Picasso has not yet been honoured with a retrospective on his personal aesthetic, nor has the one-time Comme des Garçons model, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Brooklyn Museum did though, have one on Georgia O’Keeffe, ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.’ Women’s work is still viewed through a different lens than men’s; their lives are more closely associated with their art, and their art is oft-seen as inherently more personal than their male counterparts.
‘As a young teenager I was already making all these garments, clothes for a much more glamorous life than the one I had. I remember my sister being really freaked out and telling our mother, “You must stop her, she looks like a fool. I’m not going to school with her.” I’d made myself this version of a Yves Saint Laurent gypsy costume with a big flowing skirt and a peasant blouse. I really must have looked like a freak. But both my mom and my grandmother kept encouraging me. My mom had this famous saying – “Let’s go shopping for ideas!” It was basically window shopping.’
Never, perhaps, have women been better coiffed: hair is waved, frizzed, braided, raised up into wings, brushed back and twisted into ropes … all with truly astounding art. The Parisian comb is the equal of the Greek chisel, and hair submits with greater docility than the marble of Paros or Mount Pentelikon. Would an Athenian sculptor or a Renaissance painter be able to arrange the hair with more grace, ingenuity or style? We think not.
There is a tendency, across fashion exhibitions and publishing, to portray the fashion designer as a creative genius. The ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2015, for example, emphasised its demonstration of ‘the extraordinary talent of one of the most innovative designers of recent times.’ Such a depiction positions the designer outside the realities of the fashion system, as a uniquely autonomous figure of otherworldly measure: as god, or king. While this mode of representation may be customary, even habitual, it is deeply misrepresentative of the designer, and the contemporary fashion system in which their work resides.
Today, Helmut Lang works an artist. His minimalist and deconstructivist work is no longer presented on runways, but represented by contemporary art galleries. After resigning as creative director of his fashion house in 2005, Lang indeed turned away from his former profession to focus solely on fine art. This decision came with creative freedom, unencumbered by the functional and economic restrictions of the moving body and wearability.
In many ways Susan Cianciolo’s work evades a formal category. For the most part she is a designer, but also maker, artist, director, among other roles that allow her to create her exhibitions and performances.
Performance is something integral to fashion, in industry, and our everyday experience: from catwalk presentations, photo shoots and red carpet events to the dressing up we engage with in our daily lives, all are very much acts of performance in an industry that is necessarily expressive. Artist Adele Varcoe’s work is concerned with these functions – a keen observer of the phenomenon of fashion and our responsive behaviour, her performance events and happenings aim to address fashion and our experience of clothing.
Fog is a visual spectacle brought about by natural and man-made forces alike, bridging the gap between dream and reality. Appearing through incense in religious rituals, from Ancient Egyptian culture to Judaism and Christianity, there are inherent healing and transformative qualities in the vision of fog, offering a cleansing space through its rejuvenating properties.
Nature continues to fascinate us: we observe in awe from a distance its potential for violence and physicality. Impressed and over-powered by fear and respect for this great and unknown, we try to imitate and re-create these forces, or domesticate them to a scale we can control.
In the final instalment in the series of forces in art, theatre and fashion we turn our attention to the phenomenon of the ‘explosion’. In opposition to water – the origin of earth, fire is its antagonist, with a force to destroy and to leave an empty surface where there once was life.
Separating the art and fashion worlds from each has become increasingly difficult in contemporary culture: fashion, which has long been a borrower of imagery from art, is also used as material for artists to critique the commercial and social values it represents. With fashion being the thriving image marketplace that it is, there is always an abundance in appropriated or re-contextualised images.