Carolina Herrera, who knows a thing or two on the subject, observed that, “The difference between fashion and art is that fashion is art in movement.”
Beginning this month, the Phoenix Art Museum stops that movement and allows us to get a good look at the parallels between high fashion and visual arts such as painting, sculpture and prints. The exhibition, Collective Inspiration, juxtaposes items of clothing from the museum’s fashion collection with art pieces that are related in some way. Sometimes it’s the artist’s process that ties the two together.
As an example, Helen Jean, the museum’s Jacquie Dorrance Curator of Fashion Design, mentions one of the pairings from the exhibition. “We have a blue silk velvet jacket from Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo paired with a Louis Comfort Tiffany vase. The conversation between those two is actually the ingenuity and chemistry behind creating the colors. Both of these artists were very involved in the process. They each came up with their own secret ingredients and recipes that we don’t know. No one’s been able to re-create it the same way.”
Some of the fashion pieces in the show are from designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, whose labels continue to produce high fashion. Other garments are from craftsmen and women whose names are lost to time. “I was able to include the oldest object that we have in the fashion collection — a pair of gloves from about 1640 that are adorned with handmade wire lace,” notes Jean. “It’s so delicate, and the gloves are in pristine condition. That’s being paired with an 18th century portrait that has the most exquisite lace leaves that have been captured by the artist.”
The goal of the exhibition is to encourage visitors to think about how what they see coming down the catwalk for Valentino’s newest collection is related to art that would be on display at a museum. But it’s also to help people see how fashion is intricately interwoven with the history of mankind, finances being just one way.
“You can liquidate [a wardrobe piece] if you need to,” Jean points out about the value of garments. “You can pack it up and get out of town if you’re being invaded; you can give it as a gift to help seed the life of a young couple after they get married. Textiles and fabric have, for a long time, been repositories of wealth.”
The exhibition will run through May 2, 2021.