Alice Roi: Why Fashion Designers Love Referencing Artists

yves saint laurent mondrian shift dress fashion art

Image: Mondrian Composition A, 1923 via (left) / Mondrian shift dress by Yves Saint Laurent, 1965 via (right)

Fashion and art have had a rich and harmonious history. Whether it's the fine, elegant dresses that the painter John Singer Sargent depicted in his socialite paintings or Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian shift dress from 1965, fashion loves art and art loves fashion.

madame x painting sargent

Madame X by John Singer Sargent (1884) / Image: Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

Is art sexier than we think, or is fashion more intellectual than frivolous? Perhaps art relies on fashion for mainstream relevance. And fashion on art for sturdiness and credibility.

Or is it that both fashion and art reflect the cultural landscape of the moment? And that any and all art forms of a certain era are intimately connected for this reason.

There are many different ways in which this relationship flourishes. Some are through fashion mimicking the garments depicted in an actual painting. For example: the dress in Sargent's "Madame X" painting (right), which designers have referenced over the years for both it's elegance and saucy attitude. The amount of skin that the dress reveals, and the dangerous dip of the neckline, are fodder for fashion folk. That dress is arguably the raison d'être for the painting itself.

Sometimes the relationship is exemplified by the appropriation of an actual artwork, developed as a print on fabric. For example, for Proenza Schouler's Fall 2006 collection, designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez referenced the painter Cy Twombly's signature swirls (below). The chic, fitted dress was enhanced by the layer of high art sensibility. Now our senses are heightened, and the item of clothing reaches us on several layers of visual knowledge strata.

proenza schouler celine fashion runway art

Proenza Schouler Fall 2006 via Getty (left) / Celine Spring 2014 via IMAXtree (right)

More abstract references to painting honor the motion or thrust of the medium itself. For example, Celine's Spring 2014 collection (above) uses wide and gestural paint strokes in primary colors to evoke an almost primitive or basic feel of paint. This genre references the work of Jackson Pollock and the idea of the paint splatter. In the 80s, I created many T-shirts with pre-printed splatters, which I did myself with a splatter kit, or in the back of the Canal Jean Company in NYC.

Another quite modern take on the painting x fashion relationship is the idea of the artist and the designer collaborating on a product itself. Marc Jacobs has had a heap of successes doing this for the brand Louis Vuitton. His Murakami Vuitton bags (below) have become coveted collectors items and have opened the consumers eyes to the elite idea of "limited edition." Truly blurring the lines of fashion and art; the bag is a work of art with wearable attributes. Or is it a lifestyle staple, but with highbrow artistic elements and features?