This is the time of year that we turn our attentions towards beautifully packaged surprises and time with family and friends. The generous size, plethora of lush color photographs, and lively, eye-catching graphic design of E.P. Cutler’s and Julien Tomasello’s Art + Fashion: Collaborations and Connections Between Icons are tailor-made for holiday excess and communal viewing. The overall tone is exuberant and infectious, and feels like talking with your best friends–in addition to your current reading and viewing company–about your favorite subjects.
The rock-’em, sock-’em colors chosen for the cloth cover (hot pink), end pages (chartreuse and coral), foredge (blue and green contrasting patterns), and throughout the publication reflect the joyous occasion of the marriage of art and fashion. Nick Cave dances in one of his intricately textured and patterned sound suits on the visually compelling book jacket.
Art and fashion here is celebrated, not debated. In the introduction, the authors make clear their stance that the “‘art versus fashion’ argument is tired”. For those looking for an in-depth discussion on the various intersections of “Art” and “Fashion” the authors direct the reader to Adam Geczy’s and Vicki Karaminas’s Fashion and Art (Berg, 2012), but they are adamant that they have little interest in this argument or in creating another academic survey of the disparities or perceived hierarchies between the two disciplines. The authors contend that art and fashion are two different approaches that can go great together–argument settled–let’s move on. (They do, however, include a page of quotes by various designers from Jean Paul Gaultier to Mary Katrantzou, reflecting the range of creators’ opinions from ambivalence to unequivocal as to whether fashion is indeed art).
The authors are unapologetic about their particular approach to the the subject and state their intentions clearly and with gusto. They recognize the incompleteness of their compendium of collaborations and are emphatic about their choices. They “use [the term] collaboration fluidly”, to include projects with fashion models and editorial spreads, for example, and thus broaden the definition and the possibilities for inclusion. For all 25 collaborations chosen by the authors, the thread that holds them together is that they are projects of “heart-stopping brilliance” (p. 13), a subjective and unabashedly passionate metric. The text reads at times like a love letter to the featured creators, which may turn off those dedicated to the tone academic distance. But it is a sense of wonder, awe, and admiration that the authors wish to invoke here, not a study of distanced analysis.
The collaborations are not organized chronologically or thematically, which, depending upon your viewpoint, you may find serendipitous and unexpected or frustrating and disorienting. I personally liked this approach, and found their choices of the well-known (Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali) to the relatively lesser-known (Richard Anuszkiewicz and Jacques Kaplan) and the random arrangement satisfying, which creates an anticipation of “what’s next” as one turns the pages. Collaborations focus on a variety of themes including the role of nostalgia, clothing’s relationship to the body, and the intersection of fashion and film. The deliberate inclusion of collaborations centered around menswear is refreshing and welcoming.
The presentation format for each collaboration is a two-page spread announcing the individuals and/or companies involved, followed by two pages of text on the background and context, and then two or more pages of photographs. The images are impressively presented and reproduced in color (when that is the original format), often on the entirety of the page. This publication is, after all, a collaboration between a photography editor and a fashion scholar, and the image is just as important as the text. Also significant is that all photographers within a collaboration are named, not simply the publication in which the work appeared.
“Icon” is a term that is often used fast and loose within the media in general (and it is no coincidence that many of the collaborations presented here were magnets for mass media, and several online and print articles covering these projects are referenced in the bibliography). There are certainly many individuals represented here who through their vast experience and years and years of consistently good, provocative work have earned the title. For example, Rei Kawakubo appears twice. It can be forgiven that those who may not yet have arrived at icon status have paired up with long-established companies that could arguably be described as iconic.
The most interesting collaborations featured are those that do not seem like such a natural fit and are not entirely conciliatory, or at least involve a considerable amount of compromise or challenge to the status quo, such as the collaboration between Lacoste and Peter Saville. Unexpected choices like Nan Goldin’s photographs of model James King (heavily criticized outside of art and fashion circles for glamorizing “herion chic”) enrich the overall group of collaborations.
The presentation is strongest when the artist’s voice is well-represented, as well as responses from all collaborators involved. One such example is the viewpoints of dancers who moved in Rei Kawakubo’s costumes for choreographer Merce Cunningham’s Scenario, describing how the unorthodox costumes affected their performance. Or the creative process of Nick Cave, who cobbled together extraordinary costumes at the last minute for a Vogue shoot with Raymond Meier, and talks about the challenge of “creating a relationship” with accessories and how it was “like a dream” to work on the project. Or the story behind the origin and gravity-defying mechanics of Melvin Sokolsky’s incredible “bubble” photos for Harper’s Bazaar, which have certainly become iconic since their publication in 1963.
An epilogue comes in the form of a short profile of French artist Zevs (Christophe Aguirre Schwarz), as a contrast to the overall explosion of mutual love and fabulousness presented in the preceding pages. The authors temper their enthusiasm with another take on the symbiosis of art and fashion–sometimes art can critique and take down fashion, not collaborate with it. Zevs intervenes on the images of longing, power, and desire that fashion wields so deftly through advertising imagery and brand logos, and creates a new image that is anything but complimentary.
Overall, this magnificently illustrated tome is an enjoyable and thoughtful ride through decades of 20th and 21st century artistic and fashionable collaborations. There were several times when I wished for more information and context about a given project, but Art + Fashion certainly stimulates one’s appetite to seek out the original publication, context, primary sources–or if you’re lucky, the actual objects themselves, when applicable. Art + Fashion can act as a glorious, enthusiastic springboard for further research. Echoing the final imperative at the end of the introduction–enjoy this book with art-and-fashion-loving friends and family, or create an introduction for the uninitiated.
Happy holidays, everyone!
All photographs provided by the author.