Fashion and Art

It is significant that the 1999 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, ‘Addressing the Century’, took as its theme, not the almost unimaginable cultural and industrial prepotence which fashion has assumed over the last hundred years, but its relationships with art. This is not so surprising, though, when viewed against the recent spate of exhibitions and texts exploring the same theme, and it is easy to understand, when it has so long been denigrated as a frivolous and futile occupation, that fashion and its study should attempt to reposition itself in a more legitimate context.

Having, at least until recently, no philosophy, critique or theory of its own, as Radford’s recent essay describes, fashion has been inclined to appropriate those of others.36 There have, of course, always been relationships between art and fashion, as there have been between other fields in design, architecture, literature and music. Where such links have existed, it has often been in the economic interests of fashion to make them visible, and the original motives for such associations may occasionally or often have been calculated to this end.

As Radford writes: ‘Certainly a cadre of designers have had their work exhibited in specific contexts that identify their products as art rather than designed commodities . . . recent cases of using artists for modelling or engaging them to design the fashion show may be taken as instances of an attempt to procure the potency of status by this magical association’.


Despite the obvious and frequently cited arguments placing fashion in a different sphere from art on grounds of its economic motives and its persistent denial of recently past styles, there appears to be confusion in academic circles, amongst designers, and in style magazines, where art and fashion have become ‘inextricably interfused’, according to Radford.38

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