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Can fashion ever be art? Very few cultural arguments have divided opinion so strongly. Miuccia Prada echoed the sentiments of many that ‘…fashion is not art’ in an imagined conversation with Schiaparelli in an installation at the Met last year. This is a feeling echoed by Karl Lagerfeld, Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo, US Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey, Coco Chanel and even Marc Jacobs, arch collaborator of many an artist during his tenure at Louis Vuitton. Yet the art/fashion debate continues, and well-illustrated, engagingly written book, lies firmly in the opposite camp to Coco et al.
Each of this book’s five chapters documents the epochal moments so far at the crossroads of these two cultures.  The first concentrates on the designers’s work – with the usual suspects (Margiela, McQueen, Chalayan, Issey and so on) as well some less well known, chiefly Australian labels (Oakley Smith, the editor, is an Australian journalist). A second chapter focuses on the more interesting collaborations, like Dior (with Anselm Reyle) , Hermes (with Eric Wurm) and Vuitton’s famous tie-ups. The following section looks at interesting international exhibitions showcasing the likes of Louboutin, Alaia & Daphne Guinness (who writes the book’s foreword), although it misses the recent McQueen, YSL and Gaultier retrospectives that truly pushed these exhibitions to the foreground of mass appeal. The penultimate section looks at art-infused fashion photography, with two standouts featured being the late Deborah Turbeville’s romantic work for Valentino and Quentin Shih’s contemporary images of the Dior woman in China.  Again, collaborations like Bottega Veneta’s more low-key but equally arresting collaborations (with Erwin Olaf, Sam Taylor-Johnson and so on) are sadly not included. The final chapter looks at architecture & art in fashion, and this perhaps more than the rest of the book, reveals why this debate is so salient – when does the aspirational become the inspirational? When it is perceived and displayed as a timeless work of art?  Images of the beautiful art foundations sit uneasily with commercial store designs: it is the strikingly commercial nature of the latter that perhaps makes the argument so hard to digest.
This is a timely publication, especially with ever more ambitious art/fashion alliances, many of which fascinate and prove commercially prescient. The acclaimed Fall 2013 Dior collection by Raf Simons included direct references to Warhol, for example. In fact, Karl Lagerfeld observed back in 2008, “Art is art. Fashion is fashion. However, Warhol proved that they can exist together.” But as title of this book suggests, the journey is far from over. In the end, perhaps Francis Bacon described it best when he said ‘Fashion is only the attempt to realize art in living forms and social intercourse.’
by xxxx
Art/Fashion in the 21st Century
Mitchell Oakley Smith & Alison Kubler
238 original colour illustrations/280 x 215mm
Thames & Hudson/320 pages/£32

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