A lesson in elegance

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Picture credit: Irwin Crosthwait print, Gray MCA

What is the relationship between art and fashion? Harvey Nichols posed the question and an elite panel debated the answer. Legendary fashion journalist, Colin McDowell; designer, Roksanda Ilincic; Tate Modern curator, Flavia Frigeri; Rodial skincare founder, Maria Hatzistefanis; and super-stylist Bay Garnett offered their views and also posed some interesting questions of their own.

Can clothes be art? Inevitably, Alexander McQueen and the Savage Beauty show was mentioned – yes, it was a wonderful and sculptural tribute to a genius but did it obscure the fact that clothes are for wearing (a point made poignantly by Somerset House’s 2014 show of Isabella Blow’s McQueen wardrobe, pock-marked with moth holes and cigarette burns)?

Where do designers and stylists get their inspiration? Art is just one element of the cultural mix that creatives draw on. Movies, vintage fashion and magazines, music, markets all contribute something, and then of course there is Instagram. It is certainly one source of images and ideas, but not necessarily one that pushes thinking forward. It can help to “ground” designers to ensure that their work remains commercial but the constant stream can be overwhelming. So sometimes the gorgeous, glossy printed page is not just an indulgence but a necessary antidote.

So are we seeing a trend back towards fashion illustration? I, for one do hope we are. I visited Gray MCA’s recent show of Irwin ‘Bud’ Crosthwait’s work. Crosthwait’s career was remarkably varied. Although he ended his career as an abstract artist, he started out as official War Artist to the Royal Canadian Navy before becoming the favoured fashion illustrator for some of the greatest couturiers – Balenciaga, Givenchy, Ungaro and Courreges.   His skills, training and wartime experience enabled him to work quickly and capture a mood with an economy of line and lightness that still conveyed the beauty and glamour of the clothes. The illustrations feel languorous; his women wear their beauty and elegance lightly but with a slight Hitchcock-heroine air of intrigue.

It was the perfect and eloquent expression of how fashion meets art.

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