Art for Fashion's Sake

Art for Fashion's Sake

Can fashion be considered art?

It’s a question that has long polarised art fans and critics. With the V&A’s upcoming debut of its 'Naomi' exhibition, celebrating the supermodel, philanthropist and muse to iconic photographers such as Peter Lindbergh and David LaChapelle, we take a look back at historic art and fashion collaborations.

Whether we like it or not, there has always existed a synergy between fashion and art. Together, they've reflected shifts in zeitgeist, and ideological or emotional proponents motivating art movements. Arguably, the best collaborations occur when designers go beyond subtle references and work directly with artists; creating original work and sartorial showstoppers.

For instance, during her spring/summer 2021 collection, Miuccia Prada debuted a film called Prada Multiple Views SS21 created by five different artists, who were asked to “interpret” her designs. The American filmmaker, writer, director, actor and musician Terence Nance, London-based Polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska, American artist Martine Syms, and photographers Juergen Teller and Willy Vanderperre shared their perspective throughout five chapters. The result was a celebration of Prada's hallmark utilitarian luxury and a unitary vision that allowed audiences to connect with how the artist's themselves reacted to the collection.

Salvador Dalí & Elsa Schiaparelli

Salvador Dalí. Lobster Telephone, 1938.Wallis Simpson wearing Elsa Schiaparelli's Lobster Dress, 1937.
Photograph by Cecil Beaton. Getty Images. Source: Vogue

Elsa Schiaparelli pioneered modern fashion while the 20th century was in its infancy. In 1937, the Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí collaborated with Schiaparelli to design the Lobster Dress, a cream silk evening gown embellished with a red lobster strewn and sprigs of parsley.

François Boucher & Vivienne Westwood
François Boucher, Daphnis and Chloe, 1743. Boucher bodice by Vivienne Westwood, Autumn/Winter 1990 collection. Photo credit: Martin Hayhow/AP/Shutterstock. Photo credit: John Van Hasselt- Corbis/Getty images

Intrigued by historical art and fashion, Westwood studied the paintings and garments at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The pastoral piece Daphnis and Chloe (1743) by Rococo pioneer François Boucher particularly caught her eye. The painting surfaced during her Autumn/Winter 1990 show, where it was printed onto the front panel of a bodice. Vivienne Westwood was mesmerised by romantic Rococo silhouettes and flounces.

Gothic International & Alexander McQueen
Angels and Demons. Alexander McQueen Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear. Photos courtesy of Vogue & the Victoria
and Albert museum. Stefan Lochner. Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Cologne, 1440s

Alexander McQueen’s passion for the art world bled through collections inspired by pioneers like William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. For his last collection in 2010, Angels and Demons took inspiration from spiritual paintings by seminal artists like Stefan Lochner and Hieronymus Bosch. This final offering captured the mysticism of Gothic International, complete with golden flourishes and the graceful curved lines that defined northern European art.

Dutch artists & Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton 2007 Ready-to-Wear collection.
Portrait of a Lady, traditionally thought to be the Countess of Carnavon - (circle of) Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Yves Saint Laurent’s Sunflowers jacket is one of Peter Copping’s favourite art-inspired fashion pieces. The former creative director of Nina Ricci and Oscar de la Renta is a huge art fanatic and was working under Marc Jacobs when he headed the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and the Japanese Pop Artist Takahashi Murakami. For Vuitton’s 2007 collection, he fondly recalls going to Amsterdam to observe the artistry of great painters’ Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Vermeer; attributing the collection’s exquisite merlot & Dutch blue palette, as well as its draped and ruched fabric to the artists’ superb brushwork.

Piet Mondrian & Yves Saint Laurent
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Grey and Blue, 1921.
The Mondrain dress, Yves Saint Laurent, 1965 haute couture collection. Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Yves Saint Laurent was deeply inspired by the De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian; whose interest in colour eventually led to a movement in graphic language with Theo Van Doesburg called Neoplasticism.

Inspired by a Mondrian book his mother had given him for Christmas, Yves Saint Laurent infused Mondrian’s abstract modernism into his Autumn/Winter 1965 collection. Over two decades later, the designer looked to another great artist: Vincent van Gogh, and his Starry Night and Sunflowers paintings.

Burberry & performance artists
Marina Abramović in costumes designed by Riccardo Tisci for her opera 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, 2020.
Photo credit: Marco Anelli. Costume fittings, 2020. Courtesy of Burberry

For his summer 2016 collection, Riccardo Tisci asked the seminal conceptual artist Marina Abramović to art direct his show for Givenchy. Four years later (when Tisci was Burberry's creative director), they created an in-conversation film, on the occasion of Abramović’s opera, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, for which Tisci had designed the costumes. According to Burberry, the costume-design process was “a joint creative experience, evolving and reinterpreting through a modern lens the dramatic, theatrical costumes expected from opera”. Highlights included a scarlet, matador-inspired ensemble with bejewelled cuffs, a bridal white gown and floor-length lace-trimmed veil (a longtime signature of Tisci’s) – and another gown adorned with hundreds of mirrored silver pailettes.

For Burberry’s Summer 2021 collection, Tisci also turned to German artist Anne Imhof to art direct his show. “I knew she was someone I could relate to creatively and who could bring a totally unique perspective to the experience,” he said at the time. He and Imhof transported viewers to a remote forest in England (a symbol of freedom following lockdown), and directed white-clad models to follow paths leading to a clearing, where they then formed a circle and performed a ritualistic dance. Painter Eliza Douglas, Imhof’s life partner and frequent collaborator, wrote the heavy- metal music for the piece.