high end art

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What is luxury? A fur coat, a silk Hermes scarf, a vintage Chanel 2.55, or a Guerlain lipstick? Or is luxury time, or even knowledge? Ultimately, everyone has their own version of luxury, but the V&A’s new exhibitionexplores the history of the subject and questions the traditional norms of what is usually thought of as luxurious. By collecting a highly curated selection of objects—from furniture made of human hair, to a classic Hermes saddle—the exhibition investigates the future of luxury through culture, economics, art, fashion and design.

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Below, BAZAAR talks with one of the curators, Leanne Wierzba.

HB: How do you define luxury in terms of fashion?

LW: In terms of fashion, we’re really looking at the motivations of the designer and also thinking about the investment, time and application of skills that’s involved in the production or making of an object. So, it would be difficult to say that any one type of material could be considered universally luxurious. One of the fashion designers we included in the exhibition that we think epitomizes luxury is Carol Christian Poell. He’s Austrian by birth but based in Milan and does menswear, primarily. What’s interesting about Carol is that, unlike most designers who begin with the fabric, he begins with the thread. He spends a lot of time and puts in a lot of research in developing textiles himself. He’s developed a textile that is 15% glass beads—they reflect light in a particular way. Another interesting thing about his work is that he doesn’t use lining. You can actual see all the internal seams. All though there’s a very raw aesthetic, it’s completely precise because the lining typically hides a lot of mistakes or other fabric that hasn’t really been dealt with.

HB: Which fashion objects throughout time have represented luxury?

LW: One of the objects we have in the exhibition is a 17th Venetian lace chasuble, of course used in the church. Another fashion example that we have in the exhibition is Iris Van Herpen’s work. What we think is interesting about her is her compulsion to innovate and collaborate. Most of her work is done collaboratively, people from different fields—architecture, industrial design, or music, and she is bringing in knowledge and expertise and disciplines from other industries and applying them to fashion. We have a Savile Row suit in the exhibition, but it’s actually a military uniform. We thought that was incredible that the object is so heavily codified and it has so much cultural meaning—that’s luxury as well.

Snuffbox, Jean Guillaume George Krueger, Berlin 1775-1780

HB: Can luxury be inexpensive?

LW: One of the increasingly recognized luxuries in busy cities like London is time. Regularly, when we speak to people about luxury they say time is their biggest luxury. Time for yourself, time to spend with loved ones and family, and also time to develop knowledge and to become a connoisseur of luxury.

HB: Does sustainability play into luxury?

LW: One of the resources that will continue to grow will be human hair. In the exhibition, we have a project where they’ve created furniture and accessories using human hair, and resin. They’re quite beautiful, but once you look closely and realize its human hair, people are quite disturbed by that—which is interesting, because there’s a huge global hair trade at the moment. Having it re-contextualized as furniture is a really strong statement.

HB: What does the future of luxury fashion look like?

LW: It’s really tied up in supply chains and thinking of production. That’s really the focus of the exhibition. I think the supply chain will have to be more adapted to resolve ecological and ethical issues related to current fashion models. We agree that the future of fashion, especially pertaining to luxury is about small batch production and imbuing the kind of objects you’re creating with meaning and intention. Something that you would really want to invest in, value and hold on to. Luxury is something you’d want to repair rather than discard and replace.

What is Luxury is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum from April 25th-September 27thand is in partnership with the Crafts Council and sponsored by Northacre.

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What has become of the traditional fashion trend, now that fashion seasons have multiplied and blurred into an almost constant stream of ‘newness’ and an Instagram post can make a look go viral overnight?

LONDON, United Kingdom — In 1937, the English author, critic, curator and fashion historian James Laver drew up a rudimentary timeline of how trends evolve. According to Laver’s Law, when a trend is in fashion, it is ‘smart.’ One year before this it is ‘daring.’ And 20 years later, it becomes ‘ridiculous.’ 50 years, Laver said, was how long it took for a trend to begin to creep back into style.

For years, Laver’s Law made sense. And though the pace of the fashion industry picked up rapidly throughout the twentieth century with the growing mass production of clothing, trends maintained their relatively long and predictable life cycles. Each season, fashion forecasting houses released hefty books containing their predictions on which styles and fabrics would come ‘in’ in future seasons. Designers and brands worked with these bibles and brought their contents to life for consumers when the clothes hit stores a few years — literally, years — later. In this business of books, assessing trends so far in advance and publishing them in hard copy kept the turnover of new styles to a steady, seasonal pace.

How things have changed.

Social media dictates trends today. The trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly.

“Today, the idea of a bunch people sitting in a room and deciding what the colours are going to be in two years’ time or what materials are going to be used in three years’ time is a complete nonsense,” said Marc Worth. In 1997, Worth and his brother Julian founded Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), the trend-forecasting service whose clients today include Coach, Kate Spade, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.

While some of the traditional fashion forecasting houses, such as Paris-based Peclers, still issue their seasonal tomes, Worth believes today’s fashion cycle requires a different approach to understanding trends. “As things have evolved, we’ve moved into the four-season approach, then into drops and the whole nature of forecasting, I think, has gone out of the window.”

In 2005, Worth sold WGSN to British media company eMap for £140 million and, last year, launched the fashion division of Stylus, a service which offers creative research and advice to businesses, but does not, he insists, forecast trends. “We don’t forecast, we don’t predict. We provide inspirations for creatives to create trends; we track trends as they evolve, but we’re not forecasters in the traditional sense,” he said. “Social media dictates trends today. The trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly.”

Indeed, James Laver could not have predicted that the fashion industry would break loose from its traditional, stately bi-annual cycle, moving towards something that, at some retailers, has begun to more closely resemble a feed of constant product drops. Driven by the Internet, media, too, has dramatically sped up, serving up a stream of new fashion trends all day, every day.

Today, trends are born and die within an infinitely faster and more turbulent environment, in which brands, celebrities, magazines, bloggers and end consumers on social media all jostle for influence over what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion.

“Social media has absolutely, totally changed the trends landscape,” said Ruth Chapple, head of content at Stylus Fashion. “It’s making some trends stick, while long ago we would have been over them more quickly. The Valentino rock stud, which everyone expected to be a one-season wonder, has been going strong for eight seasons,” she said. “The death of the stud was forecast long ago, but that was very much a social media trend, where the bloggers made that trend stick.” On the other hand, digital media can quickly overexpose a trend, and kill its ‘edge’. “TheKenzo tiger sweatshirt,” Chapple recalled. “Over and done with in a month.”

“The word ‘trend’ is a little bit like the word ‘luxury’ — nobody really knows what it is anymore, where it starts, where it ends,” said Pierre-François Le Louët, president of Paris-based trend forecasting agency NellyRodi.

Like Marc Worth, Le Louët claims his trend forecasting firm is not in the business of predicting trends, which, he says, are plain to see on social media and often prove to be very short-lived. Rather, NellyRodi uses its network of representatives in 18 countries to track the trends happening on the ground in different markets, and then help clients pluck out of the vast array of things ‘trending’ at any one time the specific trends that will work for their brand, in their chosen markets.

“You don’t sell the product of the season that well anymore,” he said. “The most important thing is to work on your brand identity, who you are, how you differentiate from your competitors. Trends are tools that might help you convince your clients how you and your brand understand how the world changes.”

Anne Lise Kjaer, founder of trend management consultancy Kjaer Global, which counts Gap, Swarovski and La Perla amongst its clients, also takes a holistic approach to trends. “A trend is a tipping point, from when a few people are doing it to when many people are doing it. ‘Trendy’ trends, as such, are unsustainable and short-lived. We don’t even look at those,” she said. “More than going to a shop and having a look, you find someone you follow on Instagram or a blog. It becomes a lifestyle rather than a trend. We’re moving from being trend-focused to lifestyle-focused… Some trends turn out to be short-lived, whereas others continue to evolve as they are more about lifestyle choices and style, rather than conspicuous consumption.”

In a sense, the role of today’s trend analysts is comparable to panning for gold. The abundance of ‘trending’ content and the loss of a single, authoritative source that predicts and starts trends have created a serious need for a filter. Brands turn to trend analysts to trawl through this overload of information and find the real treasure; that is, the trends that will work for their brand, the trends that have staying power, and the trends that can be leveraged in specific markets and with specific consumer demographics.

“Brands and retailers have just had to get savvier in how they process information about trends in order to understand which are the macro-trends and identify micro-trends in time to react,” said Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst at Editd, a data-driven fashion analytics platform. “Our customers use trend analysis at every stage of a product life cycle. From designers who are analysing which colours have performed best in retail, or which sleeve shapes continually see discounting, through to buying and merchandising, where trend analysis forms a critical part of every decision around pricing, depth of buy, timing within a season and replenishment.”

“It’s about helping people decide what they should be purchasing and buying at the same time. You need a lot of information at your fingertips,” reasoned Catriona Macnab, chief creative officer at WGSN, which, like NellyRodi and Stylus, uses intelligence from local teams around the world to give clients advice on what’s trending — and what is likely to trend — in specific markets.

On the high street, some of the biggest and most successful brands have built their business models around the ever-increasing speed and volatility of trends coupled to consumer demand for constant newness: it’s less about forecasting and more about responsiveness.

Zara’s highly responsive, vertically-integrated, data-driven business model has made it one of the most agile fashion brands in the world, taking just two weeks to take a product from design studio to its stores, which feature over 10,000 new designs per year. Topshop drops new items every day.

“They have to be able to react faster, they have to be able to keep up with trends and there aren’t many that are able to do so,” said Marc Worth. “People like Topshop can, people like Inditex (which owns Zara) are able to, but the behemoths like Marks & Spencer still struggle to because of the manufacturing and supply chain process.”

Ruth Chapple concurs: “It boils down to speed to market.”

“I think the biggest change has come in high end fashion,” said Alice Fisher, a commissioning editor and style correspondent for The Guardian newspaper’s Observer Magazine. “It’s something I always ask designers about when I meet them because I’m fascinated by how their workload must have changed with the promotion of pre-collection, resort, capsule collections, special collaborations, etcetera.”

Luxury brands, largely still bound to the anachronistic cycle of seasonal runway shows, are forced into a balancing act when it comes to trends, releasing major new styles at the pace of the traditional fashion calendar, while keeping their brand looking fresh between seasons with additional lines, products and digital content.

“Some — like Raf Simons — love it because they always have new ideas and relish the pace,” said Fisher. “Others say it’s really relentless.”

Moschino show, Autumn Winter 2014, Milan Fashion Week, Italy - 20 Feb 2014

 Warhol’s 1962 work Campbell’s Soup Cans

Warhol’s 1962 work Campbell’s Soup Cans (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation/ARS, NY/Licensed by Campbell’s Soup Co. All rights reserved)

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans was mocked when first exhibited – but the work went on to have a lasting impact not only on the history of art, but on the way we dress, writes Sara McCorquodale.

However, this unpopularity didn’t last. Irving Blum, owner of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles where the work was first shown, realised the 32 paintings of the piece had to be kept together rather than sold off individually as intended. This made it different; it made it a statement. The work seemed to speak of the spirit of a new America, one that thoroughly embraced the consumer culture of the new decade. Before the end of the year Campbell’s Soup Cans was so on-trend that Manhattan socialites were wearing soup can-printed dresses to high-society events.

These days the piece influences collections by fashion houses in Paris, London, Milan and New York every season: from the Pop art palette of Chanel’s spring/summer 2014 show to Prada’s graphic prints the same year, to everything Jeremy Scott has sent down the catwalk since becoming creative director of Moschino in 2013. As far as the fashion industry is concerned, referencing this particular Warhol is a sartorial statement worth making.

Now, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is exhibiting the Campbell’s Soup Cans in a manner that confirms its ongoing relevance. It is being displayed exactly as it was for its debut show: in a continuous line across five walls, as opposed to the grid-like structure in which it has often been shown. This has only happened four times previously – and never before at MoMA. In addition, the frames and Perspex surrounding each piece have been removed to allow visitors even closer scrutiny.

“It’s kind of amazing to see it like this – you realise how major it is,” says the curator of the exhibition, Starr Figura. “The paintings are all exactly the same except for the name of the soup. You realise how methodical Warhol must have been to work in such a mechanical, repetitive way.”

Campbell’s Soup Cans was the breakout piece that gained Warhol widespread fame after spending most of the 1950s working as a graphic artist in advertising.

“It was about produce being plentiful and industrial fabrication; great prosperity and convenience,” says Figura. “He figured out what American culture in the 1960s was before anyone else.”

Supermarket sweep

In 1962 Warhol became one of the first Pop artists to turn his work into fashion items when he began printing this design onto dresses. “These weren’t sold commercially,” says Alistair O’Neill, a Senior Research Fellow at London art school Central St Martin’s, “but were made as one-offs for New York society women who wore them to gallery openings.” Wearing one of Warhol’s very first Campbell’s can dresses, which were printed on paper, was a sign you were part of a very exclusive club – an ironic inversion of the mass-produced consumer item.

Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage the popularity of Warhol’s work

 

Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage of the popularity of Warhol’s work and created the Souper Dress, a paper garment featuring the iconic print (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation)

 

This exclusivity was short-lived: in 1965 Campbell’s took advantage of its new cult fashion status and produced the Souper Dress. It was made from paper and could be bought by anyone who sent $1 and two Campbell’s soup can labels to the company. These days, a ‘Souper dress’ fetches approximately £5,000 ($7,500).

The impact of doing fashion the Warhol – and later the Campbell’s – way had a ripple effect on the rest of the industry. Dr Hazel Clark, head of fashion and design at Parsons Design School in New York, says: “The Souper Dress certainly led the way in mainstream fashion for cheap Pop art printed dresses.” After wartime austerity, when clothes were sturdy luxuries created to endure, the dress also changed how women thought about shopping.

“It tapped into progressive design ideas about the disposability of consumer products,” says O’Neill. “That you could literally wear the dress and then throw it away.”

Warhol’s influence seeped into the mass-market fashion and not just in the US. British boutiques Biba and Mr Freedom began commissioning Pop art-printed dresses and t-shirts in the 1970s to sell to the style-conscious public and outfit icons such as Twiggy, Mick Jagger and Jean Shrimpton.

Then, the artist’s prints were made catwalk-worthy in the 1980s by his friend, designer Stephen Sprouse, while Jean Charles de Castelbajac included his own Campbell’s Soup Can dress for his 1984 Spring/Summer collection.

Warhol’s 1967 series Marilyn Monroe has also inspired fashion designers

 

Warhol’s series Marilyn Monroe has also inspired fashion designers such as Gianni Versace, who riffed on it in his 1991 Pop art collection (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation/ARS)

 

However, it was Gianni Versace’s 1991 Pop art collection featuring a jewel-encrusted version of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints that truly made the artist synonymous with high fashion. Modeled by Linda Evangelista, it encapsulated the sexy, daring aesthetic that defined ’90s fashion and is seen as so important that it is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

More recently, Prada’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection was dominated by graphic faces in primary colours, and Céline abandoned its signature colour-blocking for a line of loud prints in the same season.

Pop goes the catwalk

So what is it about Campbell’s Soup Cans that continually inspires fashion? Designer Philip Colbert has a few ideas. Founder of label The Rodnik Band, he was anointed the “godson of Andy Warhol” by André Leon Talley – a high-profile editor for US Vogue – for his bold collections which heavily reference the artist’s work. “Fashion loves to dip into art and big fashion houses look for a new artistic theme every season,” he says. “However, referencing Warhol is about more than just the art itself – the art is symbolic of an incredibly glamorous era. Studio 54, New York, excess, style. It is a very powerful message.”

O’Neill believes we still want Warhol-influenced designs because Pop art communicates something we recognise and understand. It takes something traditionally consumerist and reassuringly familiar, but presents it compellingly in a high fashion context. Take Moschino’s Autumn/Winter 2014 show. Inspired by fast food restaurants, it was knowingly witty – no one wants to wear an actual McDonald’s uniform or logo but you’d consider Jeremy Scott’s better cut, distinctly similar versions.

Like Warhol, Jeremy Scott has celebrated symbols of consumer culture

 

Like Warhol, Jeremy Scott has celebrated symbols of consumer culture. His Autumn/Winter 2014 womenswear collection for Moschino took cues from fast food (Credit: Rex)

 

“One of the reasons the work of Jeremy Scott for Moschino is so popular in our age of digital fashion is because of the motifs it draws upon,” says O’Neill. “Barbie dolls, McDonalds and M&Ms are visual icons of popular culture with a high visual impact.” He adds that the use of these logos and motifs is readily informed by Warhol’s experiments made over 40 years ago.”

Figura thinks that Warhol’s soup cans are still representative of something essential about Western culture and therefore resonate with us decades after they were created. “Consumer goods are our culture and the idea of reproduction and repetition is even more prescient in this digital age – it’s like something a designer would do on Photoshop now,” she says.

So, if you have graphic prints in primary colours or fast fashion in your wardrobe, their inspiration is rooted in an artwork created 54 years ago. Does this make Warhol the most far-seeing, most referenced artist of consumerist culture ever? Not necessarily.

Figura believes Warhol’s background in advertising informed ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’. The piece was a canny move, not just a eureka moment. “He knew how to find the next thing that would grab people,” she says. “He had instinct and incredible talent, but he was also trained.”

Regardless of where his inspiration came from or what propelled him to paint the piece, one thing is certain – it’s influence remains strong and there is still an appetite for Pop art-style clothing. The latest evidence? Rita Ora’s selfie of her modeling Warhol-esque printed pieces by Au Jour Le Jour earlier this month. It was liked by 101,000 people.

“Campbell’s Soup Cans still speaks to us because it still says something about the world now,” says Figura. “Warhol had an eye for this – you can’t help but be compelled by it.”