My friends at the Dante Alighieri Society of Lanark have invited me once again to hold a lecture for them. The topic of tomorrow’s lecture is “Italian Art and Fashion”, though we won't explore only the Italian inspirations, but we'll stop along the way in other countries to see how the art-fashion connection was developed in other contexts.
We will start our journey from the Renaissance with Baldassar Castiglione publishing Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier) in 1528, the first theoretical investigation into the social and political meaning of dress. After analysing a few treaties on good manners and social behaviour and Il Libro del Sarto (The book of the tailor) by Gian Giacomo del Conte, a volume illustrating a variety of models, patterns, fabrics and festive and celebratory clothing and looking at a few paintings we will move on and explore the connection between the art movements that created designs for textiles and clothing.
Though the lecture should mainly focus on Italian art, we will also try to explore the experiments carried out by the Wiener Werkstätte workshop that created textiles characterised by geometric patterns, the illustration of Paul Poiret's collections by Paul Iribe and Georges Lepape and Mariano Fortuny’s works.
We will then focus on various artists connected with different movements, among them the futurist Giacomo Balla who published Le vêtement masculin futuriste: Manifeste (Futurist Manifesto of Men’s Clothing), which called for dynamic textile designs and asymmetrical cuts; Fortunato Depero who designed waistcoats characterised by abstract geometries and bright colours and Italian painter and sculptor Ernesto Michahelles, better known as Thayaht, who designed the “tuta”, T-shaped overalls with a belted waist. In the early ‘20s Thayaht started working for Madeleine Vionnet, producing gowns with precise geometric cuts that followed the principles of Cubism.
Before passing onto Schiaparelli and her collaboration with the Surrealists, we will briefly go through the work of Ukrainian-French artist Sonia Delaunay who opened a fashion studio in Paris and drew on the artistic theory of simultaneity to create her textiles and designs for hats and clothes, and of some of the Russian Constructivists such as Varvara Stepanova and Liubov Popova, who concentrated on experimenting on textiles and on clothing that favoured comfort and practicality.
We will then go back to Italy to discover what was going on there during Fascism, with Mussolini trying to boost a national style, banning the import of foreign fashion items. Cesare Meano published then the Commentary and Italian Dictionary of Fashion that had the purpose of purging the language of fashion of foreign terminology. In the book Meano underlined how important it was to look back at the Renaissance for inspiration, as this period of time was the golden age of Italian history and it was therefore a crucial point for defining Italian identity as the country held an hegemonic position in Europe for what regarded fashion as style during the Renaissance. The Duce saw fashion as a powerful vehicle for the modernisation of the country. Though the regime was essentially against creativity and change in fashion it was during these years that some Italian designers produced amazing works of art and iconic designs such as Salvatore Ferragamo’s cork wedges and sandals with cellophane net.
Though paralysed during the war, the Italian fashion industry never actually stopped and some couture houses near Milan even organised fashion shows in the countryside in places that could only be reached by boat.
We will then explore the birth of the "made in Italy" with the most important designers of the 50s such as the Sorelle Fontana, Emilio Pucci, Schuberth, Biki and Simonetta among the others and explore the art of Pasquale De Antonis' fashion photography.
The 60s will allow us to analyse the work of Roberto Capucci with his sculpted dresses, often presented in museums as if they were works of art, and of Germana Marucelli. The latter often collaborated with different artists, and made dresses inspired by the geometries and black and white motifs of Getulio Alviani.
As the years passed, new connections between art and fashion were established: Gianni Versace drew from Andy Warhol’s pop art and Kandinsky’s abstract art; Valentino embroidered the black and white motifs of Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser on his evening dresses; Christian Lacroix created headdresses and dresses inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán’s paintings.
In the meantime, fashion shows turned into performance art: Alexander McQueen and John Galliano for Dior’s theatrical catwalks are usually visionary spectacles. Both the designers often claimed of having been inspired in their collections by art: McQueen’s sinuous velvet dresses from his A/W 2006-07 collection seemed to reproduce the garments worn by the ethereal women of Pre-Raphaelite’s paintings; Galliano’s lilac sumptuous dress from his Autumn 2007 collection was a vision out of Giovanni Boldini’s Portrait of the Marchesa Luisa Casati, while the palette for some of the other creations for the same collection was lifted from Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci, and their silhouettes from Goya and Zurbarán.
Spring 2008 was definitely one of the most exciting seasons for the fashion-meets-art connection: inspired by the work of Julian Schnabel, Dolce & Gabbana turned their dresses into proper canvases, by hand-painting on silk, organza and tulle and then transforming the material into dresses, while New York art collective 2x4’s Hieronymus Bosch-meets-Aubrey Beardsley drawings were printed on Prada’s womenswear.
One of the most quoted artists for the S/S 08 season and for Autumn 08 was Gustav Klimt: the blues and violets of Roberto Cavalli’s floral print silk dresses reminded of the painter’s Portrait of Emilie Flöge;
though Galliano’s starting point for his Spring 08 Dior collection was the black velvet, low-cut gown and the attitude of Virginie Amélie Gautreau as portrayed in John Singer Sargent’s Madame X, his most sensational creations sparkled with the gold swirls and geometric patterns of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and The Kiss. But Klimt wasn't the only artist designers turned to for inspiration: Elie Saab looked up at the colours of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel for the palette of his A/W 08 evening gowns.
The main connections between art and fashion that we will explore for next season are the LucioFontana-inspired creations by Jeremy Laing and the nuances and motifs of Japanese painter and Ukiyo-e maker Ando Hiroshige applied to Gabriele Colangelo's designs.
With museums all over the world organising retrospectives on fashion and designers such as Martin Margiela and designers exhibiting conceptual pieces in galleries and museums, it looks like the contentious relationship between art and fashion doesn't exist anymore. Max Ernst’s “Let there be fashion - May art die”, a quote often used to demonstrate the belief that the fashion system and art were in opposition, doesn’t apply anymore, and fashion has finally been elevated to the degree of a very special art, one that requires love, time, commitment and visual and aesthetic skills to be mastered. I hope my friends at Lanark's Dante Alighieri Society will enjoy my talk.
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