For a long time, Art and Fashion have been intertwined as different but related creative fields. We discuss some instances of fashion, art, the by-product of their fusions in culture, the role of subculture fashion to mainstream fashion culture, and elements of African fashion culture.
• Fashion designers and artists collaborate outside their comfort zones to create mediums for rich conversation.
• Subculture fashion staples tend to influence mainstream fashion culture over time.
• African fashion culture varies according to region, and maintains a few consistencies.
Fashion, can be conceptualised as something that is popular among a group of people whilst culture, is a way of life shared by a group of people. Culture and Fashion naturally overlap where Fashion can be an expression of culture or a culture in and of itself. African fashion culture is known to most people for its diverse mix of textiles but it is also representative of the diversity of African culture – each tribe has its own culture and fashion, often marked by a unique textile. Likewise, in western societies, subcultural or minority groups, often use fashion to express these ideals – Think of the punks with their style of bricolage dressing or of polo tees at a country club or orthodox Jews. Fashion in these cases is also representative of particular cultures but is marked by more style rather than just particular items.
The Fashion – Art – Culture Connection
Clothes and how we style them are tools with which we can express our individuality. In a group or social setting, we often use fashion and culture as a way of connecting with other like minded individuals. Similarly, art can be an object attached with emotions either through the work of an artist or a social activity. Fashion is a tool we use to express our inner feelings through the clothes we wear.
When art and fashion combine, they can become a topic of deep and stimulating conversation. Art urges fashion designers to engage with unusual techniques and processes, and incorporate them into their design process for the human body. Whilst fashion designers in turn can introduce new audiences to art.
Art and Fashion
From Elsa Schiaparelli’s Lobster Dress inspired by Salvador Dali in 1937, to the Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse collaboration in 2001. Designers have sought out artists to derive elements from their art that inspire them, which they believe can be a source of inspiration to the consumer, or enhance the fashion experience.
The 2002 collaboration of Louis Vuitton with Takashi Murakami to create bags, shoes, and accessories, was typified by cartoon cherries, and rainbow monograms on contrasting backgrounds. Murakami’s work, which is heavily inspired by Japanese pop culture and anime, provided the perfect dose of new and pop into the historical Louis Vuitton brand. This collaboration, like the earlier LV x Stephen Sprouse collection introduced new audiences to both artists and brands alike, broadening the exposure of culture to new people.
Inspired by Comme des Garcons SS1997 collection “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” (later referred to as the “lumps and bumps” show), Merce Cunningham choreographed a performance inspired by these oddly shaped clothes that restricted movement. Neither fashion designer nor dancers saw each others work in progress and the actual performance was the first time both parties interacted with each other. The resulting performance thus was one which embraced a process of chance. Because of the bulbous shapes which distended the performers’ bodies, some dancers remarked how the had to adapt their movements to the clothes.
The Comme des Garcons/Merce Cunningham collaboration is an example of how fashion and art can combine to produce exciting new art that pushes the boundaries of each field into new directions.
African Fashion Culture: Its Role
There isn’t a singular African fashion culture, rather, there’s a wide array of culture and fashion across Africa’s regions. There’s a diversity of traditional textiles eg Kente (Ghana), Kikoi (Kenya), Adire (Nigeria), Boubou (Senegal), Akwete (Nigeria), that employ decorative motifs woven into the fabric. The Kente garment traditionally is a display of its wearer’s wealth and royalty.
It is an interwoven cloth made from silk and cotton fabric. Adire—adi (to tie) and re (to dye)— is an indigo-dyed cloth, decorated with resist patterns. Modern Adire accommodates an array of dye shades and hues, and is generally casual wear.
Diversities considered, one consistency in the fashion culture of different countries is western attire in urban areas. Western attire has been the dress code in official settings since colonial times. As a result, contemporary designers often incorporate traditional textiles in western styles. It is important to note that fashion culture in Africa is more couture than ready-to-wear, almost everyone seems to have a tailor. Bespoke clothing made from traditional textiles for occasions, or regular use, is a unique element of African fashion culture.
Subculture Fashion and Society
Subcultures are groups that have habits such as style that are resistant to mainstream acceptance. Subcultural group identities are often avenues of rebellion, reinforced through specific fashion and music tastes. Examples of subcultures and their fashion staples are; Punk and distressed jeans, Hip-hop and sneakers/tracksuits, skateboarders and vans/all-stars, Grunge and flannel shirts, etc.
When a subculture’s ideals creep into the general consciousness, society often becomes infatuated by it. The mainstream culture adopts these fashion staples, typically out of a liking of aesthetic, and less as a symbol of rebellion. Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent championed subcultures like Rock, Goth, Punk, and Ska, incorporating their staple items on Parisian runways. In this way, large fashion brands are sometimes accused of cultural appropriation or inauthenticity, afterall, how many punk fans can afford thousand dollar luxury jackets made in Paris?
U.Mi-1 Is Art and Culture
U.Mi-1 isn’t just interested in appropriating aesthetics but in creating modern garments that celebrate and properly represent the brand’s multi-cultural heritage. At U.Mi-1, our collections feature designs that are heavily inspired not just by current art and culture but equally focused on remembering our Nigerian heritage.
We employ traditional handwoven fabrics such as Adire and Aso-oke, which is prominent in the Mood Indigo and Revellers collections. These fabrics are designed by Nigerian artists and made by local artisans, combined with our creative director’s exceptional pattern cuttern skills and eye for Japanese Minimalism, U.Mi-1 creates modern fashion inspired by Art and respectful of culture.
Culture and Fashion: What’s Next?
Culture and fashion are like two sides of the same coin, there isn’t any culture that doesn’t clothe themselves in some way. And fashion continues to be influenced by changes in culture.
Even groups who rebel against culture or fashion, inevitably express themselves through some sort of subcultural fashion. Fashion plays a big role in fostering freedom of expression, because habitually, before we speak, we dress.