Collaborations, reinterpretations and appropriation are just some of the examples of how art and fashion can communicate and exchange ideas. These methods allow designers to create items worthy of museum displays. Meanwhile, we mere mortals can only hope to try these great masterpieces on one day.
Couturiers work by dipping their toes in both worlds in equal measure: some use artworks for inspiration, other replicate them. The collections which have emerged out of this process have as much longevity and resonance as the works of art that inspired them.
Fashion itself is founded on the three principles: structure, which contributes to the shape and silhouette, material and décor. While the early 20th-century designers actively experimented with new cuts and materials and produced some innovative geometric inventions, decoration and prints become the main focus from the 70s onwards. This is when Picasso, Mondrian and even some Byzantian art came to life on catwalks.
Piet Mondrian by Yves Saint Laurent
Artists that inspired Yves Saint-Laurent throughout his career include Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. But his most iconic work is probably a dress featuring the motifs of the Dutch master Piet Mondrian created four years after he established his own fashion house.
Saint-Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian Collection features the A-line shape that will come to define an entire decade to come. The French designer uses the same cut for his other collection dedicated to Andy Warhol.
The ode to consumerism, which was so simply put by the American artist in his depiction of a can of Campbell’s soup, migrates from canvas to textile. Saint-Laurent’s Mondrian Look collection is followed by Pop Art Look in the next season. Another thirty years later, in 1991, Gianni Versace once again turns to this popular creative tribute by featuring Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean on his new dress.
Byzantine chic by Dolce&Gabbana
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s 2014 Autumn/Winter collection created a bold reinterpretation of Byzantian luxury mosaics. These items were as unquestionably beautiful as the source of their inspiration – the interiors of the early Christian Basilica in Ravenna, Italy.
The patterns on these dresses and tunics are so accurately reproduced that it can no doubt be used to study Italian art heritage. Meanwhile, the jewellery featured in this collection echoes the historical accessories of the period: crowns, crosses and bulky earrings.
Varvara Stepanova by Alexander McQueen
Referred to as the Amazon of the Russian avant-garde, Varvara Stepanova was famous for her experimentation with patterns and ornaments, creating bright and memorable combinations of geometric shapes. She was known to contemporaries for her creative frenzy, as seen in the vividness and daringness of her works.
The same can be said of Alexander McQueen, a true rebel of haute couture fashion. It is then unsurprising that the British designer turned to this Soviet artist on more than one occasion, replicating her patterns in his dresses.
Elsworth Kelly by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is a French designer known for his revolutionary input and provocative gestures. He often said that art and fashion are inseparable in his works and his career is built on appropriation. Sounds very much in tune with the aspirations of contemporary art.
This is exactly what led the designer to base his collections on the visuals by the American artist Ellsworth Kelly known for his hard-edge style. His series of eight canvases with blue, green and red colour blocks is seen in the creations that were presented by Castelbajac as part of his 2014 Spring collection. Simple shapes and primary colours perfectly captured the vibrancy and eye-catchiness of geometric painting.
Pablo Picasso by Moschino
Some of the most recent fashion creations which celebrate the legacy of the artists of the past is perhaps the 2020 Spring/Summer Jeremy Scott collection by Moschino. It truly put avant-garde in the spotlight, as Scott dedicated the collection to Pablo Picasso.
The audience looked at the models in total awe, much like one would when encountering the original paintings. The dresses not only copied the shapes and colours of the artist’s canvases but were also quite literally framed. The catwalk saw such famous Picasso works as "Woman Reading”, “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon”, “Harlequin” and many others come to life. Scott explains that Picasso is a very peculiar phenomenon. When it seems that you know all about him, something new will always surprise you.
What is fashion if not a constant search for something new and surprising? Moschino’s creative director adds that he wanted to distort the shapes of his clothes just like Picasso transformed reality. Clearly this is exactly what they did. So, it seems that haute couture is back to experimenting with cuts and shapes just when we thought it was a thing of the past.