FASHION ARTEFACTS AND UNWEARABLE GARMENTS : FASHION AS A LANGUAGE TO CREATE NON-FUNCTIONAL PIECES

‘Artists who design clothes as works of art are not interested in the utilitarian or commercial aspects of this activity. Some of these artists deliberately create dresses that cannot be worn. Alternatively, some fashion designers have become artists and prefer to exhibit works that are unique in galleries and museums instead of creating fashion collections’ [1] (Geczy, 2012:101)

If we look at fashion as visual culture, as a technique and language in its own right, it can be subverted and its codes used to create something else. Unlike the incorporation of found or sourced garments, objets trouvés, into artwork, somebody (artist, designer or craftsperson) who has studied the techniques and systems of fashion can create original pieces that are not meant to be worn but fashion nonetheless. [2]

Examples of this can be found in artists work, but also from contemporary designers who wish to explore new fields, frustrated by the restrictions of the traditional fashion system. The acceptance of and interest in fashion as a form of visual culture is on the rise, with new research on the subject and new fields of study in higher education. The London College of Fashion offers the MA course 'Fashion Artefact', which does not restrict itself to items of clothing, but produces accessories for body parts that were previously undecorated, 'poetic' product design, extensions for the body and several objects with no apparent function except that they transmit an emotion passed from the maker to the observer.[3]

It seems like, with the simultaneous trends of minimalism and functionality in one camp and exuberant spectacle in the other, people are longing for a middle ground, whilst drawing from the past and the future.

While purely decorative items meant to please simply by being looked at, proudly displayed in the home, were commonplace not too long ago, the trend of modern living is now leaning towards minimalism, carefully chosen and curated items. After decades of blind consumerism, society urges for more awareness and purpose in what people buy. A certain pressure is felt to evaluate each purchase carefully, not buying on impulse.

This whole evaluation and sensibility seems counter-intuitive, since designers, whose job is essentially to create desire, need to defend and justify their products more and more. Short of rational arguments, they create newness, desire and emotion. They create objects that are the physical translation of a story.

In the end, over centuries people have acquired dresses they knew they did not fit in, shoes that hurt and impractical handbags, simply because they wanted them. It is the same as with souvenirs from abroad, some rare find in an antiques shop or at a flea market. While the item in question might not be truly rare or unique, it is to the new owner, eternally linked to a personal story of its discovery, or a moment that the item played an important role in.

New clothes or traditional fashion items rarely possess this quality and with trends like ‘normcore’ and the constant pressure on designers to create ‘wearable’ garments, less people even own clothes they treasure and take out on rare occasions, simply to look at them. The fashion artefact can give value back to fashion, questioning the system but at the same time adding to its cultural merit.

In a way, non-functional garments can be seen as a return to surrealist ideals, as established in André Breton’s ‘Crise de l’objet’, stating that one of the duties of the surrealist object was ‘traquer la bête folle de l’usage – to hound the mad beast of function’. [4] However, if those non-functional pieces are to belong to the realm of fashion and not of art, they must never elicit strong negative emotions from the public, since fashion lives from public approval. If conceptual art can be appreciated solely through intellectual appreciation, conceptual fashion needs to be visually attractive as well.[5]



[1] Diana Crane in: Geczy, Adam, and Vicki Karaminas. Fashion and Art. Engl. ed. London [u.a.]: Berg, 2012. Print.101.

[2] Anna, Susanne. Untragbar : Mode Als Skulptur ; [Museum Für Angewandte Kunst Köln Vom 14. Juli Bis 6. September 2001]. Ost ldern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2001. Print.7.

[3] ‘London College of Fashion-MA Fashion Artefact’ University of the Arts London. 14.09.2016 [http://www.arts.ac.uk/fashion/ courses/postgraduate/ma-fashion- artefact/]

[4] Burckhardt, Jacqueline / Curiger, Bice. Meret Oppenheim – Beyond the Teacup. New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1996. Print.29.

[5] Geczy, Adam, and Vicki Karaminas. Fashion and Art. Engl. ed. London [u.a.]: Berg, 2012. Print.7.