How does the artist, through fashion express their vision? What cultural themes can we explore to make sense of high fashion and make it relatable to us? How can fashion portray an entire social idea?
THe designer's sketch
Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré 1988
In the late 1960’s Ferre received his Degree in Architecture from the Politecnico de Milano University in Italy.
It was a time when Architects were not in high demand in the area and Ferre was able to find work designing accessories. He then was able to find work designing raincoats and eventually became a Stylistic Director for Christian Dior in Paris.
In his design sketch, we can see his architectural background become evident in the design of the construction of this garment. If you look at similar sketches from the 1980’s, you’ll find that the design is much more realistic than artistic. For instance, he sketches the models body, very vague and almost non-existent yet to the observer, it is obvious that these lines and squiggles in a nude color are the model’s body parts, yet he doesn’t seem to care who this model is. He makes designs that appeal to the masses, making us, the consumer feel like we have individual style and flair. The model then, could be anyone and everyone. This brings up an interesting idea that the 1980’s was time of the rise of individualism. An idea that was moving away from the protesting, fight-for-your-rights idiom of the 1970’s. In his Essay, “How American Individualism is Evolving” Daniel Yankelovich describes this phenomena in this way, he says, “By the end of the 1970’s the majority of Americans had decided that self-expressiveness was too important for artists and writers to monopolize: everyone should have the opportunity to develop their inner potential for self-expression”. It is this very shift that makes Ferre’s sketch so relevant to the time that he sketched it. His use of polka-dots and the rosette, along with the large right shoulder piece and the draping of the skirt makes this design unique. For the fashionable woman, no other piece she owned would look like this, and can be interpreted to be couture, a design for an individual. An individual who could express themselves through fashion.
Art Fashion on the Runway
Alexander McQueen 2013
Alexander McQueen was revered as a master theatrical designer. Many of his designs had a dark cynicism to them that splashed across a gown or was hidden in the details of an accessory, like a shoe.
McQueen’s designs, show the duality of our inner and outer selves, the turmoil within ourselves that is ever in conflict a Yin and Yang Theme.
Showcased as part of his 2013 collection for Fall/Winter, McQueen designed this high-heel shoe that explores this theme. His use of structure and foundation of the shoe through the metal work that seems spiked or pointed and the wispy, soft and fluttering feathers that dance as the shoe is worn as a model walks down the runway creates another feeling of “care-free-ness”.
If we were to not look at this piece as article of fashion (which can be thought of as frivolous, expensive, or un-interesting to some) and look at it as a true piece of modern art, what would it tell us about the artist? What could this piece ignite within the observer to create sentiment? I would suggest that the clear pairing of soft and hard, dots and lines, metal and feather create an image of balance and masculine and feminine aspects of the Yin/Yang concept.
Furthermore, McQueen’s personal life with riddled with hardship at times. He was an openly gay man whose relationship did not work out. The stress of designing for Givenchy as well as his own product line, as well as dealing with drugs and depression allow interesting interpretations of his work. Knowing a little bit about the background of the artist makes his art true to his self-expression. It might be easy to look at this piece and not connect to the artist because he seems far removed. His idea was brought to life by other people, the shoe, was worn not by him, but a model and we as the observers or consumers of his art see it on the runway or a magazine and never stop to think about Lee Alexander, who he was and why this particular design made it to the runway. It is easy, when consuming or observing fashion to lose the meaning behind a design because the design is for a practical use.
Camilla Frances 2015
I wanted to explore for this last work, a textile design because so many cultural themes result in patterns used in fashion.
Camilla Frances is a textile artist and designer for high fashion in London. Many of her designs are inspired by native peoples in Africa and beyond. The use of the geometric patterns and linear strokes in the textile example above really show how this inspiration is then executed.
What makes this design interesting is the fact that it is exotic. It’s bringing the idea of safari or travel to the people of high fashion. This idea of a tribal pattern isn’t new, it’s been used over and over again in many designs, and this is just one of the many examples of tribal textiles that could be featured here. The tribal textile is unique because the specific design can have a religious or cultural meaning. Theses designs are symbols for tribal people that may be religious or meaningful in other ways. Some critics would argue that taking these meaningful symbols and using them to sell product is wrong, and while that might be true, these patterns are usually an interpretation of the symbol to the artist and also a way to share these invented patterns with the world in a cultural way. I’ve included a photo of a runway garment made with one of Frances’ designs to explore and visualize the use of the textile in tribal inspired fashion. To the right you can see a gown by Valentino inspired by this natural, tribal print. The use of textile art in fashion is as integral to our cultural relevance as it is to fashion itself. Textile art is crucial to the designer’s vision and the use of visual culture. Cultural art is used to create this beautiful piece of fashion or “wearable art”.