muralist art writ large on the dresses; at Gucci, it was the stylized art deco flourishes of Erté. Meanwhile, lush Rousseau-like tropicals enlivened shirtdresses »

at Hermès, and Gauguin’s Tahitian nudes were front and centre at Aquilano.Rimondi. Digital sampling took a literal turn at Andrew Gn, where a silk georgette shell printed with a cubist still-life borrowed from Fernand Léger topped a Mondrian-print skirt, and Jil Sander, where a jacket with Pollock-like splatters of primary-hued paint was shown over a constructivist-era print on a matching bra and shorts.

This art/fashion movement gets really interesting, however, when fashion designers like the ever inventive Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo start imagining themselves as the artists and the wearer as the canvas. In the perpetual sibling rivalry between art and fashion, this season seems to be the one in which fashion designers have finally gathered the swagger to lose their insecurities and literally make their own mark.In the Grand Palais for the Chanel show, Lagerfeld set the stage for his painterly collection by filling the magnificent space with 75 Chanel-inspired paintings and sculptures featuring camellias, pearls and bottles of Chanel No. 5, all “after” maquettes by the Kaiser himself. “Art shouldn’t take itself too seriously or fashion either,” barked Lagerfeld when asked about the increasingly common ground between the two creative disciplines. Yet, as he told The Telegraph in 2012, he is against fashion exhibitions in museums, dismissing such high-brow aspirations among his contemporaries with a brisk: “If you call yourself an artist, then you are second-rate.”For Prada’s spring show, Miuccia, whose long-established connections to revolutionary politics and the art and architecture worlds have already burnished her reputation as more than “just a designer,” hired muralists to transform her show venue into an installation of political street art. “My instrument is fashion,” Prada told the press. “I use [it] to be bold.”

Meanwhile, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, whose designs have long referenced fine art, may be the one to have the last word without saying a single thing. In a video live-streamed from backstage which served as a backdrop to his spring runway show, de Castelbajac himself painted, in real time, a bold, Jean Arp-like graphic directly onto a model’s light-as-air zip-front number before sending her straight down the catwalk, dress still wet from his brush.And then there were the clothes—as singular and high-concept as anything hanging in a gallery today. At Céline, Philo daubed wide swaths of bold primary colour across a ladylike jacquard top and newspaper-print silk georgette skirt as if she were the reincarnation of Soviet constructivist painter Sonia Delaunay. At Kenzo, sequins appeared as an undulating single stroke of multi-hued paint that brilliantly wraps around the wearer’s body, dissolving into a rainbow of silk ribbons at her feet. At Chanel, Lagerfeld took the paint fest to another near-conceptual level—tea dresses with an updated ’20s silhouette appeared ruffled, almost birdlike, with each “feather” a daub of watercolour, as if the dress were assembled from a Pantone wheel of paint chips. Turns out that if any of the fashion set at Gagosian’s show had really been concerned about the art form’s vital statistics, all they had to do was to go shopping for the latest spring fashions.

And while fashion, given its fleeting, fickle nature, may still suffer from not being taken as seriously as some of its more committed fellow disciplines, in one aspect it has remained admirably constant. Whatever galleries and cur-ators may think of the future of painting, fashion and its designers are keeping the faith, holding a candle to the magic of art made by hand. Given all the artistry in full flower on spring runways, it is fashion that is making the case for painting’s continued survival. And what a pretty case it is.