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Is Fashion Art?

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

In the fashion world, there has been an ongoing debate that has ruffled a few industry feathers and caused a creativity-commerce tension. It’s the debate of whether fashion is an art form or not.

Piet Mondrian Dress 1960's

Strong arguments on both sides of the spectrum have been made by successful and influential fashion personas. Some even opine there is a middle ground, where fashion and art coexists. Nevertheless, fashion is a commerce-centric industry rather than a form of art. Fashion can be a lot of things, but the case that it is a form of art is increasingly harder to make.

Alice Rawsthorn, the director of the Design Museum explained, "the result may be as gorgeous as a vintage Balenciaga ballgown… but it is still an item of clothing intended to be worn. Why pretend that it is anything else”.

Similar statements like Rawsthorn's are widely made in the industry. For example, Karl Lagerfeld, former creative director of Chanel, said that “art is art. Fashion is fashion. However, Andy Warhol proved that they can exist together”.

Valerie Steele, fashion historian, director, and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology concluded that it is hard to state that fashion is art when designers at the “caliber” of Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo clarify that it’s not. In addition, other fashion designers like Marc Jacobs, Coco Chanel and the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, have also agreed with Lagerfeld and others.

These designers have something in common; they are in the top one hundred most influential fashion icons by Time. The designers mentioned have a combined total of two hundred and forty-seven years of experience in the fashion world, which lends gravity to their statement that fashion is not art.

Fashion designers can use the artistic process or art elements to create and showcase a garment or a collection. For example, designers can collaborate with artists and incorporate features of art into their work; such as Yves Saint Laurent who designed a dress inspired by artist Piet Mondrian in 1965 (picture above). Here is where art and fashion meet and coexist, but it does not imply that fashion is an art form.

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