1.3.14

Fashion as Art

Can a fashion image have the longevity of art? Fashion, by nature, is ephemeral. What we call timeless fashion is regurgitation of trends in spurts to hold on to something that might be termed, fashionably, antique.

The pictures in “Different Distances: Fashion Photography Goes Art", an exhibition by Swedish fashion photographers, cross over the barrier. Curator Greger Ulf Nilson was aware that not everything would fit in:

“Most of the time, straightforward fashion photography has a ‘best before’ date because it's meant to be in a magazine or for a campaign that month or that season of the year. It's a very fast image in that way.”

So, what makes these images work? I have chosen four that represent varied moods and art forms, too. After being impressed by their artistic merit, I was left with the question: do they qualify for the purpose they were created? Is there any appeal for those who follow fashion? Would they sell anything?

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Elisabeth Toll, One More Time and the Elephant Is Going to Be Angry, 
Paris, 2006

The elephant and the girl is spot on. The target segment is the young, and the adventurous. Although the clothes and shoes are far from sporty, they are certainly comfortable. The message is not quite different from the ones we are accustomed to of, say, a model water rafting or rock climbing. The monochromatic format with the model not taking up too much space – the pachyderm does that! – might also send out a signal for a small niche market or, be light on the pocket.

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Denise Gr√ľnstein, The Female Gaze, 2009
I’d be surprised if this one was selling only hairpieces; it would be too literal and therefore disappointing. This is more contemporary and expressionistic, and enticing. The fact that you cannot see the model’s face, and only hair in different shades spread around, is alluring as fantasy. The sand and sea, ‘natural’ ingredients, sharpen the bizarreness. What sort of table is this? Is it for magic, for an al fresco meal, for a voodoo act, for an emergency operation? Intriguing. The caption says, “The Female Gaze”, and she is not seeing anything as her face is covered. Her dress is quite formal and the colour merges with the backdrop. The target would be a fairly conservative sharp dresser but whose foxiness is displayed in the accessories she chooses. She knows that the female gaze is discerning and will notice.

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Julia Hetta, Untitled, 2009

Portraits in the classical mould have been sanctified in art, although often the patronage that created them was a commercial transaction. It has always been the trend among the nobility to sit for the artist. Now the tradition has altered to include anyone with money and the art might be illustrated using a photograph. Therefore, this one seems perfect. It whispers bespoke with its subtlety and quiet hauteur. The strong-jawed model naturally draws attention to the neck and then the leaf on the lapel, which is the only burst of colour.

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Julia Peirone, Lovisa, 2010
This one is wham. Lovisa is a jewellery and accessories brand. Would any girl/woman buy it after seeing this macabre expression? The model is devoid of conventional makeup, and is ‘zombified’. Her left hand has a bruise, her palms and fingers seem reddish, and it can mean many things. She is young and while it would take a good deal of indulgence to call her naughty, I’d still go with perkiness and a couldn’t care less attitude. One can spot a gold chain and over her head she is holding on to a strap of what could be a bag. There is an element of self-indulgence in this photograph, but the no-eyeball look could suggest that the brand can be trusted blindly. And once you own it, you can put people under your spell.

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In the end, fashion and art mean different things to different people. And much appreciation of art does have to do with how the art galleries and curators position it. Over a period of time, some artists become a trend.

It has also become acceptable for reprints of well-known art works to be used on clothes, furniture, and other paraphernalia. You could wear a Picasso on your scarf and a Marilyn Monroe dress could be in the museum. The lines are blurred, and it is all right if they flow as well as a trailing gown…

© Farzana Versey

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The image on the sidebar on top is also from the series. 


5 comments:

mstaab said...

Hi Farzana,

The Oxford English Dictionary (1971), a two volume "compact edition" I discovered at a used book shop (at $125, a rare bargain; though quite compact indeed, these old eyes requiring a magnifying glass in perusal), traces the origin of the word "fashion" to the Latin facere, to make, build or shape. So then, yes, fashion, by nature, certainly can be described as ephemeral, fleeting, or short-lived. Doubtless Al would attribute ephemeral gradations to the "law of entropy," so called.  :)

But your inquiry addresses the fashion "image" (its work-a-day utility, unlike the "original," as it were, to be found in its portability, in its comparative ease in transmission to an ostensibly larger market) and whether this printed or stamped and mass-produced "knock-off" might aspire to the longevity of "art"?

If I may, what you would seem to point-out in your . . . well, "montage," perhaps, is the dual-aspect of art, i.e. art as an "imitation of life" (madonna and child, a pastoral scene, village and town bustle, an evening promenade with the family -- all of these, interestingly, meant to convey a momentary "snap-shot" of life, perhaps in passing, and very much like a photograph) and art somewhat . . . well, "craftier," perhaps, or "playful" -- certainly "subtler" -- in application, in arrangement, in portrayal -- effectively, art oftentimes with a sharp or ticklish point or bite or scratch (or merely touch). In this latter sense of art, it might be suggested that it's the artist rather than his/her art that imitates life, lol.

>>Portraits in the classical mould have been sanctified in art, although often the patronage that created them was a commercial transaction.<<

Indeed. To what lengths an artist may be compromised for fame, say (or for a morsel of bread), can oftentimes be traced in his or her works -- perhaps then making the possession of them not unlike the hanging of certain "big game" trophies upon a wall? Edvard Munch's "The Scream" comes to mind.

Mark

FV said...

Mark:

Here I was interested in fashion's ability to last as well as the possibility of its transformation into art being able to reach a larger market.

The purpose of art is probably multipronged and not just dual, although these two form the foundations.

You say:

{In this latter sense of art ("craftier", "subtler") it might be suggested that it's the artist rather than his/her art that imitates life, lol.}

The "imitation of life" too can be 'crafty' in that only certain aspects are chosen or not chosen. What is the Mona Lisa like below the waist? Would she be illustrative, or was da Vinci imitating his version of the bucolic? Isn't every new analysis of Mona Lisa also lasting fashion?

I am curious as to why you gave the example of Munch's 'The Scream' wrt big game trophies on the wall. Is it to underscore the compromise made by other artists? Or, a self-indulgence?

This is how Munch explained his inspiration:

"One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream."

mstaab said...

Farzana,

Neither (though I do acknowledge your point regarding "other artists"). Munch's "The Scream" may have come to mind, but it was the artist Van Gogh of whom I was thinking. Apologies for any perplexity my getting them crossed may have caused. "Big game trophies," of course, refers to genius that, save for under certain circumstances (or compromise, perhaps?), is almost never recognized in his/her lifetime. Certainly remarkable, that. :)

>>The "imitation of life" too can be 'crafty' in that only certain aspects are chosen or not chosen. What is the Mona Lisa like below the waist? Would she be illustrative, or was da Vinci imitating his version of the bucolic?<<

I must admit I had never considered Mona Lisa below the waist until someone called my attention to her enigmatic "smile" -- if a smile it is, lol. Until then, to me, the painting had a certain technical merit going for it that, aside from the da Vinci "brand," might have rescued it from being salvaged for its canvas. Serendipitously (given my confession above), the same could be said for "The Scream" . . .

>>Isn't every new analysis of Mona Lisa also lasting fashion?<<

Well, there's lasting and there's lasting -- the one referring to a comparative duration of time; the other to form. What's vaunted as 'new' may only be new for some, with its lasting potential yet in question. Of course, for the somewhat more . . . well, 'jaded,' perhaps, 'new' takes on not so much a connotation of time but of the 'unexpected' or 'surprising' -- on occasion delightfully so. Much as with Julia Hetta's "Untitled," where the subject of this portraiture sports a turned leaf (yellow as opposed to green) in the breast pocket and a quite unusually arranged cravat (or is it a scarf?), Denise Grunstein's "The Female Gaze" is either utterly backwards, lol (her head, we note, is turned a remarkable 180 degrees) or, centered as she is between the convergence of earth, water and air, perhaps she (or her hair? or her gaze through her hair?) represents fire? Perhaps her hair is on fire? Perhaps her hair *was* on fire, hence the wigs?

Delightful.  :)

Mark

Ps. The draped table is certainly curious. Indeed, perhaps an operating table, perhaps a buffet table soon to be laden; however, might it be that she has only just arisen from it, with the white drapery suggesting a block of ice? Had she formerly been "kept on ice," so to speak? Preserved or kept in reserve? A secret weapon, perhaps?

FV said...

Mark:

Perplexity excused, partly because of some misreading on my part too!

You are right about new interpretations being not entirely new. Perhaps, like the yellow leaf in Julia Hetta's photograph denoting a new season which reappears every year? 

'The Female Gaze' is fascinating because so much can read into it. 

{Perhaps her hair is on fire? Perhaps her hair *was* on fire, hence the wigs?}

Maybe her hair is flame, and she the candle slowly melting...into the background.

{The draped table...might it be that she has only just arisen from it, with the white drapery suggesting a block of ice? Had she formerly been "kept on ice," so to speak? Preserved or kept in reserve? A secret weapon, perhaps?}

Woken from the dead? A ghost? A post-mortem of an old trend being renewed? 

Everything is a weapon, Mark. Everything :-)

PS: Are those guys in Sweden reading this? At least one of us deserves to be invited!

Mark Staab said...

I figured you were holding back, Farzana -- and I wasn't going anywhere near the elephant.  :)

>>Are those guys in Sweden reading this? At least one of us deserves to be invited!<<

It's a package deal as far as I'm concerned.  :)