ImpressionArtWrapped Up in Art

Wrapped Up in Art

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Embracing fashion as an artistic expression.

As one-of-a-kind collections along the lines of avant-garde or haute couture continue to amaze and inspire, it’s hard not to see fashion as an art form. But there are prominent fashion designers who straight-out refuse to be called artists, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada. Some don’t agree that fashion is art, but acknowledge that certain renowned designers like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent are artists. 

Legendary 20th century couturier Charles James is among those who consider themselves artists and approach fashion from a different perspective. According to Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator in The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, James was an artist who chose fabric and its relationship to the human body as his medium of expression. “In fact, a devoted James client once said, ‘…his work went beyond fashion and was a fine art’,” said Reeder.

The museum is currently holding the ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion’ exhibition until August 10 this year, featuring approximately 75 of the most notable designs produced by James over the course of his career from the 1920s until his death in 1978. His fascination with complex cuts and seams led to the creation of key design elements such as wrap-over trousers, ribbon capes and dresses, spiral-cut garments, along with iconic ball gowns from the late 1940s and early 1950s: the “Clover Leaf,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,” “Swan,” and “Diamond”.

Still on the subject of artful fashion, the museum is also holding another exhibition titled ‘Unique by Design: Contemporary Jewelry in the Donna Schneier Collection’ until 31 August 2014, providing a close look at more than 80 pieces gifted by the collector. Around 88 artists from 17 countries contributed to the collection, including modern master jewelers such as Thomas Gentille, William Harper, Hermann Junger and Peter Chang, as well as avant-garde jewelry makers Robert Baines, Eva Eisler and Helen Britton. The jewelries date from the 1960s, when the art world’s perception of jewelry and ornaments began to shift; and each piece is a representation of something novel, born out of the vision to move away from traditional shapes and materials. 

While there is no definite description of the word “art”, the journey to explore new boundaries certainly rings a bell with many works of contemporary art. And despite the endless debate, who can deny that fashion is an artistic expression of creativity and imagination? 

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art