It is significant that the 1999 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, 'Addressing the Century', took as its theme, not the almost unimaginable cultural and industrial prepotence which fashion has assumed over the last hundred years, but its relationships with art. This is not so surprising, though, when viewed against the recent spate of exhibitions and texts exploring the same theme, and it is easy to understand, when it has so long been denigrated as a frivolous and futile occupation, that fashion and its study should attempt to reposition itself in a more legitimate context. Having, at least until recently, no philosophy, critique or theory of its own, as Radford's recent essay describes, fashion has been inclined to appropriate those of others.36
There have, of course, always been relationships between art and fashion, as there have been between other fields in design, architecture, literature and music. Where such links have existed, it has often been in the economic interests of fashion to make them visible, and the original motives for such associations may occasionally or often have been calculated to this end. As Radford writes: 'Certainly a cadre of designers have had their work exhibited in specific contexts that identify their products as art rather than designed commodities . . . recent cases of using artists for modelling or engaging them to design the fashion show may be taken as instances of an attempt to procure the potency of status by this magical association'.37 Despite the obvious and frequently cited arguments placing fashion in a different sphere from art on grounds of its economic motives and its persistent denial of recently past styles, there appears to be confusion in academic circles, amongst designers, and in style magazines, where art and fashion have become 'inextricably interfused', according to Radford.38
Martin Margiela has frequently exhibited work in art galleries and museums of modern art, contexts which invite art criticism.39 Understandably, then, 'Addressing the Century' included no fewer than three pieces of work from Maison Margiela which were taken from a previous exhibition at the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1997) containing pieces from
36. Radford, R., 'Dangerous Liaison: Art, Fashion and Individualism', Fashion Theory, vol. 2, issue 2, Oxford: Berg, 1998, pp. 151-64.
39. A 'C.V.' supplied by Maison Margeila showed that the company has shown work at the Florence Biennale on Fashion and Art (1996), the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art (1999), Musee de L'Art Moderne (1993), Musee de l'Art Contemporain de Marseille (1996), Fri-Art Centre d'Art Contemporain, Kunsthalle, Friborg (1998), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1999 and 2000).
the ready-to-wear collection with specially made artisanal pieces. In 'Addressing the Century' the Margiela exhibits were included in the final section, 'Convergence', along with others by Issey Miyake, Roberto Capucci and Rei Kawakubo. According to Clare Coulson's review of the exhibition in Fashion Theory, 'These designers consciously resist categorisation. They want their work to exist where form and function are harmoniously fused and ideas flow freely. Their work is both art and fashion'.40
This illustrates a tendency which is currently very popular with students of fashion design. In the year of writing, there are a number of final-year students at Kingston University alone whose dissertations suggest that certain avantgarde designers' work might be regarded in a different context, and subjected to a different critique, namely that of art.41 I have noticed that some students consider an elite of avant-garde designers such as Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Martin Margiela as being exempt from, or superior to the commercial considerations to which others are subject. There is a tendency to look at the word of these designers more as vehicles for self-expression than as products conceived, consciously or unconsciously to appeal to a group of people who are consumers. Like Luigi Maramotti, I believe that a designed garment becomes 'fashion' only when it has passed through some kind of system and became a product.42 Those arresting pieces created solely for impact in a fashion show or exhibition, might possibly qualify as art, but are certainly not, in my opinion, fashion, and I am not alone in thinking so. When asked about this subject in a newspaper interview, Maison Margiela stated its view that fashion is 'a craft, technical know-how and not, in our opinion an art form'.43 When I asked why it felt commentators have become so fixated by the fashion and art question, Maison Margiela explained to me that:
We live in a period in which we tend to prefer to over associate and interpret events, issues and movements in culture and taste rather than 'under-interpret' them. There are, in our opinion, two main ways of forcing a link between the worlds of art and fashion, firstly the artistic references of any one garment or group of garments, the second is the artistic quality of any one designer's approach to their work and their expression as a creator of clothing. The more individualistic
40. Coulson, C., 'Exhibition Review: Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art & Fashion, the Hayward Gallery', Fashion Theory, vol. 3, issue 1, Oxford: Berg, 1999, pp. 121-6.
41. The students in the 1999-2000 academic year whose dissertations touch on relationships between art and fashion include Mallison, E. (an investigation of the relationship between Art, Craft and Fashion in late 20th century Britain) and Marin, L. (The discourse of veiling and the work of Zineb Sedira).
42. Maramotti, L., 'Connecting Creativity: chapter 6 of this book.
43. Frankel, S., 'Reality Check', The Independent Magazine 15 August, 1999, pp. 35-9.
the approach in relation to the current climate of the overall aesthetic referred to as 'in fashion' the more that approach may be linked to art.44
The turnover of Maison Martin Margiela in the 1998/99 financial year was 100 million French Francs.45 The company supplies a total of 270 stores in Europe, the Americas, Japan and elsewhere.46 Cursory examination of the labels in Margiela's clothes reveal that the company has licensing agreements with, for wovens, Staff International, a large Italian manufacturer and for knitwear, Miss Deanna. The sampling and production facilities, warehouse and administrative offices of Miss Deanna are located in Reggio Emilia, which is also where the headquarters of MaxMara are to be found. The company's proprietor is a personal friend and I have often visited her at work. Standing in the warehouse at S. Martino del Rio, surrounded by pile upon pile of carefully folded, bagged and boxed Margiela sweaters, labelled and boxed for despatch to Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Joseph, any ideas about art are dispelled; I am compelled to marvel at the creativity and intelligence of a design which can communicate so powerfully and widely. The most innovative and inspired clothes on earth are products to be bought and worn. They are not art, but no less worthy for not being so; if only there was an opposite critical structure in which to locate their triumph.
Was this article helpful?