Is Fashion a Form of Art? The Never-Ending Debate


Constant snarks are still evident when fashion is compared to the mechanism of art. Wearable art, applied arts, decorative arts - aren’t they all sections of a bigger umbrella?

By: Tejashee Kashyap

Posted on: April 22, 2020

An argument that has always surrounded and kept the world of fashion at its toes - ‘Is fashion really a work of art?’ – is as relevant a question now as it was 20 years ago. For you and I, it might just be a system to wrap oneself. But, for patrons, it’s an art piece. Many times, you wouldn’t take it that way. But, why not? Alexander McQueen justified fashion as a corridor that has one of the finest attitudes, poise, technique and a deep romance shared with the owner. The visual aura that he created, and showcased his deep romance between beauty and ugliness, is inexplicable. 

Rina Bannerjee for Dior bag

Global artist Oona D’Mello, who has presented her experiments with textiles and painting in USA, Italy, China and India shares, “Art in its very essence is made for no one else other than the deep desire to express. The makers of art and the intent with which a creative creates is what transcends an artistic process to the creation of something immortal.” 

While the fuss around the first Monday of May would just be taken as another event of celebration and gala time, we should remember the Costume Institute’s purpose: to reinforce the role of fashion in art. It is Diana Vreeland’s contribution to visualizing costume as a curious area that people would be excited to explore. Team Satya Paul tells us, “Role of Art and Fashion both is to create beauty. A garment can be seen as a canvas of art and still serve its purpose as intended to be worn. They were always meant to portray a certain image or visual impact, be it by the colours used (during regulated times, such as the Elizabethan era), or the extent of their lavishness (Marie Antoinette).” 

Quite astonishing, for most crowds, fashion still stands as a frivolous and superficial commodity. The amount of dedication and precise work that goes into manifesting a garment through textiles, embellishments, motifs draws light to expressionism and conveyance. Designer Sohni Patel tells, “Fashion becomes immortal when it can exist in a space outside its carefully constructed confines. True creative expression, whether it is art or fashion or somewhere mid-way, is ultimately what is immortal.”

Wear your Art

Est Form Wearable Art

It’s always a delight how fashion can be moulded as an art form. In a recent collaboration between founder and designer of House of Sohn - Sohni Patel and visual artist Oona D’Mello, the transformation of fashion is seen as communicable forms, wearable art pieces, sculptural installations and artistic curations. The duo together has found a collaborative house, ‘Est. Form’, that celebrates and shows these two mediums mingle well, creating a unique proposition realized both on and off the canvas onto a cloth.

Ms. Patel shares, “As a designer, my work is interacting with the art and responding to its unique form to make clothing. Here, the art-making and design-making process merge in a way where paint, canvas, fabric, and thread all converse and come together to create something beautiful that sits right at the intersection of two distinct art forms. In Est. Form: Edition I, we played with the idea that art can come off a wall and into a communal space. We used surface techniques, dyeing methods, natural, hand-woven fabrics and hope to bring in collaborators who can help contribute to a sustainable conversation too”. 

Est Form Wearable Art

But, how does one wear art? Ms. D’Mello shares, “Fabric Alternation is my signature style of working. It is a process by which I use the fabric as a medium of paint, to create form, structure, undulation on a canvas. It is with this artwork, that House of Sohn sews and designs to make it wearable. Through this collaboration, a designer has then taken the artwork to create the element of wearability.”

Revamp to Relive

Belonging to a Gen-Z or millennial crowd, the idea of revamping and reimagination allures us. We adore traditional, cultural art forms but only when served to us through elements of modernization. India’s ancient culture and its sari, the sartorial fashion piece of grace and feminity, survives in all its glory today, and Satya Paul is one house that has kept both of these visions alive. The team tells us, “Our culture influences the way we dress. But, a cultural identity, a heritage can survive only if they change with the times. One of the indisputable attributes of Indian society has been its ability to adapt and to make itself relevant.” 

Satya Paul Folklure collection

Satya Paul’s AW’19 collection - Folklure – features saris hand-painted with folk art like Kalamkari and Madhubani, presenting wearable art with a contemporary interpretation of Indian craft. “Art styles and motifs have inspired many designers to create collections season after season. In these times, when everyone is looking at the west for inspiration, this collection is an ode to our roots, helping to create awareness for Art forms. Folk art has been a muse for the fashion industry for a very long time and this love is only growing. It infuses a sense of added value in today’s consumer-driven fast world where we are losing our connection with our roots,” said Satya Paul’s team

So, the next time you go around looking at paintings, appreciating the culture and times, do remember that the same can be attained through articles of clothing.

Satya Paul Folklure collection

Doodling Fashion

In recent times, contemporary artists, visualizers, illustrators, graphic designers and painters have been in deep collaboration with fashion brands or designers, introducing a new space and design diction. From Gucci to Zegna, brands are getting inspired by artworks that are young, vivid, inclusive and conscious. Social media has also come as an aid tool, becoming an ideal space to speak of unique fashion works. Creating a voice that the society needs, these presentations represent the rebellious spirits and the need to accept oneself, going against long-established societal norms.

Raqib Shaw for Dior bag

Celebrated artists Jasjyot Singh Hans, who explores the theme of body image extensively with illustrations of strong voluptuous women, and has worked with acclaimed designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Arora, and also worked on the Woolmark Prize-winning presentation for designer Suket Dhir. Indian artist Rithika Merchant’s illustrations were featured as prints for French fashion house Chloé’s folklore-inspired Spring Summer 2018 collection. Recently, two celebrated Indian artists, Raqib Shaw and Rina Bannerjee, had also collaborated on a special project for Dior to create their own construct of the iconic Lady Dior.

Shweta Malhotra for Limon

Art director and graphic designer, Shweta Malhotra, is a recognized name in the world of combining graphic designing and fashion, worked for renowned design houses like Nicobar, Famella, Limon Story, Pangea, LoveBirds. She says, “My general design aesthetic is minimal, bold and graphic in response to the maximalist language prevalent in India. I try to use Indian elements in a contemporary manner and have a pastel colour palette and certain other colours. All of these were branding projects and it was great to work on building these from scratch and seeing how well they are doing.” However, she is apprehensive of the growth in India, “The huge demand for this art form is slow and lacking. It’s not as evolved as everywhere else outside of India. But, it surely is growing.” 

Art has been always used to communicate different messages within different contexts. Creativity is what fuels big ideas and challenges notions. Team Satya Paul adds, “Artistic creatives influence the commercial world in a positive way because it is extremely important to be creative and out of the box to stay put.” 

Shweta Malhotra for Lakme Fashion Week

Fashion is ever-evolving and growing at a fast positive pace. The audience is changing; archetypal societies are questioned and the art of dressing up is a serious issue of self- elevation now. It has to break barriers of age, complexity and language, pick up issues that make one uncomfortable in order to succeed as a visual and artistic tool. Ms. D’mello adds, “Creative works interact with the commercial and contemporary world by being brave. How we choose to dress is a creative and artistic process too. The choice of fashion with art challenges the concept of creativity and artmaking and make something free and expressive.”

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