The Art of Fashion

Is fashion art?

There have been many debates over this age-old question, with designers such as John Varvatos determined that fashion is indeed a form of art, while the likes of Marc Jacobs and Comme Des Garçons are seated resolutely on the opposite side of the fence.

Although this difference of opinions may never be resolved, there is no denying the massive influence art has had on fashion over the years. From inspired ideas and almost blatant plagiarism to direct collaborations and capsule collections, the relationship between art and fashion has grown exponentially ever since Dali and Schiaparelli’s famous Lobster Dress in 1937.

Now more than ever, modern art can be seen in current fashion trends across high street stores and designer menswear collections, exquisitely composed on a human-shaped canvas. The inclusion of limited edition pieces in numerous campaigns adds a unique feel synonymous with a work of art, as does the individually numbered items that labels such as Common Projects now often offer.

It is not only modern art’s painters that have influenced men’s fashion, the extensive use of iconic photography on t-shirts and the sculptural shapes in sportswear and athletic clothing collections have also helped mould the identity of menswear in recent years.

1. Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism is based on automatic or subconscious creation and was the first specifically American art movement to be accepted internationally.

Its rebellious and anarchic image was epitomised by Jackson Pollock, who redefined what it was to produce art by stepping away from the easel, instead attacking the prone canvas with paint from all sides. Pollock’s unmistakable style can be clearly recognised in several of this season’s collections, with Maison Martin Margiela’s ‘Paint Splatter’ sneakers an excellent example.

Is the understated, neutral leather base of these shoes an interpretation of the canvas Pollock used or is this design a representation of what Pollock might have worn during the frenzied fling of action painting?

Maison Martin Margiela's Paint Splatter sneakers

Flecked And Paint Inspired Pieces

Often compared to Pollock for his ‘all-over’ style was American-born painter Mark Tobey. His ‘white-writing’ canvases are considered imperative to the early manifestation of abstract expressionism and combine an overlay of white calligraphic symbols on a dense armature composed of thousands of small and interwoven brush strokes.

The series of flecked knitwear from labels like Our Legacy clearly pay tribute to Tobey’s work, as does the new take on camouflage that appears to be adorning almost every spring/summer 2013 menswear release:

Men's Flecked Knitwear and Paint Splatter Inspired Prints

Dip-Dye Techniques

Another artist who played a pivotal role in the development of abstract expressionism was Mark Rothko. Famous for his fields of colour and light, Rothko considered the work of modernism to take reference from primitive and child like art.

Using colour as an instrument to build harmonious choirs, echoes of these bleeding timbres are resonating by way of the dip-dye styles on display in current menswear campaigns:

Men's Tie Dye and Dip-Dye Lookbook

How To Wear & Key Pieces

Channel your inner rebel by pairing expressionist inspired pieces with robust textures such as denim, leather and suede for a rugged and edgy look.

  • Topman Villain Splash T-shirtTopman Villain Splash T-shirt
  • Asos T-shirt With All Over Bleached EffectAsos T-shirt With All Over Bleached Effect
  • Asos Skinny Jeans With Paint Splat PrintAsos Skinny Jeans With Paint Splat Print
  • Marc Newson X G-star Mn Painter Kyoto Blue T-shirtMarc Newson X G-star Mn Painter Kyoto Blue T-shirt
  • Lanvin Dot-print Cotton Crew Neck T-shirtLanvin Dot-print Cotton Crew Neck T-shirt
  • Maison Martin Margiela Colour Drops SneakerMaison Martin Margiela Colour Drops Sneaker
  • Voi Jumper With FleckVoi Jumper With Fleck
  • Reiss Specky Flecked Roll Neck Jumper NavyReiss Specky Flecked Roll Neck Jumper Navy
  • Voi Jumper With Shore Leave Navy Random Mix Crew SweaterVoi Jumper With Shore Leave Navy Random Mix Crew Sweater
  • Allsaints Charge GrandadAllsaints Charge Grandad
  • Apc Col Rond Marine KnitApc Col Rond Marine Knit
  • Howlin By Morrison Sly Wine CardiganHowlin By Morrison Sly Wine Cardigan
  • Allsaints Magna Crew JumperAllsaints Magna Crew Jumper
  • Religion Kudos Cardinal SweatReligion Kudos Cardinal Sweat
  • Marc By Marc Jacobs Ombre Washed Ink Polo ShirtMarc By Marc Jacobs Ombre Washed Ink Polo Shirt
  • Topman Green Dip Dye Roll Up TeeTopman Green Dip Dye Roll Up Tee
  • Unconditional Shirt With Dip Dye PrintUnconditional Shirt With Dip Dye Print
  • Asos Skinny Jeans In Dip DyeAsos Skinny Jeans In Dip Dye
2. Cubism
Cubism Inspired: The Deconstructed Blazer

Fashion’s infatuation with modern art continues with cubism, an early twentieth century avant-garde movement pioneered by none other than Pablo Picasso (considered by many to be something of a style icon himself).

Aspects of cubism’s multi-perspective style can be seen in the deconstructed blazers that have become increasingly popular throughout 2012. Discreet in their design, these blazers are informed more by the concept of cubism rather than the imagery itself. With this altogether more subtle approach, pieces such as these are versatile and flexible, and can therefore work just as well with raw jeans as with a more formal shirt/tie:

Men's Deconstructed Blazer Lookbook

  • Lee Jacket Coated Lapel BlazerLee Jacket Coated Lapel Blazer
  • Nudie Blazer Oliver UnstructuredNudie Blazer Oliver Unstructured
  • Universal Works Wool City Varsity JacketUniversal Works Wool City Varsity Jacket
  • Bottega Veneta Unstructured Slim-fit Washed-cotton JacketBottega Veneta Unstructured Slim-fit Washed-cotton Jacket
  • Reiss Moon Herringbone Jersey Blazer BlackReiss Moon Herringbone Jersey Blazer Black
  • Hartford Knitted Wool BlazerHartford Knitted Wool Blazer
  • Acne Maugham Unstructured Textured-jersey BlazerAcne Maugham Unstructured Textured-jersey Blazer
  • Beams Plus Unstructured Slim-fit Denim BlazerBeams Plus Unstructured Slim-fit Denim Blazer
  • Issey Miyake Mens Four Pocket JacketIssey Miyake Mens Four Pocket Jacket
Cubist Pieces

The more obvious use of cubist style designs has also gained popularity in men’s fashion, with some displaying a distinct resemblance to the cut and paste abstractions of Juan Gris while others represent Picasso’s more playful and humanistic work. Gris, most famous for his ‘Violin and Glass’ masterpiece, was considered to be the Third Musketeer of Cubism (beside Picasso and Georges Braque) and helped design costumes for the world renowned Ballets Russes.

The Military Cubism Jacket by Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, for example, is a clear response to Gris’ style – the jacket’s beige flax fabric corresponds to the artist’s canvas, which is then stencilled with varying tones of blue detail. Bottega Veneta’s current collection also bears the hallmark of Gris, with a patchwork style cropping up on everything from knitwear to blazers and formal trousers:

Yohji Yamamoto Military Cubism Jacket

Bottega Veneta AW12 Menswear Collection

Forward thinking designer Raf Simons has also included a Picasso-style cubist face print in his spring/summer 2013 collection, signalling that fashion’s obsession with modern art is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

These more eye-catching exhibitions of cubism can be complemented by the use of diffuse colours and modern tailoring.

3. Pop Art

Best known for its use of popular culture imagery, pop art provides an ironic parallel to the banality of everyday life, re-contextualising the mundane by combining with unrelated and unexpected material. This cut and paste style is particularly relevant in today’s world of fashion, fusing elements of graphic design’s intense colours and branding with modern music’s use of sampling and editing.

A current designer who best embodies pop art’s ethos of parody and irony is the somewhat mysterious Wil Fry. Fry’s limited edition pieces such as his ‘Birds of Paradise’ Brooklyn Nets jersey and ‘Expensive’ t-shirt play with designer fashion in a similar way to Banksy’s more subverted and satirical pieces that incorporate art made by Andy Warhol and Leonardo da Vinci.

With designs that straddle the line between art and fashion, Fry’s work implies the possibility of these two entities developing a symbiotic relationship:

Wil Fry's Birds of Paradise Nets Jersey and Expensive T-Shirt

How To Wear & Inspired Pieces

The use of pop art inspired design is also a favourite of high street brands, integrating the comic-strip style of Ray Lichtenstein and adopting numerous variations of Warhol’s more famous work.

It has also helped spawn the current trend of colour blocking, seen everywhere from Topman and ASOS to Salvatore Ferragamo’s Hockney-esque spring/summer 2013 collection.

Balance pop art’s bold and vibrant appearance with accent colours, light, loose fitting fabrics and unfussy designs:

Men's Pop Art Inspired Lookbook

  • Christopher Raeburn Front Pocket Animal T-shirtChristopher Raeburn Front Pocket Animal T-shirt
  • Topman White Mickey Mouse Print TeeTopman White Mickey Mouse Print Tee
  • Topman White Mickey High Roll TeeTopman White Mickey High Roll Tee
  • Topman White Jimi Ticket Stubs TeeTopman White Jimi Ticket Stubs Tee
  • Criminal Damage Sweat With Old School PrintCriminal Damage Sweat With Old School Print
  • Topman Grey Multi Mtv Printed SweatshirtTopman Grey Multi Mtv Printed Sweatshirt
  • Reiss Wilde Woven Pattern Crew Neck Jumper RustReiss Wilde Woven Pattern Crew Neck Jumper Rust
  • Asos Skinny Bright ChinosAsos Skinny Bright Chinos
  • Ps By Paul Smith Slim-fit Linen BlazerPs By Paul Smith Slim-fit Linen Blazer

These are by no means the only examples of art movements influencing current fashion trends. The minimalist aesthetic is commonplace in menswear, as demonstrated by labels such COS, Acne and J. Lindeberg, while Jil Sander’s latest campaign takes direct reference from neoplasticist Piet Mondrian.

However, it is the influence of American modern art in particular that has recently come to the fore, perhaps signifying the position of power it (specifically New York) holds over the rest of the fashion world.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below…