Fashion and art has been a long standing relationship, and that designers would be inspired by art and artists themselves makes complete sense. Their respective mediums, their love for colors and proportions, the manner in which they interpret and shape reality, their lifestyles and the social circles they move in; it's all been very overlapped and incestuous for many, many moons.
The Calvin Klein ready-to-wear Fall Winter 2017 show in New York (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)
It's a welcome wholesome relationship as well because it keeps concepts fresh, presents designers with a limitless source of inspiration, and, by default, results in some of the most beautiful collections to bless the runway. Legendary French designer Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Fall Mondrian Collection inspired by Piet Mondrian or Alexander McQueen’s collaboration with Damien Hirst in 2013 come to mind as standouts.
On the week of Valentine's Day, it feels appropriate to address this passionate relationship, especially since various designers have chosen NYFW to bear their love for art.
Raf Simons presented his debut ready-to-wear collection for Calvin Klein within a total-room installation by his long-time collaborator and friend Sterling Ruby. Ruby, a contemporary American artist, is known to work in multidisciplinary practice, often pulling from a wide range of socio-economic subjects to create politically charged work. In New York alone, his work can be spotted in collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and The Museum of Modern Art. The artist, who was given free range to produce a piece for Calvin Klein, created a trilogy to coincide with the runway show, although the last part will only be revealed later in May. Both first parts were set up in Calvin Klein’s corporate offices; the first on the ground floor where the show took place, and the second on the 12th floor of the building.
Moving beyond the traditional realm of artistic influence or even the process of commissioning artwork, the spirit of their collaboration feels very much symbiotic. Both Simon’s collection and Ruby’s two first installations represent homages to America, a reflection of their environment as the designer explained in the show notes, “a coming together of characters and different individuals.” Their combined vision continued beyond the show with the release of Calvin Klein’s new advertisement campaign. Dubbed “American Classics,” the ads showcased the designer’s signature items alongside the contemporary pieces of famous American artists, including Ruby’s work.
The Christian Siriano ready-to-wear Fall Winter 2017 show in New York (by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)
A more intangible and unlikely pairing, at least thematically speaking, was Pamella Roland’s signature elegant eveningwear with Mark Rothko’s charged abstract expressionism. Yet the designer could not have been clearer in her intentions sharing that the collection was a nod to the artist and an embodiment of his art. More specifically, she explained in her notes, her designs were inspired by Rothko’s “use of color, and the way texture is achieved in each of his pieces.” Through her own medium, Roland aimed to reproduce the effect of Rothko’s “multiform” paintings, where the artist blurred blocks of various colors, devoid of figures, people, or landscapes, and which, as he put it, “possessed their own life force.” Regardless of how obvious or accessible the outcome was, it can be said that Roland successfully conveyed Rothko’s rich color palette throughout her collection, progressing from warm subtle hues into deeper tones, incorporating shades of onyx, deep browns, amethyst, and, most notably, a beautiful regal purple.
In other instances, art can find its way into a designer's vision not just in the form of shades and colors, but also in shape and proportion – especially if the inspiring work of art is three dimensional. When describing inspiration for his Fall/Winter 2017 collection, Christian Siriano mentions in his show notes grooves, designs, and layers which helped him create “the collection’s powerful silhouettes and strong expressive shapes.” Although he drew these inspirations while observing beehives and sand formations during his trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, he might as well have also been alluding to the work of American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra, who the designer also references in his notes as a key inspiration. More specifically, Siriano created some of his pieces while using as reference “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” a late minimalist large-scale sculpture of Serra consisting of three serpentine metal sheets. Naturally in abstract form, the lines, layers, and tones of the sculptor’s work did finely find their way into some of the collection’s outerwear – overcoats embellished with dangling pieces of curved metal, flowing copper colored tunics, and metallic copper jackets with faux fur trim.
As the relationship between art and fashion continues to grow and change, it’s likely whatever comes of it will be inspiring. Even in moments when one takes the other one for granted, or during rough patches, they can still count on each other. Art will find new ways to exist through fashion, and fashion will always find a muse in art. Like all great love stories, it’s likely it’ll be forever.