Wearable art

While browsing the library recently, I came across a book called "The Fiberarts Book of Wearable Art."

It was published in 2003 and focusses on a group of clothing makers that it distinguishes as fine artists rather than fashion designers. The book details the rise of what it calls the 'art-to-wear' movement, which it sees as coming about in 1970s America, as part of a wider counterculture. There are some beautiful pieces of clothing in the book (it must be said, a lot of them are floor length woollen kimonos), certainly different from high street clothing in that they are painstakingly handmade from start to finish, including the hand woven fabrics.

I think this focuss on intensive craftsmanship and an unwillingness to sacrifice ideals for a fashion market can be found in many small ethical fashion houses today. Sustainable, high-end clothing brand Lu Flux purposefully draws attention to the intensive labour used to "produce luxurious garments that celebrate the romance of the rare ‘one-off.'"

The Lu Flux pieces themselves appear to be pieces of art. In the Autumn/Winter 2010 collection, they were presented as part of a fantastical installation.

Of course this labour of love is not just present in ethical fashion, but in many cutting edge, high end garment makers. Another creative London brand Agi & Sam, produce bespoke prints, fabrics and hand painted shoes.

One of the most beautiful pieces in the Fiberarts book is a coat called "Stillwater, Minnesota," woven and created by Tim Harding, who asks "can the artist ever break the barrier between art and life? ... Can the viewer ever be 'in' the work?" By making a landscape into a coat, he quite literally allows an individual human to step into his artwork.

This piece reminds me of the full-landscape digital prints I have seen around recently, on the internet and on the streets of London. This beautiful oceanic scene is from Sexy Sweaters

It's a simple idea, but very striking. The image certainly hits me with a breathtaking jolt. I would love to walk around in this small piece of churning blue sea. I wonder what the makers involved in the art-to-wear movement would think of this. I think they cherish the fully handmade aspect of their pieces, and might see the digital technology used here as cheating, or taking an unartistic short-cut.

Despite the intensive handiwork involved in the production process of art-to-wear, it is described in the book as a populist movement. The authors see art-to-wear as a way of making fine art something functional rather than remote. Art as clothing means that art is not "relegated to elite temples of culture" but is "an intimate part of everyday life."

Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2012 collection seemed entirely based upon the famous Vincent Van Gogh paintings, 'Starry Night' and 'Sunflowers,' bringing fine art out of the realm of untouchable and making it wearable (for those that can afford to buy from Rodarte). The fabrics were printed with images lifted directly from the paintings, and the colour palette of the collection was drawn from those well-known works.

One emphasis in the Fibrearts book is on control of the making process. The art-to-wear designers site the desire to "run their own show." This is part of what I enjoy about making my own clothes - I get to choose all the details of a garment, including the fabric. It has recently become possible to take this level of design control up a notch with accessible online digital textile printing bureaus such as spoonflower.

Spoonflower lets you upload any image and then purchase your image printed onto fabric. One art-loving Spoonflower user has in fact made Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' into a repeat print.

Perhaps it is a little bit clunky and lacking in panache compared with the Rodarte collection, but there it is, available for a novice seamstress to make their very own digitally printed piece of clothing.

In fact, a stranger has bought the Van Gogh fabric and used it to make their own skirt. (And I cannot but mention that this very same garment could be made using the DIYcouture 'How to make a pleated skirt' instructions!)

This is basically plonking a fine artist's - one of the canonical fine artists - piece of work on a garment! But this is not a crime - he is no longer with us on planet earth and copyright is not an issue - nor lacking in creativity, or perhaps the potential for it. Surely this must be able to be called art-to-wear!


  1. Hey, and there even is a van gogh sweater at sexy-sweaters.com :)
    I bought your diy-couture book and that´s how i discovered your blog. love them both. the way you describe making clothes in your book is exactly the way i teached myself sewing at the beginning.
    i also wrote a little book review on my blog.


    thanks so much for sharing all your knowledge!!!

  2. Hi Anne-

    Cool I haven't seen the Van Gogh sweater, I'll look it up : ) Thank you for your review, it's lovely. I'm truly glad to hear you are happy with the book. I look forward to keeping up with your blog posts.

    Best wishes-


  3. i looooove agy&sam. they always have amazing prints.


  4. Yep they do, and amazing photo shoots too : ). Love the images on your blog by the way : ) Rosie xx

  5. I just found good internet-shop for buying sexy sweaters http://fusion-store.com/en/shop/sexy-sweaters.html
    they have a lot of sweatshirt with interesting prints, I want all of them)))


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