Art & French Fashion

Undeniably Paris is a city most famed for it’s art and fashion. Paris’ reputation for these two elements makes a European cultural hub. Every street in the city of lights contains elements of art or fashion. From the long stampede of tourists on the Champs Elysee to the towering heaven of Montmartre both fields have always been connected in the city of lights. One could not argue that both of these would one day be intertwined. Inevitably in such as Paris how can Art and fashion not intertwine?And what are the main art styles made available through fashion to the Parisian consumer? Since being born In April 1920 the pages of French Vogue have always been filled to the brim with highly elaborate and artistic photo shoots and the runaways at fashion week becoming creepily similar to theatre it is clear that as of today fashion designers and haute couture fashion houses are taking inspiration from art. Artists themselves are also inclined to collaborate with French designers. Historically art and fashion have been a Parisian way of life but both didn’t merge until the last hundred years.

The Road to The Present:

Art in the French capital has had a turbulent history from its grumble beginnings to its crowning glory in later centuries. Prior to the 16th and 17th centuries Paris was not famous for art. In these centuries art developed profusely. At the head of this development was the French royal family. Royals would commission Parisian artists to adorn their palaces. This effectively kickstarted the Louis XIII era or most commonly known as the French Baroque and Classicism era. This particular style greatly influenced fashion designers in the 21st century. By the mid 17th century French fashion was born and Paris almost instantly became the new fashion capital. It was in these years that we can see the first intertwining’s between art and fashion. Through many paintings and illustrations Frances first style icon was born in the guise of Marie Antoinette. The ill fated queens style was spread across the French Republic . Still at this time art was not fully developed in Paris. Many paintings were damaged and graffitied.

This is in deep contrast with fashion which is held in high regard. It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that art in Paris was at it’s height. Art movements such as Romanticism, Cubism, Impressionism, and Fauvism were born in Paris during this time. These centuries marked by peace and the joy of life are famously know as the Belle Epoque. In era of gaiety and prosperity illustrators such as Jules Chéret spread the designs of the Moulin Rouge throughout the city of lights. The costumes of the infamous Moulin Rouge and Pigalle area through Chéret’s work stood the test of time and are well known now worldwide. Art in Paris gained international acclaim with the Belle Epoque era acting as a catalyst for it to flourish. Fashion too spread in this era. Haute Couture dominated these years. Many famous French fashion brands were established in this era including:

– Chanel in 1909
– Lanvin in 1889
– Balenciaga in 1914

One famous French fashion house narrowly missing the Belle Époque era was Louis Vuitton which was founded in 1854. Although both the new forms of art and fashion would come crashing down with the out break of war in 1914, but with the end of war in 1918 both art and fashion would climb out of the rubbles. It was now time for both aesthetics to start building their intertwining empires.

The International Debut:

The first major art and fashion collaboration, recognised worldwide and is still known today, occurred in 1965 with Yves Saint Laurent and Piet Mondrian. The brand was formed in 1962 by the eponymous designer in Paris. The wool and jersey collection in 1965 contained prints of Dutch designer, Piet Mondrian, work. Piet Mondrian was an abstract artist and a pioneer of the style. He evolved from landscape to a simple abstract form called neo-plasticism which focused minimal colour and rigorous geometrical shapes. The dress in question contained three primary colours and white divided by a black horizontal and vertical tumblr_myl43a2bd91s7uk99o2_1280lines. Mondrian’s art was in a non-representational form and like the YSL dress contained three primary colours, white, and black stripes. When the dress first debuted it gained international acclaim. It quickly made it’s way into public conscience and in turn the mass market. It earned many accolades and was named “the dress of the future” by Harper’s Bazaar.

Even in the 21st century the dress remains in public knowledge. It was presented at the Centre Pompidou during the YSL ‘retrospective haute-couture fashion show’ in 2002. Presently it is at home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. More recently in 2012 YSL released a beauty line with makeup inspired by Mondrian’s works containing geometric design’s. Today the dress remains one of the brands best known design’s and is often considered by some to be a one piece of art, rather than a wearable item.

East Meets West:

In recent years one of the biggest cross between art and fashion has been in the Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami collaboration. Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854 by the designer of the same name. At this time it was originally focused on luxury luggage. As one of the worlds leading fashion houses it has collaborated with many artists in it’s long history with the most recent being Takashi Murakami and Robert Wilson. When Marc Jacobs became creative director of the brand he wished to bring it to a new younger audience. So, in 2002 Louis Vuitton collaborated with Takashi Murakami a contemporary Japanese artist who is famous for blurring the lines between low and high art.

Murakami’s art is called Superflat a term coined by the artist himself. It features contemporary asiatic influences such as manga and technical influences like graphic design. These commercial graphic is combined with sexualised and often kitsch Japanese cartoon characters. It is said to represent the shallowness of the western consumer culture. In October 2002 Marc Jacobs showcased 13 individual bags designed by Murakami at the Louis Vuitton Spring show. They were called Monogram Multicolour. The bags featured the Louis Vuitton logo in colourful pop art prints. Parisian, as well as worldwide, consumers adored the collaboration and the bags managed to produce five million euro worth of profit in their first year alone.

The following year in June, Murakami produced a short film/advert for Louis Vuitton which premiered at the Venice Biennale. While this was taking place consumers worldwide were hungry for more of the Monogram Multicolour bags, which started a craze on the counterfeit and black markets. Due to this in 2004 Jacobs included these bags in his show for Spring 2005. This ultimately marked the end of the creative collaboration of the bags as they were discontinued. Another, yet not as well known, collaboration occurred with Robert Wilson. Wilson is a highly regarded experimental theatre director and created a limited edition bag with Louis Vuitton called “Robert Wilson Monogram Vernis Reade PM Tote.” Japanese art and Manga have always been popular in Paris. As we can see with Louis Vuitton’s collaboration Parisian consumers like the synergy between art and fashion

Baroque Style & Givenchy:

Baroque was a style in art that used highly exaggerated characteristics and easily interpreted details which often resulted in a mixture of to drama, tension, exuberance, and awe. This can be seen in many artistic platforms ranging from sculpture, painting, literature, to music. This school of art and future style was born around 1600 in Rome Italy and quickly spread to most of continental Europe.

The immense popularity and success of the baroque movement was highly encouraged by the Catholic Church who thought that the drama of the artists’ style could present religious themes in direct and emotionally raw involvement. It is interesting to note that at this time the churches counter reformation was at its peak, thus one may argue that this style is propaganda against the Protestant reformation. The elite echelon of the social hierarchy saw the dramatic and incredibly life like style of baroque art and to a lessor extent music and architecture, as a way of expressing wealth and of a means to generate envy among visitors and competitors. Baroque architecture also influences fashion through cuts and textures. This genre of architecture were common place around palaces, round an entrance perimeter of courts, anterooms, grand staircases, and reception rooms of ever evolving elegance and magnificence. The list of areas touched and influenced by the baroque movement seem endless. The main areas are architecture, music, and literature. In the past few years an effort to bring baroque back resulted in influence from French fashion house Givenchy.

Since 2005 Riccardo Tisci has transformed the face of French fashion house Givenchy. His design’s contain elements of both religious and baroque art. As he explained in his own words “Religion is a big part of my DNA and this collection was about my Catholicism and every other religion in a way” (1). One of Tisci’s main inspiration behind his fall/winter 2010/11 collections and further newer ones such as spring/summer 2012 was baroque art. The collection was influenced primarily on the baroque style of architecture.

Chanel & The Pop Art Factory:

More recently in 2013 one huge French fashion label has being influenced by an art style that has had somewhat of a comeback in recent years: Pop Art. Chanel has always been influenced by many artistic styles throughout it’s long history. 1381344_743152019033624_630230411_nDuring the 2013 Paris Fashion Week Karl Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a living art gallery. The runway featured art installations and the garments themselves were greatly inspired by the Pop art movement. Pop Art is the artistic representation of popular culture. It is visual art movement that was born from the happy go lucky outlook in the 50’s and 60’s. It grew up alongside the rebellious era of pop culture characterised by The Beatles and the king himself Elvis. Pop Art was fun, young, and hostile compared to the elitist art community at this time.

This art form included mixed media, sculptures, photography, films, and paintings which all included the common themes of fame, sex, and mass production culture built around the American Dream. Obsessed with pop music and celebrity culture pop artists such are Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein forever changed the landscape of art and culture forever. As well as Chanel many other designers were, and continue to be, influenced by this movement. It is evident that Lagerfeld took inspiration from 1960’s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein whose work were displayed in Paris the previous year. Chanel’s collection showed a full spectrum of colour with neon pink, black, and white being the most prominent. The clothes were presented as an artists canvas. One can imagine Warhol or Koons admiring from a distance.

The neon accessories also connects the garments to the Pop art movement. Pop art bags and jewellery galore. Even the models makeup contained pop art styling. Eyeshadow featured striking and dynamic colours that would of been at home on Warhol’s pallet. Within the clothes we can see influences from many pop artists including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and as previously mentioned Lichtenstein. Lagerfeld’s own art work was also showcased at the show which included textiles, paintings, sculptures, and statues which all contained the Chanel logo. It is also worth noting that both Chanel and Pop Art have stoop the test of time and continue to be held in high regard today.

The Peacock’s of Fashion:

Paris fashion week is often seem by fashion insiders as one of the most artistic fashion weeks left, in deep contrast with the money making philosophy of both London and New York fashion weeks. Ever year both fresh and iconic designers showcase their exciting new designs and with it a piece of pure performance art.
Starting outside the venues crowds congregate in their best clothes almost as if marketing their
lives into works of art. Like animals showcasing their spots the crowd presents their own aesthetics while mimicking Andy Warhol’s factory members acting as living statues. In the words of Suzy Menkes from the NY Times “Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club- sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers”(2).  These peacocks1381550_743152472366912_2045214661_n suddenly become the true artistic meaning of the show. But of course we must not forget the designers and their efforts. One only has to view the fashion shows of Louis Vuitton or Chanel to understand that Paris fashions week transcends both ordinary fashion and art and delves into the world of performance art. Even a mere two months ago Karl Lagerfeld was showing Chanel’s new collection at the Grand Palais and surrounding his pop art designs is a live art installation to grace the audiences eyes featuring paintings, sculptures, and prints from the iconic designer himself. This September we also viewed an installation for Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy show inspired by German contemporary artist Dirk Skreber who considers car crashes and train wrecks icons of beauty.

Marc Jacob’s final show with Louis Vuitton created a performance spectacular and just like Paris stays with you, a true fête mobile. He showcased installations from his 16 year history with the brand including a carousel, twin escalators, and a grand hotel elevator. The final goodbye consisted of a jumpsuit with graffiti which read I Love Paris. With graffiti being a new urban and youthful art form further connects and illustrates the power of three: Paris, Art, and Fashion. In the designers own words “It was an ode to Paris and to all the people I have been involved and work with. This city has been so great.” (3)

The Final Question:

In conclusion we can see the link between fashion and art in Paris is beyond strong. Originating in Paris it spreads throughout the continents like a wildfire engulfing cities in its path until we’re left with an ash consisting of the synergy of art and fashion. With Paris always being a catalyst for these two factors it was unlikely they wouldn’t join forces to create a metaphorical Avengers initiative. From the court of Marie Antoinette to the modern runways of Paris fashion week both have been intertwined. The question on everyone’s lips at this moment Is one which caused furious debate in the previous years. With museums now dedicated to fashion, the high echelon of fashion leaders are now asking the question: Should fashion be considered an art form?

Sources of Quotations and References: (more…)