Is Fashion an Art?


September not only means the start of the new academic year. While millions of children and students around the world are readying themselves for essays and lectures, the world’s sartorial elite cast their eyes to New York, London, Paris and Milan for a month of four consecutive weeks of fashion. What does this have to do with art I hear you cry? Seemingly little, but as you begin to look behind the surface, you will begin to see that is not the case.

This article was originally inspired by Miley Cyrus, whose name refuses to budge from the covers of tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines for her raunchy antics and questionable dress sense. However she has now delved into the visual arts, having just presented her first art collection ‘dirty hippie’ in collaboration with Jeremy Scott at New York fashion week. Her ‘artwork’ does not consist of the generic paintings one might expect, but accessories, which I suppose we could call sculpture. This leads to asking the age-old question: firstly, what constitutes as art and secondly, how should it be presented?

Surely (and conventionally) a museum or gallery would have been a more appropriate setting for Cyrus’s art, however given the name the singer has made for herself, nothing should really surprise us. Artist-fashion designer collaborations are nothing new. Marina Abramovic has previously collaborated with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci as has Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton. While this appears to be a new phenomenon, the recent Artist Textiles Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum proves that these collaborations have been around for nearly a century (beginning their show from the 1920s). While one cannot go around wearing a Picasso painting, the artist did personally approve fabric to be made from his art that people could wear.

Fashion exhibitions are becoming more and more commonplace. While this may be a positive and indeed it must be for museum and visitor numbers, what does it mean for art exhibitions? While I am known amongst friends for constantly spending time in galleries and at exhibitions, it is seldom that people suggest accompanying me. However this is a very different story when a fashion exhibition opens, when I suddenly become very popular. The recent Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which opens at the V&A in London next year, saw record visitor numbers for the museum with people queuing round the block. Where previously very few fashion exhibitions were on offer there are now plenty to choose from and I have also noticed myself writing more and more articles about shows of clothes and style.

While fashion has successfully muscled it’s way into the art world by using its exhibition venues, it is still worth questioning whether it is in fact art at all. Miley Cyrus’s offerings at New York Fashion Week certainly could be argued favourably in this way as she had the intention of creating art. In spite of that, many garments that end up on display in galleries and museums were simply designed to be functioning items of clothing and not lauded over like masterpiece paintings. It is worth considering then, whether that vintage Chanel suit hanging in the museum is an artwork or a highly collectible antique.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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