The Art Of Fashion

Designed to be looked at, experiencing different movements and trends, the worlds of art and fashion have forever been entwined.

Just as artists have called upon classical stories and myths for subject matters in their paintings, many fashion designers have turned to artists for inspiration and have been influenced by contemporary art movements.

The most standout example of this love affair with fashion and art was in 1965 when Yves Saint Laurent designed a shift dress featuring a printed version of a painting from the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. The non-figurative “Composition With Red, Yellow and Blue” was created by the abstract artist in the 1930s as part of the abstract neoplasticism movement and featured geometric shapes and blocks of primary colours.

The designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a prime example of the influence of art in fashion during the 1920s and 1930s. She had multiple connections to artists of contemporary movements such as Cubism and Surrealism, and collaborated with artists such as Salvador Dalí and Christian Bérard. Her exquisite and innovative coat from 1937, was the work of a collaboration with the artist and poet Jean Cocteau, the two profiles that face each other allude to Cocteau’s fixation with the double image, which also was of particular interest for other Surrealist artists.

Evening Coat, 1937, Elsa Schiaparelli & Jean Cocteau, silk jersey with gold thread and silk embroidery and applied decoration in silk, V&A.

Jean Paul Gaultier is another designer that has referenced historical artworks in his designs. At the retrospective exhibition of his works in London, a beautiful couture dress was featured that boasted vivid colours and an eye-catching design. The design was heavily influenced by Renaissance paintings of the Madonna featuring a Botticelli style female figure and winged cherubs whilst multiple images of the Virgin adorn the bodice.


The painted photograph in the same exhibition by Pierre Et Gilles also drew heavily upon the Renaissance. Entitled “The Virgin and the Serpents” it took on a popular theme for Renaissance paintings by depicting a religious or mythical subject matter. The format of having the central female figure displayed against an ornate backdrop was a typical mode for representing the Virgin Mary and it wasn’t uncommon for the image to be set against a gold background.

The glittering border of the photograph alludes to this aspect of Renaissance depiction whilst the shape is similar to that of church windows, an archetypal feature of Renaissance paintings. The feature of Kylie Minogue, widely regarded as the Princess of Pop, adds a contemporary edge to the photo and could reference the cult of celebrity, fashion and music as the religion of the modern day. The link between icons, religion and Renaissance art was most famously made with Andy Warhol’s silk screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe. (What Is Pop Art?)


In the early 1990s Versace called upon art historical influences for the spring collection in 1991. The collection featured dresses that were printed with the iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean first seen in the 1960s created by Andy Warhol in the Pop Art movement.

The reworking of famous paintings and influences of art movements is a marriage that shows no sign of fading away anytime soon. Just recently I purchased two tops from Primark which featured artworks and artists. One, depicted a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo with an infamous quote emblazoned across it; the other was a plain white sweatshirt with a pop artwork by Roy Lichtenstein printed on the front.


Art has always been about expression, particularly modernist art where more emphasis was placed on the expression of inner feeling rather than technical and pictorial skills (see What Is Modern Art ). Fashion is the ultimate form of self-expression, it tells the world who we are before we utter a single word; the merging of these two highly expressive modes was always going to be inevitable and will continue to cross paths.


What are your favourite artworks and have you ever seen them recreated as a fashion item? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

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