Is fashion art?

Fashion is…a charming and ephemeral creation, not an everlasting work of art. Fashion should die and die quickly in order that commerce may survive. –Coco Chanel

Fuelled by a desire for coffee and a half-finished dream about a walking fish, I thrust open my closet and force open my bleary eyes. I throw on my granny jersey, lace up some floral sneakers and after a brusque encounter with my mascara wand; I’m about 54% sure that I can walk out the door without frightening the neighbour’s cat. Whenever I manage to put together an ensemble of clothes such as this, I always feel chuffed, creative and yes a little artistic. (Albeit the shoeless, in-debt artistic kind.)

Not that my opinion would really count seeing as I’m a 19 year-old pipsqueak who studied art in Matric and who loves paisley leggings: hardly qualifications to speak as a fashion or art connoisseur.

There are, however, people out there who’ve created truly artful pieces of clothing. Like Dali and Schiaparelli in their joint creation of the 1937 Lobster dress, or Saint Laurent who was influenced by Mondrian in his 1965 day dress design. Some say fashion isn’t art because it serves a practical purpose. Because most of the time when you see a beautiful dress you want to hang it in your closet with the intention of wearing it, not just to look at it.

Dali and Schiaparelli’s Lobster Dress



But some things these underfed 12 year-old models march down the runway in hardly seem as if they’re meant to be worn by anything more than a clothes hanger, which makes me think that perhaps fashion can be a form of art. If you asked Karl Lagerfield what the purpose of his oversized pearl choker is I’m pretty sure he’d raise an eyebrow from beneath dark glasses, toss his head in indignation before out muttering: “philistine.” If it had a purpose it would be to enhance your goose-like neck (or in unlucky cases, a double chin.)

And when standing in the queue for popcorn, surrounded by row after row of teenagers all wearing the same hoodie with the superman logo embossed on the front, it sometimes feels like fashion is really just a profitable commodity for franchises like Mr Price to benefit from.  Neither the hoodie nor the popcorn will last.

Despite spotty adolescents and sceptics in the artistic community, fashion is slowly making its way into the art arena the same way photography and film have. This is because of the current trend which has seen clothes enter museums in exhibitions like last year’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Met, the travelling Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective and the roving Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk where high-heels met the canvas in a unique art/fashion collaboration. Up to a certain point, fashion is able to reflect changes in contemporary culture like Ossie Clark exhibition in the V&A, where his dresses evoked a desire for escapism in the turn of the 70s.

So some would say that fashion is art because it requires the same amount of artistic expression as a painting does. Clothes tell us about people in a certain period of history the same way pottery and rock paintings do. Although years from now, if some archaeologist went through my wardrobe he’d probably reckon I was a sailor due to my wide selection of nautical stripes. Either that or Where’s Wally’s sister: Wallina.

Despite doing in Art in school, I can’t paint to save my Jack Russel and the last time I attempted pottery the result was a glob of what looked like ear wax trying to be an egg cup- fashion is my art. Hopefully one day writing and poetry will be too but until then, bejewelled shorts and my aunt’s old sun-dress constitutes my own Jackson Pollock/Paul Gautier creation.