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Throw off the cloak of snobbery and treat fashion like a serious art form | Fashion

Throw off the cloak of snobbery and treat fashion like a serious art form |  Fashion


When I read or hear the word dress, my heart sinks and my hairs stand up: when will fashion be taken seriously? As the most powerful form of nonverbal communication, clothing tells us a lot about people, from their profession to their religion to their indigenous heritage. The now thriving academic discipline of fashion studies emerged from the schools of anthropology, ethnography, sociology, philosophy, conservation and art history. The first postgraduate course in the history of dress was established in 1965 at the Courtauld Institute, a bastion of the art establishment, to enable curators and art historians to date paintings and accurately describe the clothes depicted there. Unfortunately, many of them continue to be wrong.

Jonathan Jones's review of the Sargent exhibition at Tate Britain (Sargent and Fashion review tragi-comic travesty is a frock horror, February 20) was typical of the snobbish and dismissive attitude often adopted towards anything that touches fashion, including the multi-trillion dollar fashion industry. , for better or worse, ranks among the largest in the global economy, a fact rarely recognized. If it were called clothing manufacturing rather than fashion, a complicated word loaded with negative connotations, it might be.

Museums like the V&A and the Tate know well the drawing power of fashion exhibitions and can hardly be blamed, in their current difficult circumstances, for wanting to capitalize on it: last Thursday the Tate exhibition was full bursting at the seams, demonstrating the level of public interest. However, the exhibition is much more than just a ticket sales exercise. Sargent was a great painter who had an affinity for clothing and fabrics, like Drer, Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velzquez, Gainsborough and Lawrence before him, and traces of their influence resonate in his work.

Whatever distress caused Jones by the lighting, wall colors and poorly placed display cases, it is indeed very rare to see clothes displayed alongside the paintings in which they are depicted, and a particular joy to see these same clothes interpreted. onto the canvas with Sargent's consummate skill and aesthetic judgment. Some of the dresses on display are by Charles Worth, the most prestigious couturier in Paris (no designer, the word had not been invented at the time). Compared to these, Ellen Terry's stage costume of Lady Macbeth adorned with beetle wings (costume is the term for clothing worn for performance, not clothing worn in daily life) had the It looked dull and lifeless, but shimmered in the radiant, vibrant colors of Sargent's portrait. a testimony to his quality as an artist.

Yes, some of the objects on display to accompany a painting seemed arbitrarily helicoptered, like the top hat Jones mentions in his review, but this is not an exhibition about historical millinery as he says, but of 'an exhibition which offers a new approach to a painting. brilliant and prolific artist, as was the National Portrait Gallery's 2015 exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends. This generous and sumptuous body of work by Sargent tells us a lot about class, society and fashion in the end of the 19th century, a time of great privilege for some, before the imminent breakdown of war. As the historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote in his book Sartor Resartus (1831), one of the first to approach the importance of clothing with a degree of seriousness: Clothes, as despicable as we thought them , are of indescribable importance.
Cally Blackman

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