The connections between art and fashion define specific moments in history. Both of these mediums reflect the social, economic, and political changes from the roaring twenties to the flamboyance of the eighties. Here are four examples of artists and fashion designers who have helped shape society through their work.
1. Halston And Warhol: A Fashion Fellowship
The friendship between Roy Halston and Andy Warhol is one that defined the artistic world. Both Halston and Warhol were leaders who paved the way for making the artist/designer a celebrity. They stripped away the pretentious stigma of the art world and brought fashion and style to the masses. Warhol used silk-screening to produce images multiple times. While he certainly did not invent the process, he did revolutionize the idea of mass production. Halston used fabrics and designs that were simple and elegant, but glamorous with his use of sequins, ultrasuede, and silks. He was one of the first to make American fashion accessible and desirable. Both put a definitive stamp on art and style all the way through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s that still lasts through today.
Collaboration And Commercial Success
Both Halston and Warhol collaborated together on many different projects. Warhol would create ad campaigns that featured Halston’s clothing and even Halston himself. In a more direct collaboration, Halston used Warhol’s flower print on some of his garments from an evening dress to a loungewear set.
Halston would use simple designs in his garments, which made them very successful. They were simplistic and easy to wear, yet still felt luxurious with his use of fabrics, colors, or prints. Warhol also would simplify his materials and process, which made it easier to reproduce his works and make them more sellable.
Commercial success did have its challenges for both designers. Halston would be the first to collaborate with a retail chain, JCPenney, in 1982 that was meant to give customers a lower-priced option for his designs. This was not successful for his brand as it seemed to “cheapen” it, but it did pave the way for future designers to do the same. Warhol was met with criticism as well with his production being seen as shallow and superficial. However, both modernized the usage of retail and marketing in their respective spaces to create brands to sell to the mass market.
The Glitz And Glamour
Both Warhol and Halston were frequent visitors of Studio 54. They partied, designed, and produced work for celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Elizabeth Taylor. These outings are reflected in their works as they inspired and defined the 1970’s disco era.
Halston is known for creating eveningwear in full sequin. He would lay sequins down on the fabric horizontally. This creates a shimmering effect of the material, which he would use to create ombre or patchwork designs. His designs were simple silhouettes that created ease and movement for dancing. His usage of sequins was very popular among stars, including Liza Minnelli who would wear his designs for performances and outings to Studio 54.
Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes series also exemplifies the nightlife of Studio 54 and celebrity influence. Diamond Dust is what he used on top of screen-prints or paintings, creating an extra element of depth to the piece. Warhol’s shoe prints were initially the idea for an ad-campaign for Halston. He even used some of Halston’s own shoe designs as inspiration.
The designer becoming a celebrity started with Warhol and Halston. It was not only about what types of art and garments they created but their social lives as well. Nowadays there are fashion designers and artists that are celebrity personalities and it contributes to the success of their brands.
2. Sonia Delaunay: Where Art Becomes Fashion
Sonia Delaunay with two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, 1924, via Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Sonia Delaunay not only revolutionized a new form of Cubism but also envisioned the connections between art and fashion. Both Delaunay and her husband pioneered Orphism and experimented with different forms of abstraction in art. She was the first of her kind to use her own artistic style and transition into the fashion world using her original textile designs, prints, or patterns. She is more so remembered for her art and connection to her husband rather than her fashion. Her garments were at the forefront of change in women’s clothing in the 1920s. Her catalog of garments is remembered more so in photographs and references to her art rather than the physical garments themselves. For Delaunay, there is no line drawn between art and fashion. To her, they are one and the same.
Simultane And Rebel Fashion
Delaunay started her fashion business in the 1920s by creating clothes for clients and doing fabric designing for manufacturers. She called her label Simultane and further advanced her use of color and pattern on a variety of different mediums. Simultanism played an important role in her design process. Her use of the technique is very similar to a patchwork quilt or textiles from Eastern Europe. Colors overlay one another and patterns are used to create harmony and rhythm. Common themes of hers include squares/rectangles, triangles, and diagonal lines, or spheres – all of which overlap one another in her various designs.
Delaunay was a young woman during the Edwardian Era where corsets and conformity were the norm. This changed in the 1920s when women wore skirts above the knee and loose, box-fitting garments. This aspect is something that can be seen in Delaunay’s designs, and she was passionate about creating garments to fit women’s needs. She designed swimsuits that allowed women to better participate in sports that previously inhibited how they played them. She placed her textiles on coats, shoes, hats, and even cars making every surface her canvas. Her designs created freedom of movement and expression through color and form.
Delaunay’s Transition To Film And Theater
Delaunay transitioned to film and theater during her career. She designed the costumes for the 1926 film Le P’tit Parigot (‘The Small Parisian One”) by Rene Le Somptier. Both Delaunay and her husband contributed to the film with her husband contributing to set designs used in the films. On the left, Romanian dancer Lizicai Codreanu is pictured in one of the costumes designed by Delaunay. Her use of spheres, zigzags, and squares is another example of simultanism. The zigzags of the background blend with the leggings of the costumes. The disc surrounding the dancer’s face was a reoccurring theme in Delaunay’s fashions.
She also created designs for ‘Cléopâtre’, by the Ballets Russes. Similar to her collaborations in film, she created the costumes and her husband worked on the set design. Both collaborated with each other to create a harmonious experience for the viewer. Cleopatra’s costume has multi-colored stripes and semi-circles blending her 1920’s abstract style to traditional ballet.
3. The Collaborations of Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí
The forefront of surrealist art is matched with the leader in surrealist fashion. Salvador Dalí and fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated and inspired one another throughout their respective careers. They created iconic images such as the Lobster Dress, The Shoe Hat (Dalí’s wife, Gala seen above), and The Tear Dress, which shocked and inspired audiences in both art and fashion. Dalí and Schiaparelli paved the way for future collaborations between fashion designers and artists as they bridged the gap between what is considered wearable art and fashion.
The Lobster and Dalí
While a lobster is seemingly harmless, it actually is steeped in controversy. Dalí used lobsters as a recurring theme in his work and was interested in the lobster’s anatomy. It’s shell acts as a skeleton on the outside, and it has a soft interior on the inside, the reverse of humans. The lobster in Dalí’s work has sexual tones as well, stemming from female-male dynamics.
The Lobster dress is a collaboration between the two artists with Dalí sketching the lobster to be used on the dress. It stirred a lot of controversy when it first debuted in Vogue. Firstly, it has a sheer bodice and skirt made out of white organza. This sheerness, showing the barely visible image of the model’s body, was something completely new in fashion seen on a mass scale. The use of the white fabric also contrasts with the red of the lobster. White can be considered virginal or signifying purity compared to the red, which can mean sexuality, power, or danger. The lobster is conveniently placed on the skirt to cover a woman’s pelvic area. This placement is similar to the photo of Dalí above, which further signifies women’s sexuality versus men’s reaction to it.
The model that wore the garment in Vogue was Wallis Simpson, the wife of Edward VIII, who abdicated the English throne to marry her. This is yet another example of taking a controversial figure or image in culture and turning it into something to be revered.
Skeletons are another theme seen in surrealist art and were used in more collaborations between Dali and Schiaparelli. The Skeleton Dress was the first of its kind because of its subject matter, but also because of its technique. Schiaparelli used a technique called trapunto where two layers of fabric are sewn together creating an outline. Wadding is inserted into the outline, creating a raised effect. This technique creates a textured surface on the flat fabric giving the illusion that human bones are protruding through the dress. It caused a scandal because the dress was made of a clingy material that stuck to the skin. The imaginations of Dali’s paintings and drawings were realized in the physical three-dimensional world by Schiaparelli’s garments. Dali, as mentioned earlier, was interested in anatomy, and this translates into his work as well.
4. Yves Saint Laurent: Where Art and Inspiration Collide
Where is the line between imitation and appreciation? Critics, viewers, artists, and designers alike have struggled to determine where that line is drawn. However, when discussing Yves Saint Laurent, his intentions were nothing short of flattery and admiration of the artists and paintings that he used as inspiration. By looking at his extensive portfolio, Saint Laurent was inspired by cultures and art from around the world, and he incorporated this into his garments.
Although Yves Saint Laurent never met the artists who inspired him, this did not stop him from creating works as a tribute to them. Laurent gathered inspiration from artists such as Matisse, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Georges Braque, and Picasso. He was a collector of art and had paintings of Picasso and Matisse in his own home. Taking another artist’s imagery as inspiration can sometimes be seen as a controversial one. Saint Laurent, however, would use similar themes as these artists and incorporate them into wearable garments. He took a two-dimensional motif and transformed it into a three-dimensional garment that pays tribute to some of his favorite artists.
Pop Art and the 60’s Revolution
The 1960s were a time of revolution and commercialism and were a new era for fashion and art. Saint Laurent’s designs took on commercial success when he started to gain inspiration from Pop art and abstraction. He created 26 dresses in 1965 inspired by Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings. The dresses embodied Mondrian’s use of simplistic forms and bold primary colors. Saint Laurent used a technique where no seams are visible between the layers of fabric, making it appear as if the garment were one whole piece. Saint Laurent took Mondrian’s art from the 1920s and made it wearable and relatable to the 1960s.
The mod-style dresses are classic examples of the 1960’s style where practicality was becoming a bigger issue for women. They were similar to the 1920’s garments, which were less constrained and had sleeves and hemlines showing more skin. Saint Laurent’s boxy silhouettes allowed ease and movement for women. This also led to his inspiration from pop art artists such as Tom Wesselmann and Andy Warhol. He created a line of pop art-inspired designs that featured silhouettes and cutouts onto his garments. It was about breaking constraints as to what abstraction was in art and commercializing design. Laurent bridged these two ideas together to create garments for women that were freeing and appealing to the modern woman.
Artistry In Haute Couture Fashion
The Vincent Van Gogh Jackets by Saint Laurent are an example of how Saint Laurent combined inspiration from other artists and his own design talents. Like his other garments, the themes related to artists were not copied and pasted onto Saint Laurent’s garments. What he chose to do instead was to take them as inspiration and create pieces that reflected his own style. The jacket is representative of 80’s style with its strong shoulders and a very structured boxy look. It is a collage of sunflowers embroidered in the painterly style of Van Gogh.
Yves Saint Laurent collaborated with the house of Maison Lesage, a leader in haute couture embroidery. The sunflower jacket is embroidered with tube beads lining the edges of the jacket and sunflower petals and stems. The flowers are filled with different shades of orange and yellow sequins. This creates a multi-dimensional texture piece similar to Van Gogh’s technique of layering thick paint onto canvas. It is estimated to be one of the most expensive pieces of haute couture to be made, selling for 382,000 Euros from Christie’s. Saint Laurent bridged the way for how one could wear fashion as a piece of art in and of itself.