‘Fashion is more art than art is,’ said American visual artist Andy Warhol. His statement, albeit debatable, does force one to observe fashion through the lens of art. Over the decades, we’ve had a number of creative geniuses who used textiles as their medium to express their artistic vision. With these renowned names, we decode the art of fashion.
Kanpur-born and Delhi-based, Rahul Mishra’s journey since his Lakmé Fashion Week debut in 2006 has been unparalleled. Right from his first collection, where he used cotton handloom textiles from Kerala, he’s been known to incorporate Indian fabrics and handmade artisanship in his work in creative ways only he can. The first Indian designer to be invited to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture Week and also the first Indian to win the International Woolmark Prize in 2014 at Milan, his designs are often jaw-dropping and make even the most tone deaf admirer of art appreciate his work. Nature has been his most enduring source of inspiration, evident prominently in the intricately embroidered 3D motifs and appliques. His exaggerated shapes and unapologetic use of shimmer never fail to surprise, with many proclaiming that his designs deserve their own wing at a museum.
Known for his controversial yet futuristic style, Paco Rabanne was the most in-demand designer in the 1960s. A student of architecture, he used his design ideas to fashion garments from unconventional materials like plastic and metal with a space-age touch. Among his many contributions to fashion, his disco era sequin dresses and iconic 1969 metallic bag shine bright, with the two strongly associated with the brand even today. His breakthrough show in 1966 comprised 12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials. Rabanne also broke the norm by using music at the show (unheard of at the time!) and having models of colour walk the ramp. His designs existed in the space between art and fashion and have always been simply irresistible.
Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint-Laurent was not just a design genius but an icon who put women’s rights at the heart of his work. He was the mind behind the iconic ‘Le Smoking’, the first women’s tuxedo that quickly became a symbol of emancipation in the 1960s, back when wearing anything but dresses was a taboo. YSL was also the first couturier to open boutiques for both men and women and use traditional menswear for cross-dressing. Chic pantsuits, elegant tuxedos and urban safari gear were commonplace at his ateliers. But when one thinks of YSL and art in the same train of thought, we’re reminded of the designer’s Mondrian dress from 1965 that was inspired by the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. Never too OTT yet always stealing the spotlight, YSL’s Parisian chic, well-fitted silhouettes are the embodiment of ‘the art of fashion’ philosophy and a favourite among thousands even today.
Amit Aggarwal’s fusion of sustainability with unique creations and metallic fabrics make him one of the most sought after designers of our times. Add to that how flattering his interesting silhouettes look when wrapped around one’s body, and his work truly stands out. The highlights of Aggarwal’s distinctive design language are his sustainable material choice, geometric and tasselled motifs, and play of proportions and vibrant hues, with each collection somehow tracing back to his beginnings. He’s best known for repurposing materials like glass fibre, raffia palm and optic fibre, spun to create elegant, futuristic garments with a touch of poetic fluidity that make his designs delicate, architectural works of art.
The Indian couturier and artist, whose designs are spotted on the red carpet in India and abroad in equal measure, is known to explore themes surrounding surrealism and fanaticism. Gaurav Gupta has carved himself a niche in the industry that’s future primitive, which is reflected through his sculpture-like garments. These works of fashionable art display a strong sense of structure but are also fluid and rhythmic in nature. Making use of unconventional and sustainable fabrics with Indian construction, embellished with his idea of the future, Gupta has sustained and delivered works of art that are Indian at their core and boundless in their forms.
One of the most visionary and influential names in fashion, Rei Kawakubo began her career as a textile designer. She was a freelance fashion stylist before launching her iconic label, Comme des Garçons. Today, this Japanese designer is known for her profound artistic perspective that effortlessly marries art with fashion, based on the belief that fashion is art presented using clothing as a medium. Since founding her brand, she’s challenged the industry’s traditional norms with her structural designs. She experiments with shape, form and materials, unencumbered by the constraints of traditional tailoring, creating garments that often resemble artwork more than clothes. Best known as the face of avant-garde style, Kawakubo continues to have an impact on fashion.
An icon like no other in the fashion industry, known to bring together the West and the East through his designs, Issey Miyake was one of the most renowned couturiers from Japan. An art student from the Tama Art University, it was Miyake who had suggested making design a subject for art students. From the outset, his essential touchstone was the concept of “making clothing from a piece of cloth”. His process explored the fundamental relationship between the body, the cloth that covers it and the space and room that’s created between these elements. The first design elements that comes to mind when we think of Issey Miyake are his signature pleats, unveiled in 1993 under his ‘Pleats Please’ line, which involved layering clothes rather than textiles.
Known for his intricate work and unique silhouettes, Alexander McQueen has always pushed boundaries, created lasting trends and made an impact on fashion like no other. McQueen was admired for his highly original blend of subversion and tradition — evident from the outset in his ‘Bumster’ trousers, sharp frock coats, the use of sensuous lace and slashed leather. His designs were nothing less than works of art. One that truly stands out was his interesting collaboration with English artist Damien Hirst, where the two stalwarts celebrated 10 years of McQueen’s skull scarf in a limited-edition collection. The line featured 30 silk scarves with butterfly, spider and beetle motifs, in a kaleidoscopic take on the unmistakable skull pattern.
Elsa Schiaparelli, fashion designer and founder of the House of Schiaparelli, was born into an Italian aristocratic household. Starting with knitwear, her designs celebrated surrealism and eccentric fashion. One of her most famous works was The Tears Dress from her 1938 Circus collection. Although simple in form, the garment exhibits elements of surrealism that would come to define Schiaparelli’s work during this decade. Another interesting contribution was the use of her signature shocking or hot pink, a trend we see back on stands every other year. She also collaborated with Salvador Dali to create some unique artistic pieces.
Add to that her eccentric accessories, larger-than-life and futuristic designs, and a touch of the avant-garde, and we have what sets the brand apart till date.
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the March 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!