Fashion & Art: Strange Bedfellows?

art and fashion

Can fashion be considered a true art form? This perennial question prompts strongly held opinions on both sides of the argument. The Business of Fashion’s Tim Blanks recalls a discussion with Issey Miyake, whose comments on the subject quite clearly alluded to the fact that he felt clothes were ‘just cloth’ and ‘something to wrap the body in’. However, British designer Zandra Rhodes believes that fashion is indeed an art form, “because the same amount of artistic expression goes into clothes, a piece of pottery or a painting.”

The fact that fashion is now a regular, and popular, subject for museums to explore has added further heat to the discussions, with experts such as Valerie Steele in New York and Pamela Golbin in Paris curating dedicated shows.  Proponents see this increasing trend as clear evidence of fashion as art, while others see it as aesthetics invading a far more complex and considered space.  

art and fashion

Despite apparent steadfastness on both sides, there are those who have reconsidered their take on the subject. Someone who has previously struggled with the concept of fashion as art is designer Jonathan Anderson. However, after spending two years putting together a multi-disciplinary exhibition he recently revealed a change of heart, stating in an interview that he “liked this idea that you can put clothing and sculpture on a level playing field.”

Aiming to blur the boundaries between a variety of artistic disciplines, Anderson’s ‘Disobedient Bodies’ at The Hepworth Wakefield brings together works from the fields of fashion, art, photography and design across the 20th and 21st centuries, which have in common a connection to the human form.

Pieces have been paired together, and discreetly numbered rather than named, to encourage the viewer to consider how they relate to one another. “You don’t judge on the names you see but see things for how they are,” the designer told Vogue’s Hamish Bowles.

art and fashion

Thus works by Henry Moore are positioned with a series of images by photographer Jamie Hawkesworth; Magdalene Odundo ceramics sit alongside a 1950s silk cocktail dress by Christian Dior; Issey Miyake’s precisely-pleated dresses hang next to some similarly sculptural lanterns by Isamu Noguchi; and Naum Gabo’s 1972 giant Head No. 2 is placed with pieces from Rei Kawakubo’s 2012 two-dimensional felt collection. 

“I want people to either love it or hate it,” said Anderson, who is not one to shy away from provocation. Known for his avant-garde designs both for his own eponymous brand as well as Spanish fashion house Loewe where he serves as creative director, his collections are simultaneously described as exciting and challenging, and he is keen to spark a similar debate with this project.

‘Disobedient Bodies’ was conceived from a contemporary art standpoint, aiming to create a discussion as to how various works reimagine, subvert or ‘disobey’ the body. Positioning fashion in the same context as other creative disciplines will, to some, be controversial. However to others, having the opportunity to view fashion on an equal footing will be rather refreshing, and is somewhat overdue.


'Disobedient Bodies: J.W. Anderson Curates The Hepworth Wakefield' runs until 18th June 2017. Read more about the exhibition here.