History and Evolution of Wearable Art in Fashion

History and Evolution of Wearable Art in Fashion

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“Fashion Is More Art Than Art Is.”

— Andy Warhol

Think of Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock, Raja Ravi Varma.. Is fashion art or is it the other way around?

Let’s find out!

Designer John Galliano famously said “The joy of dressing is an art, but so is the craftsmanship and making of the dress”. Art and fashion have an age-old relationship and, the concept of wearable art may sound novel to the Gen Z, but believe it or not, it holds a deep history.

As we skimmed through the pages of history, we found out that ‘The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’, formed in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was one of the first collective efforts by artists to create an alternative dress. Inspired by the Medieval and Renaissance art, the Pre-Raphaelites encouraged their wives, mistresses, and models to wear clothing modeled after earlier styles. These historically inspired garments appeared in their paintings and provided a sharp visual contrast to the prevailing Victorian fashion of tightly corseted dresses with bell-shaped skirts adorned over petticoats and hoops.

Fashion has often made a strong case to be perceived as a wearable form of art. We wouldn’t deny that fashion’s ability to be perceived as a form of art has indeed given the world some of the best fashion scenarios to hold on to. Captivated with new forms, colours, textures, and comprehensive socio-cultural references, fashion designers have regularly turned towards the visual arts, art forms and work of creative artists for sartorial inspiration. Having emerged at the close of the tumultuous 1960’s, a decade that saw an unimaginable amount of social, political and cultural upheaval, the wearable art movement thrived in the 1970’s and continues to surprise us even today through the costumes at the famed Met Gala, the haute couture ensembles at fashion weeks and red carpets and the irresistible street style fashion.

Take a look at 3 of the historical art and fashion collaborations!

  • Elsa Schiaparelli’s collaboration with Salvador Dali in the 1930s

Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most imaginative and prominent fashion figures working between the two world wars. Her whimsical nature was perfectly suited to the genius of Salvador Dalí who inspired some of her best-known works. The Women’s Dinner Dress (Lobster Dress) by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937 was inspired by Dalí’s series of lobster telephones. Dalí, who saw the lobster as an archetype of sexuality, designed the dress with an image of the animal across the crotch area, and sprinkles of parsley to garnish.

  • Louis Vuitton’s cult art collaborations with Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman

In 2001, Marc Jacobs, the then Creative Director at Louis Vuitton, collaborated with Stephen Sprouse for a colourful and vibrant take of the holy monogram of the French house;2 years later he tapped Takashi Murakami to create what came to be a symbol of the 2000s; and later, in 2012, Yayoi Kusama injected her famous polka dots in a series of Louis Vuitton bags, clothes and accessories. But one of the most memorable encounters between Louis Vuitton (via Marc Jacobs) and art happened in the Spring/Summer 2008 show. Giving a shout-out to the work of Richard Prince, Jacobs presented a number of handbags with a washed monogram and an imprint of the artists “Jokes” series, as well as referencing the famous “Nurse” paintings.

  • Longchamp’s 10th anniversary tie-up with Tracey Emin

To celebrate the line’s 10-year anniversary, Longchamp asked artist Tracey Emin to collaborate for the brand’s anniversary collection. This collaboration was based on a theme: An “International Woman” who, carried her baggage with her from city to city, tirelessly searching for an “International Man” with whom she could experience an “International Love”. The project was an ideal fit for Emin, whose artistic media and techniques often involves salvaged fabrics, patchwork, embroidery and drawing. 

The idea of wearable art in India delves through the pre-historic era when the kings and queens prevailed. From the opulent fashion statements of the maharajas and maharanis to the intricately done motifs on the architectural landmarks and from the khadi revolution to a traveler’s tasteful experience of the country’s nooks and corners — numerous aspects of the country have led to Indian designers and labels create collections where art seamlessly meets fashion.

Whether you are an enthusiast who unapologetically wears ‘art’ on the sleeves or you are someone who isn’t too vocal but loves the idea of fashion and art in a nutshell, here are 5 Indian labels you can look upto, to shop conceptual wearable art pieces!

  • Doh Tak Keh

Doh Tak Keh was conceptualized by Juhi Melwani on the streets – a local neighbourhood Pydhonie in South Mumbai. Inspired majorly from working-class communities in India; by picking ordinary components from their lifestyles, uniforms, street style, homes and then converting them into wearable art using textures and illustrations. If you happen to see a Doh Tak Keh garment on the streets, you will be drawn towards its unique form, eye-catching details and artwork that should be preserved in a museum.

  • Label Pratham

Label Pratham by Prashant and Shweta Garg designs clothing inspired by the 17th century form of spiritual temple art, Pichwai, rooted in Rajasthan. The Gargs, who are self-taught designers, have always been fascinated with the Pichwai art form. The brand recreates themes drawn from the tales of Krishna, depicted as Srinathji in Pichwai featuring quintessential motifs such as Radha (his consort), gopis (cowherd girls), cows and lotuses in a rich collection of hand painted sarees, dupattas, and stoles.

  • Studio Toffle

Studio Toffle by Kashish Gemini, the Delhi based unconventional street wear label, is rooted in analyzing and communicating the observations, mistakes and lessons of life in the form of wearables. Most products are hand-worked. Techniques include fabric work, embroidery, acid bleaching, tie-and-dye, and spray-painting. If you happen to skim through their products, you will observe a detailed stitching style that’s particularly popular and similar to the Japanese Sashiko Boro.

  • Vaishali Shadangule

A regular at Lakme Fashion Week, Vaishali Shadangule’s expertise lies in creating wearable art from century old handloom weaves, patiently gathered from around the country. She draws inspiration from nature and uses smart techniques of draping that requires a minimum amount of fabric along with cording and knotting to create rich textured surfaces. The modernized silhouettes of handloom weaves and unconventional patterns in all of Vaishali’s collections stand out from the typical run-of-the-mill garments and exude a new design language to millennial women who love to experiment.

  • Bobo Calcutta

Bobo is a ready to wear label, founded by Jeet Shahi and Ayushman Mitra, that is a visual manifestation of the core belief of love being the basis of all things. In wearing Bobo Calcutta’s clothes, you find yourself woven into the very fabric of protest against the lack of basic freedom to love and to live in India. The brand challenges the stereotypes that exist within the idea of gendered dressing– the clothes are simply tangible landscapes embodying universal ideas of love and freedom.

From runways to streetstyle, it is true that wearable art shares a spirit of fantasy, craftsmanship and creativity.

Wearable art is not a trend, it’s a way of life where one defines how they see the world!

Aishwarya Menon

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