Two brief reasons explaining why I find it hard to consider fashion as art:
- Fashion is industrial, both in its reality and in its conceptualization. Fashion is about selling a product, and a vision. In Fashion Zeitgeist (2005), Barbara Vinken argues that fashion is the craft of the perfect moment; it’s about capturing it, sending it down the runway, and, later, selling it. Moreover, the process by which fashion arrives at this moment is reliant on a root capitalist ethic: the commodification of ideas. Fashion, generally unlike art, takes iconographical, cultural, artistic, and historical motifs and churns them into a product; every influence is bought and sold in fashion’s economy of ideas. Think of the fact that we have trends while art has ground shifting movements. Ephemera vs. substance; transience vs. intransigence. Just like the stock market, certain concepts and images of fashion rise and fall in relative value with the change of time. More concretely, a lot of things go out of fashion because they aren’t profitable. Art is different in that it is often defined as the manifestation of an original, personal idea. It’s extremely hard for fashion to reach this plane of originality. Moreover, for the notable few who do, the art distinction can be justified. But we must consider how small of section of the creative form they represent. I see it as elitist and myopic to hold such a select group—Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, for example—as the representation of a multi-billion dollar industry. This leads to another important idea: almost all clothes are implicated in the fashion process, informed by it in some way. And we can’t simply apply the “art” moniker to everything.
- Fashion is utilitarian, which contradicts Kant’s central philosophical premise about the nature of art, which is that it is non-utilitarian. No piece of fashion can escape its fundamental nature as a wearable piece of work. Even what we consider to be “unwearable” is likely wearable in extreme contexts. The “unwerable” is merely an exaggeration of the “wearable,” not a separate category of its own importance. Fashion serves a clear purpose: to clothe. Designers use this purpose as a base for other auxiliary purposes that tend to cloud our definition of the relationship between art and fashion. For example, a designer might create with a political intent in mind. But his or her medium ultimately falls back on the fact that it will be bought and sold and worn. Art is distinct in that its purpose isn’t a question of its viewer’s evaluation of its usefulness. Our use value for clothes is sourced in the fact that we wear them. “Artistic” deviations from this norm are nonetheless like all other deviations: no matter how far a designer may stray, the call of utility will always persist.. Art doesn’t have this defining utility. We can not use a canvas in the same way that we use a skirt. We can use art politically; we can use art for art’s sake; we can use art emotionally; we can use art to define ourselves as people. Art’s uniqueness makes it difficult to tie to any single purpose or ambition. Fashion will never achieve this level of amorphous origin.