Art Notes: Is Fashion Art?


In recent years, fashion has increasingly become the focus of museum exhibitions across the world. Just last year, the Met introduced a display titled Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, which exhibits orchestrated conversations between the two designers that play as the viewer explores a showcase of about 100 designs. At the focus of this conversation is a debate on what it is to be a designer and the question: “Is fashion art?” Although this question isn’t new, the distinction between fashion and art has long been debated. And in recent times, the two forms have been blurring together.

Fashion does hold a reasonable claim to being art. If you abide by Webster’s definition of art – “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic products” – then fashion certainly applies. Great couture requires sincere talent and a creative mind, and the best designers put their heart and soul into their work creating masterpieces of garments that reflect their creative expression. So what if we happen to wear it instead of hanging it on the walls? Fashion trends have often followed artistic ones, such as the interaction between arts and fashion during the Art Nouveau period. Fashion, like art, is a sign of evolving culture, and the constantly changing trends can provide insight into the culture’s history.

However, fashion is also for the consumer. It is highly commercial and designed to sell. Historically created uniquely, fashion is now available for the masses; thus, turning it into something of commerce and profit. Consequently, styles and labels have come to symbolize status and prestige. Fashion also serves a functional purpose. Whereas we don’t need art, we need to have clothes on our backs. Its practicality may have resulted in some beauty, but it does not change the fact that it is there because it’s a necessity.

My answer to this question is a little vague. There has definitely been some breathtaking fashion by brilliant designers who have made it their own form of art. Perhaps fashion isn’t art, but the designer is an artist. Norman Norell, a renowned fashion designer, says: “The best of fashion is worthy of the name of art.” I agree with this. Not all fashion is art, but it can be art. The two enable each other. Feeding off of each other to create new beauty and inspiration, both serve as outlets for new cultural movements at the time.

What do you think? I’ve left you with a few pieces to muse over:

Yves St. Laurent


Elie Saab