Dear Shaded Viewers,

The question asked for many years has been, “can fashion be considered as art,” that is in terms of The Arts?

In the documentary “The First Monday in May,” made in 2016, which chronicles a year’s worth of preparations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York by Andrew Bolton for the Chinese-inspired fashion exhibit China: through the looking glass and the gala, fashion as art is centre stage. However, it’s clear that fashion isn’tserious or art, as far as the other gallery leaders and conservationists are concerned. On the other hand, museums like the Victoria & Albert in London see their fashion exhibitions as blockbuster ways to draw in crowds and revenue as with the recently closed sold out Chanel. Paris actually has a Musee de la Mode and there are other examples across the world. Yet it might be seen by those in other departments as “popularist. “

When Diana Vreeland proposed Yves Saint Laurent for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, the question of him still being alive was the problem; perhaps only dead fashion designers qualify to be “art”? I will return later to the subject of vintage, collectibles and the truly special through its age, rather than always creative merit.

I’m considering the question of fashion at it pinnacle as the topmost creative form as indeed “Art,” but that is not only what I’m thinking about right now. I’m wondering, since sales figures matter for the survival of a brand, label, or house, and also post the global pandemic, if there are other factors in the the appearance of the special in fashion. Add in unstable financial, political, sustainable and climate world conditions, and in fashion terms, the rise and promotion of interest in investment dressing. With a focus on buy less buy better, and the trend for understated chic, where does this leave the question of true creativity? The exploring of fashion as an expression of personal vision. The desire to step away from the obvious, the recognisable and the “normal,” whatever normal fashion is in 2024. There must be room for the invention and characteristics of a specific creative approach and attitude towards designing.

How does this work with the business right now, how do we react to fashion outside the mainstream of stories and looks? Most importantly who might be offering clothes that speak of an artistic imagination, an intensely personal signature.

I believe that the wonderful thing about extraordinarily creative clothes is they can function on a smaller scale, they can be local, or even culturally based and they can in this day and age, communicate directly with the clients. The ability to respond quickly, the ability to hear directly from those spending on the product is impossible for big names and houses, and in the same way that Haute Couture or Savile Row is about the client needs, so the truly creative fashion designer is in harmony with their client.

I celebrate a number of people who I regard as fashion artists, and just like art their clothes will have admirers and detractors. Our response to music, sculpture, painting dance or whatever art form it might be is emotive and personal, we may read the reviews but, in the end, we make up our own mind whether to part with our money or not. This is also completely true of what we wear and what makes us reach for our purse, phone, or wallet. Also, in the same way, as perhaps those who first purchased work by impressionists or surrealists, we like to think we’re in the know, finding them first, indeed in current terms being “an early adopter.”

These designers offer clothes which can work commercially, I believe at two levels, for the bolder, as top to toe looks and as a representation of the designer they’re in tune with, but also as pieces mixed in and added to the wardrobe to add, spice, sauce, and excitement.

So, in my list, who are these designers, are they all new, and what makes their pieces “works of art” rather than simply fashion? It’s by no means exhaustive or final, I would be very interested to hear of any fashion designers you believe are artists.

Kevin Germanier has flipped upcycling and deadstock on its head from worthy and thoughtful to exuberant and joyful. Where once sustainable and recycling had a slightly worthy and over serious aspect, we can also celebrate the effective use of unconventional materials with fun and glamour. Even recently the idea of a sustainable approach to disco, party, red carpet glamour and special rock chic fashion would have been unthinkable. Germanier throws us explosions of beading, and firework like creations in jubilant colours and all at full volume. The imagery is brilliant and the quietly spoken Swiss, ex Saint Martins designer is happy to dazzle us each season.

Rianna + Nina. Leading these two delightful women’s creativity is a fabric collage of opulence and charm which literally sweeps across all nations, all patterns and most of history. Florals to paisley, delicate sweet peas or huge hydrangeas, brocade, or mousseline, straight, severe, and simple shapes, or ballooning volume filled with air. It’s a treasure trove of colour and pattern and also a versatile bouquet of shapes and silhouettes. The pieces and the accessories are about a collectible approach to dresssing yet it’s never fancy dress and it is always perfectly pitched and balanced. Rianna and Nina play games with fabric, colour, and shape but the outcome is desirable, not tricksy or overpowering.

Ronald van der Kemp another advocat of upcycling and deadstock his collections balance on the tightrope between classic haute couture skills and the creativity of an artist. A seemingly simply dress will reveal a patchwork of textures, or details of unmatched fabric, or simply insertions to support the main fabric, but deployed with the skills of an engineer. Every season RVDK offers extraordinary pieces from seemingly flowerencrusted jackets which turn out to be hundreds of fabric twists, or a lace siren dress formed from several related black laces, or a crisp coat with a totally surprise detail half hidden in the collar and cuffs. An apparently ceremonial grand evening look will turn out not to be heavy, but featherweight and airy. It is couture magic, where the designer and his workroom team, by fashion alchemy turn dross into gold.

Comme des Garçons. Rei Kawakubo eschews the pretty and the normal and the obvious time and time again, but in her main catwalk collection she lets R.I.P. with extraordinary proportions and the wildest scales and concepts possible. It’s not for everyone and I have over the years observed potential climets rejecting even the ready to wear, too to toe as too extreme, and many people loving it in the abstract but never buying or wearing a piece. It’s “art gallery” worthy in its purest forms and often when viewed on mannequins at the showroom, almost looks more extraordinary than when physically paraded in a show. You either like, understand and get Comme, and Noir, Junya Watanabe, etc (all part of the group) or you don’t. “Uncompromising” is the Comme des Garçons attitude, which is certainly an artist’s approach to their work, Kawakubo and Picasso are visionaries.

Anna Molinari. Trawling through the trash, collecting the uncollectible, finding beauty in the dumpster is all in a day’s work for Anna. She transforms the most mundane into the spectacular with an eye and a skill of astonishing brilliance. Fancy a corset of bubble wrap, or dress made of thousands of can tags? Anna will not only make it but make it beautifully, with piped seams, strict lines, and a swoosh of the designer’s knowledge of proportion. Like any artist using found objects or creating collage Anna creates one off pieces that make the observer say” excuse me, but is that made of parcel wrapping?” And the answer is “yes.” Bravo Anna.

Viktor & Rolf Having seen collections by this Dutch dynamic duo which were based on, bells, the studio left over fabric samples, ball gowns that swivelled around the body and a show where the models were supportedby silk satin pilllows, it is no joke to say they’re different. Established in the fashion world through years of shows and their remarkably successful fragrances plus a wedding business, V & R take a huge amount of pleasure in surprising us, confusing us and delighting us. The latest “Scissorhands” collection where the first look was perfect and then each subsequent look was gradually scissored away is typical of their approach to fashion. During Covid 19 their film featured stay at home couture, and this. Says it all.

Duro Oluwu mixes pattern as though he is a couturier with brocades, crepes, satins, and other fabrics fashioned into soft dresses, or sharp tailoring. His attitude towards what he creates is pure and personal, his followers collect and cherish his pieces and this, exactly like art, is about the collector and the artist being in harmony and sympathy. His creative instincts on mixing and mismatching are pure and personal. It’s not about vast sales and critics accolades, it’s about creative integrity.

Yuima Nakazato

Every season I wait to see what new couture investigation this designer is going to offer us. From exploring ways of not using zips or buttons to fasten clothes through to new yarns made by spiders, his research, and his fascination with how to solve the problem of making modern, yet beautiful clothes, impels him forward. His vision is heightened by a combination of romanticism and theatricality that makes every season exciting. The constructions are often a mixture of simple and linear with complex and textured, his colour palette shifting from monochrome to dazzling, but over every season we, the audience marvel and the beauty of the looks, and the pieces creating those looks. He a couture artist with a truly individual vision.

Rahul Mishra. From the first moment I saw his clothes, from the first time I spoke to him, the soul of a creative was apparent. Mishra’s love for both nature; from flowers to insects and butterflies, through to the narrative of his homeland, and its crafts is clear and strong. The pieces may be fluid and airlessly light, floating around the wearer, or immense constructions of embroidery and layering, but the feelings of the creator are clearly in every piece. His colour sense and his interest in silhouette and shape offers a kaleidoscope of proportions from miniscule to massive, and from Liz ro short through to training yards behind the model. He offers almost simplistic household textiles in traditional patterns and colours, traceable back to his childhood and localised memories, or a Rajah like splendour in glittering metallics. Every piece speaks of a narrative wandering through his creative journey, and his passion and love for his chosen metier is clearly stated.

Matty Bovan is a designer whose personal creative integrity is amazing. I saw his first Fashion East runway appearance and it made me sit up and pay attention. The complexity and crafting within each piece are so personal and so identifiable as by Matty Bovan that it’s emotionally stirring to see his work, exactly like a work of art. If he’s outside the famous, or the big names it’s because he’s uncompromising in his fashion vision and the work is intensive. In February 2023 he told Vogue “My creative process is entirely driven by emotion”. Could there be a greater personal statement of how the art of fashion comes into being.

Walter van Beirendonk has always been a master of the extraordinary, a magician whose collections explode in the space leaving the audience enchanted. Although he has made both menswear and womenswear, it’salways been just WALT to me with amazing pieces which often riff on scale from minute to gigantic and with patterns often barely contained by the piece of clothing their adorning. Once again, his creative integrity to do it his way remains at the heart of his seasonal statements, and also to repeat something often said about the deeply personal and creative fashion designers, he bids you enter Planet WALT, and escape from the humdrum world of the day to day. A true fashion visionary.

Standing Ground produces linear, sculptural looks which look amazing both motionless as figures reminding us of Greek or Roman statues, when they move, they are likes robes, or sacrements hinting at some ritual. The details are often tone on tone and not immediately apparent, thus creating another layer of beauty. Like the legendary Madame Gres the linear beauty is closest to Brancusi or Modigliani in its extension of line, and the desire to create beauty without fuss. Timelessness is a weird concept in fashion, which is “supposed” to be about change and the current trend, is it possible that the art of dress isn’t about this? As exemplified by Michael Stewart, the designer, it seems this could be an idea and an exceptionally beautiful one.

Alexander Zdroyevski and Stan Clothing – founded by Tristan Detwiler, plunder vintage textiles, and reinvent them into wearable art. Their dexterity, and passion for transforming bundles of blankets, funny old bedspreads, and extraordinary pieces of what in other hands could be hideous creates “one off” collectibles that are literally unique and unrepeatable after they’ve used every inch of the fabric. The pieces fly off to their following and there are several others on Instagram whose one-off pieces, upcycling, and creative approach to plundering the useless or undervalued can create desire. Again, the impulse to buy, the falling in love with and the passion for a piece of clothing mirrors the art collectors modus operandi. I have to have it.

Out of established houses only two really come to mind, Thierry Mugler which was never about the real world but Planet Mugler, and Schiaparelli who worked so closely with artists and of course Surrealism. Today both houses have designers who work reflects the original handwriting of the founders. Casey Cadwalleder at Mugler offers both references to the houses signatures and moves it forward. It’s clear he uses the studios and workrooms, and the show production teams to enhance the vision, communicate the mood, and excite the audience. They are, and always were, clothes for an extremely specific client, and like all the names I mention, it’s either hate or love in the response to the work. Daniel Roseberry is the current designer at Schiaparelli, and he also had to cope with either no, or limited shows during the early part of his tenure due to Covid 19. He’s not only survived these difficulties he’s blossomed and thrived with shows which grab the headlines, with looks that shock, and ideas that at first look weird, odd, or even ugly. The audience at his last show demonstrated exactly how wrong those reactions are when guest after guest wore Schiaparelli by Roseberry, top to toe, couture and pret a porter and a huge amount of accessories. In the case of this house the accessories can make as much or a statement as a suit. It’s bold and brave and totally amazing and with the art argument, it’s clear all current Schiaparelli pieces are investment, and also beautiful as pieces to simply display when not being worn.

Please also note Pressiat, Lutz, Anrealage, Maniah Arora, Aelis, Franck Sorbier, Robert Wun, and many others working in diverse approaches to clothes which are more than a seasonal concept, more than just pieces. Thoughtfulness, rather than just bigger sales, underpinning the creative process. There are also wonderful examples to be discovered in designers at the LVMH Prize – young designer awards, HyèresInternational Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories and through following Sara Maino of Vogue Italia.

I could carry this list on, but I really only wanted to offer a few examples which support my argument and thoughts, once again it’s over to you to offer your thoughts, please.

So, vintage is my final observation for fashion as art. I always shock people when I confess, I’m not a lover of fashion exhibitions. Although I understand it’s impossible, I believe clothes should be worn and move, “dead” clothes in galleries often bore and depress me; although my exception is anything curated by Olivier Saillard, who has a wizardry of touch.

If vintage lends a special imprimatur to clothes, and often this goes hand in hand with the label, does this make it unwearable? Certainly not, but it does, at its best, require a very deep knowledge, investigative mind, and love on the part of the seller. Shrimpton Couture run by Cheri Balch is one hundred percent magic in her passionate research, her deep investigative process, and her sharing in detail both her knowledge, and the details of the pieces. Like any collector or dealer of fine porcelain or etchings she knows her stuff and it adds another layer to the vintage pieces. Kerry Taylor was once asked to date an early Victorian print in a television programme, when eventually the subject of the portrait was run to ground, Kerry was within one year of the date. That’s why she is so superb at her job, like much art from the past fashion isn’t always dated or indeed signed and vast knowledge and finely tuned instincts are essential. So once again art and fashion link in their skills, expertise and understanding.

The argument will never disappear, but I truly believe, right now, the art of dress is particularly important.

@anna.1 Anna Molinari




@stanclothing Tristan Detwiler


@standing_ground_   Michael Stewart

@babbym Matty Bovan












@shrimptoncouture   Cherie Balch






Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.