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SOPHIE BRASSEY and anna lambert

Art and fashion go hand in hand. Streetwear boasts graphic hoodies and t-shirts, runways oversee countless collaborations between artists and designers, and haute-couture collections produce sculpture-like gowns. While these two creative outlets seem integral to each other, this is a relatively new development. We can look back to a time when art and fashion were not interconnected in any respect; fashion (in particular, womenswear) served itspurpose in shaping the female form to a desired silhouette. On the other hand, art stood away from the human form, something to admire off the body.

The development of womenswear runs parallel to evolving societal expectations of the female body. During the Renaissance, where our study begins, beauty standards consisted of rounder bodies. Much like the praised ‘Kardashian’ physique, a desired woman's figure had a slim waist and large hips. Clothing played a key role in enforcing these beauty standards; the princess corset cinched in the waist, with bustles padding around the hips, a vintage BBL. The figure and clothing were so closely knitted, that the ‘natural’ female body became lost to these ancient forms of physical manipulation.

This trend continued well into the Modern age. Evidenced in paintings from this era: Goya, The Nude Maja (ca. 1797-1800) shows a nude figure reclined on a bed. The painted nude is key evidence of these stylised bodies; despite the absence of clothing, her body still bears the contortion of the corset. She lays awkward and stiff as ifrestricted by an invisible gown.

Anne Holder notes the mammoth influence that clothing had on the female figure, and vice versa: “an image of thenude body that is absolutely free of any counterimage of clothing is virtually impossible. Thus, all nudes in art since modern fashion began are wearing the ghosts of absence clothes”.1 Goya’s Nude Maja poses as a reminder of how women were not only restricted in clothing but in society.

Throughout the history of fashion, the female figure has acted as a motor, driving forward experimentation withdifferent silhouettes. We can look at the development of the 1920s drop-waist and boxy silhouette; the iconic Flapper dancers were at the core of this movement. The aesthetic of smoking and the desired slim physique resulted in the well-known flapper-esque dress silhouette being popularised, allowing free movement, and creating the appearance of a slimmer frame.

From this, we can jump forward to Dior’s ‘Bar Suit’. First debuting in 1947, this classic design harked back to the traditional hourglass shape: characterised by its rounded shoulders, and flowing skirt, the infamous Bar Suit allowed for more movement and freedom. Clothing was no longer only about appearance, but also functionality; in the words of Coco Chanel: “nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body”. Where fashion previously shaped the body, now the body shapes fashion.

Once designers became less figure-focused, art had more room to take centre stage. Only ten years prior to the Bar Suit, one of the first (and arguably one of the most
iconic) artist and designer collaborations was released; Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali’s dress. The sheer A-line gown was particularly provocative for the time; not only was the lobster a symbol of sex in Dali’s work, but the introduction of surrealism into fashion was mysterious, bold, and captivating.

Schiaparelli was integral to the introduction of surrealist art into fashion; she famously tested the boundaries with her unusual accessories, such as the shoe hat, and gloves with hands imprinted on them. Here, she takes an avant-garde approach to design. By developing the creative ideas behind her products, Schiaparelli underwent a creativeprocess that was only really used when creating forms of art, rather than clothing. From here, the connection between fashion and art truly started to flourish.

As art moved to the forefront of the high-fashion scene, designers became more experimental with shape. Cristóbal Balenciaga’s ‘sack dress’ opened up the space between the female body and the garment; its purpose was not toflatter, cinch, or tweak. Ahead of his time, Balenciaga created the dress so that a woman's body could move as anabstract entity within her clothes - her body wasn’t intruded on by her clothing, or vice versa. Once designers were no longer enslaved to the female form, dressmaking was free to become a form of sculpture. With this came experimentation with streetwear; the difference between ‘evening wear’ and casual clothes grew, meaning everyday clothing could be used as its own form of creative expression.

In the wake of Mary Quant's bold mini skirt, 60s fashion adopted bright colours and A-line silhouettes; self-expression was encouraged. Much of the London Boutique fashion was inspired by the Op Art movement - this artwork experimented with how colour and pattern can ‘trick’ the eye. Patterns, prints and graphic designs werepopularised in everyday wear. Casual clothing had become visually stimulating, as artistic influence made its way out of Haute Couture into ready-to-wear.

By the end of the century, the hourglass silhouette, while still a staple, was not essential on Haute Couture runways. Collections were increasingly avant-garde, and high fashion became a space of experimentation. Rei Kawakubo’sSS97 collection for Comme Des Garcon flipped the traditional approach to dressmaking on its head: the ‘body meets dress, dress meets body’ collection created uncomfortable and unflattering silhouettes. Clothes have been released of their duties, growing untamed away from the wearer. Kawakubo described it as “the body was distortedand shaped by the clothes themselves, rather than the clothes being enslaved to the body”. The baby blue and pink tweed fabric recollects the woman as a domestic figure in traditional households. Kawakubo alludes to the concept of a ‘modern woman’, and how she is no longer required to fit the clothes of the conventional housewife, literally or metaphorically.

In 2023, Fashion has never been more experimental. Designers like Iris Van Herpen no longer make clothes that contort the models but view models as moving tools to showcase their artwork. The female figure, and her role in fashion, directly influenced the relationship between fashion and art. We have seen that once designers were not required to make the female form look a certain way, they were able to express more creative freedom. Incollections this year, we’ve seen artists and designers come together in every way possible, as demonstrated by the recent Yayoi Kusama X Louis Vuitton capsule collection.

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