Fashion Icons Who Filtered Their Art Through Fashion

There are several artists throughout history who have used fashion as their medium of art. These artists used fashion in order to bring attention to their work, and draw inspiration from the beauty of clothes and accessories in order to elevate their works of art. Here’s a list of six famous artists who have done just that…

Vivienne Westwood
Westwood was initially rejected from Saint Martins School of Arts, so she studied at the Byam Shaw School of Fine Arts and Design before being accepted to Saint Martins. She pioneered the new approach of art students attending a school that teaches fashion design and merchandising alongside its more traditional training in fine arts. In 1972, she opened her first international boutique on the King’s Road in London with then-boyfriend Malcolm McLaren. The store became known as SEX and their window displays were often more provocative than any other retailer in London at the time. They were an important part of the punk movement, although they are not considered punks themselves. Much of her work is about sexual attitudes and gender roles. Her most famous works include the tartan army ensemble worn by Kate Moss for British Vogue, one set entirely in PVC with matching boots, as well as oversized woolen sweaters paired with skin tight leather trousers.

Coco Chanel
Born to a middle-class family in the provincial town of Saumur, Chanel struggled with poverty. At age 18, she went to work as a salesgirl in a clothing store in Paris that catered to wealthy travelers. She learned how clothes were made, and how they could become glamorous when combined with fabric scraps, vintage jewelry and exotic flowers from around the world. In 1911, at age 25, she had saved enough money from her wages to establish her own fashion shop called Coco. She used her first name because she considered it too common for customers of aristocratic tastes and thought that Coco was more elegant. Her designs became popular, and in 1922 she became artistic director for all French haute couture (high fashion) dressmakers. When asked about her approach to designing what women should wear, Chanel replied: A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.

Christian Dior
The fashion industry has always been about money, looks, and flashy events. But what about a fashion icon who used their knowledge of the industry to do something different with their art? Christian Dior’s entire career centered around creativity and innovation. He embraced change, eagerly adopting new fabrics, materials, and techniques. He also had great business sense and knew that quality should be available to everyone – not just elites. His efforts made Paris into a world-class city for couture – rivaling London as the major textile center of Europe. And he was able to break from tradition by launching collections in public before they were shown in private at the salon. It’s almost as if he filtered his designs through the lens of fashion.

Elsa Schiaparelli
For the French designer Elsa Schiaparelli, fashion was more than just a way to express her creativity and eye for innovation. Her passion for fashion also had roots in her struggles as an artist in 1930s Paris when she discovered a shocking limitation on the amount of time that could be spent on designing each outfit. In order to find work during these times of turmoil, Elsa Schiaparelli was forced to churn out dresses with only 10 minutes of work per design which ended up feeling like hack jobs. That is when she had an idea- what if she combined her two passions? She began pairing artwork and paintings onto one-of-a-kind garments, starting with hats. Alongside this new project, Elsa Schiaparelli continued to produce innovative fashions by developing a signature technique called decoupages (cutting paper into shapes and then sticking them onto fabric). Though both paths were successful in their own right, it was never quite enough for the self-proclaimed creative type. When World War II broke out and food shortages occurred across Europe, Elsa Schiaparelli once again needed a creative outlet.

Rei Kawakubo
Named after the Japanese phrase meaning the emptiness of a balloon, Comme des Garçons was founded in 1969 by Kawakubo. Ever the boundary-pusher, Kawakubo often subverts clothing’s usual function with her design. For example, she wanted to make a traditional kimono from scratch and found it difficult to sew. She then made a two-piece garment out of jersey with a towel attached, achieving the desired look but showing what could be done when you do not sew. She also created dresses that were unwearable because they required their wearers to contort themselves into impossible positions. Her most famous collection is Body Meets Dress, which explores how people are shaped differently than clothes are cut.

Karl Lagerfeld
Known for his creativity, Karl Lagerfeld is a global icon. Lagerfeld created French fashion house Chanel in 1954, and has contributed to the design of haute couture with an irreverent and playful style that has defined luxury. His work spans a wide range of projects including designing costumes for films such as Titanic and Astonishing X-Men: The Gathering Storm, decorating hotel suites, hosting TV shows like The Fashion Game, and publishing books on art history.

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