Art and Fashion

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By Debbie Hagan

This summer, more than 660,000 people crowded into Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum making it the eighth most visited show in this museum's 141-year history, according to Art Forum. Of course, this raises a number of questions, one of which comes up again and again: is fashion really art?  About that, Suzy Menkes, in the New York Times, back in July, had this to say, "at any given moment there are at least a dozen museums across the world offering major fashion displays--not to mention exhibitions in galleries or even department stores."

If that's true, certainly New England has more than it's fair share of fashion-related shows. Two shows from this past year come to mind:  Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel at the Peabody Essex, and then Scaasi: Rare Couturier at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Other museums and galleries seem to be hopping onto the fashionista band wagon.  Right now at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, is In Fashion: High Style: 1690-2011 up now through October. This is the museum's first major show of high fashion and historic costume, and it includes Parisian designers from the nineteenth century, as well as red carpet fashions created by such designers as Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Giambattista Valli, Giovanni Bedin, Belenciago, and Christian Siriano.  

In Fashion High Style 1690 2011
In Fashion High Style 1690 2011

The show is broken into multiple segments, but the one that interests me the most is Complete the Look. In what could easily be a Project Runway challenge, the museum invited students from the Fashion Institute of Technology to use eight bodices from its historic collection to lead them in designing a brand new "look." The Institute shows the  top eight entries. Be sure to click on the fashions to see close-ups of the stunning details.

There are at least two other fashion-related shows, that I know about going on these next few months. The first is Wylie Sofia Garcia, The Tulle Did Her In, which will be up September 23 - October 23, 2011, at the Helen Day Art Center, Stowe, VT.  "Staccato blocks of tight stitching, smocked lines, or shimmering embroidery cover and compose each piece, joining the varied works in the show using a vocabulary of mark-making that is immediately recognizable as the artist's hand," writes Amy Rahn in a review  that appears in the current issue of Art New England. "Garcia often uses quilting techniques, buckling fabric into meaty quilted sections cinched around their perimeters with small colorful stitches."  This may not be Alexander McQueen, but Garcia certainly brings on the glitz and glam. 

WylieGarcia 01
Wylie Sofia Garcia, Chameleon, mixed textiles, 2010.  Photo by Rick Levinson.

The second fashion-related show is Fantastic Fiber and Theater Fashion, running September 9 - October 14, 2011 at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Here's a collection of theater costumes created by Cotton Talbot-Minkin and National Fiber Technology. 

cotton talbot Minkin
Cotton Talbot-Minkin, Floody Mary (Treasure Island Panto), fabric, mixed media, 2007

Essex Art Center writes that  Talbot-Minkin creates the "form of costumes that are character driven and integral to the atmosphere and story that are being created on stage."  

Well, none of this answers the question if fashion is really art, but these examples (and surely more to come) will continue that discussion. 




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