Commentary: Fashion has value as art

Aug 5, 2016

Nancy Kranzberg

Even if you are not one to know much about high fashion--haute couture, you most likely have heard of Coco Channel, Oscar de la Renta or Pierre Cardin.

The St. Louis History Museum has a fabulous exhibition entitled, "Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night.” The exhibition includes dresses by all three of these designers and much more.

According to Shannon Meyer, curator of the exhibition, "The Missouri Historical Society houses a large and diverse clothing and textile collection of nearly eighteen thousand pieces of men's, women's and children's clothing, accessories and household textiles ranging from the late eighteenth century to the present. The Society's primary collecting focus is on items made and worn by St. Louisans." She uses these items in the exhibition and even did an exhibition a few years back on ladies’ undergarments.

Everywhere I turn high fashion is on the front burner and as usual, St. Louis is in the limelight. An article in the Arts and Education Council's recent publication, "Happenings" talks about St. Louis's new fashion incubator, "The Fashion Fund." The St. Louis Fashion Fund will house six nationally selected emerging fashion designers, giving them access to a design library, photography studio and workspace during a one to two year program taught by local university faculty and industry professionals. The program will focus on teaching the business acumen required for designers to launch their own lines in addition to developing industry and manufacturing expertise. The St. Louis Fashion Incubator will also offer collaborative workstations for local designers and community outreach events to build local interest in the fashion industry.

And St. Louis Magazine describes Eric Johnson, the new director of the Fashion Fund as a Clark Kent look-alike whose expectations are sky high. After an eight year stint in New York City, the Princeton grad is aiming to elevate the fashion industry in his hometown. Along the way, he'll likely draw from connections developed at his last job, as the New York Economic Development Corporation's vice president for fashion and arts. Still, he insists, the focus will remain local." I want to make sure this is about St. Louis," he says." This is not about having a New York perspective transplanted onto St. Louis."

Debra Bass of the Post Dispatch talks about one of St. Louis' latest art galleries run by Susan Barrett and Dorte Probstein. The new Projects+Gallery, in its first exhibition, presented the art of fashion that is not clothing. Bass says, "It's clothing, although most people would consider it unwearable. It's fashion, but not intended to inspire or reflect any trends. But can expert craftsmanship and an avant-garde design convince art collectors that something resembling a dress is worthy of a work of art?" I think so.

Lisa Melandri, the executive director of the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis and Susan Barrett talked about the recent Nick Cave exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum. They said that Cave has a background in fashion that led to his series of "Soundsuits," beautiful and wildly elaborate sculptural works that were fit to a body and intended to be worn in performance art, but aren't really considered fashion.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has done it again in its "China: Through the Looking Glass." lt beat attendance records and extended the exhibition dates and was open until midnight. It even surpassed the incredible late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen's, "Savage Beauty" attendance records. It was a gorgeous looking exhibition with fashion juxtaposed against the antiquities.

And of course with the passing of David Bowie and Prince this year, article after article has been written about their elaborate costuming and sense of fashion. In a special fashion issue of the "Palm Springs Life" magazine, editor Kent Black says, "Bowie was always changing personas, getting so far ahead, it seemed like it took the rest of the music and fashion industries years to catch up. In the time following Bowie's passing, it has been interesting to see that almost as much is being written about his influence on the fashion industry as that of music. In assessing his fashion legacy, The New York Times quoted designer Dries Van Noten who said, "He opened the great big gates to our future and sparked in us that creativity that proves vital even to this day."

And back home again young Yvonne Osei, a Washington University grad student, has been chosen to head up the 2017 Kranzberg Exhibition Series at Laumeier Sculpture Park. She is a fashion design artist who fuses conceptual art with fashion by using video, photography and performance art.

You don't need to be a fashionista to enjoy the world of fashion in its many guises right here in St. Louis.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.