To be honest, treat I could probably just copy and paste Miranda Priestly’s iconic cerulean sweater monologue from The Devil Wears Prada and be done with this article. She articulates a simple truth – No one is exempt from the fashion industry.
So am i shallow for following fashion? I have always been intrigued by fashion and, cheap despite the odd faux pas, diagnosis I like to think that I’m often on trend. But I’m also interested in the wider influence of fashion. This summer I spent endless hours admiring the Vogue 100: a Century of Style exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. It traced the evolution of British Vogue from its inception in 1916 to the present day and illustrated how influential and intrinsic the fashion magazine has been in shaping our understanding of the world. The exhibition featured the work of groundbreaking fashion photographers, era-defining designers and a library of 101 issues of Vogue. As such, Vogue is simultaneously an inspiration for future trends and a historical source, chronicling the changes in our cultural and political landscape over the past 100 years.
Putting prejudices aside for a moment, Vogue is undoubtedly an important historical document. Through fashion we can trace everything: from the women’s suffrage movement with the advent of an androgynous style in the 1920s, to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and scandalously short skirts, through to the political optimism and bright colours of the 1990s. Fashion has been at the forefront of defining each decade.
But is this projecting an importance onto fashion that doesn’t really exist? The fashion industry may have the ability to embody each era, but as Alice Rawsthorn, director of the Design Museum highlights, ‘fashion rarely expresses more than the headlines of history.’ So is fashion nothing more than surface appearance? A skin-deep and superficial industry that adds nothing to society.
I think that’s unfair. Art is never accused of being shallow and, after all, fashion is art in its own right. Alexander McQueen blurred the lines between fashion and art forever with his Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A. At it’s core, the collection was a celebration of beauty. But it also invited us to explore complex concepts – and isn’t that what art is all about? The best artists defy convention, and McQueen did just that. He became renowned for upending orthodox, normative standards of beauty and fashion and fearlessly challenging our boundaries of what we consider to be clothing.
He was heavily influenced by Romanticism and like all great artists of the Romantic movement he masterfully portrayed the simultaneous beauty and savagery of the natural world. He incorporated natural forms and raw materials into his work with a technical artistry that would put JMW Turner himself to shame. His work wouldn’t look out of place in the National Gallery in-between Vermeer and Cézanne.
Written by Alice Avis