“I want people to view fashion as a form of self-expression, and that’s what art is – what do you want to say about yourself and how can clothes make you express those messages?”
In Melbourne, Walford believes, “what has been more celebrated is the idea of having fun with fashion and looking at it beyond getting dressed in the morning. It starts conversation and lifts the spirit of the community”.
Sitting in a chair while models parade up a runway is outdated, he feels. “I personally think it is dead now; we need to do something more to keep people engaged and make us feel like we are part of a global conversation.”
And if fashion is now making its imprint on art, the reverse is true, too. David Bromley is one of the latest Melbourne artists to lift his work from the canvas and put it onto clothing. A collaboration with label Review for spring/summer uses some of his best-known imagery for a range of pieces, including dresses, knitwear and shoes.
David’s wife Yuge, who was part of the creative process, says: “What you wear is a great reflection of how you express yourself, and fashion is an art in itself. You’ve got designers who are constantly trying to find new ways of expressing a shape or a look or a pattern or a design, which is immensely creative and artful, and when you adorn that further with the work of an artist, it’s such a natural thing.”
She also believes that it aids slow fashion, where items are kept in wardrobes for far more than a season or two. “There is that sense of longevity since the pieces are not necessarily trend driven. If the shapes are timeless, then the artwork only adds to its appeal as well.”
In fact, Melbourne designers have often used artists as inspiration: Lisa Gorman had done so repeatedly with her Gorman label, highlighting works by Mirka Mora and Rhys Lee. But it’s not only the edgier designers who have sought inspiration from art: Lisa Barron – whose High Street store favours an elegant aesthetic – had an unlikely pairing with street and tattoo artist Mayonaize, using his monochrome artworks for some of her designs just as the pandemic hit.
“I thought his brushstrokes were incredible and thought they would be amazing on fabric,” says Baron. She has collaborated with other artists, including Vincent Fantauzzo. “It’s like cooking: putting our work together and coming up with something different,” she says.
Even Chadstone the Fashion Capital has gotten in on the act; previously they joined forces with the NGV to have part of the KAWS exhibition on site, and also blended fashion with art when they hosted the Louis Vuitton Time Capsule exhibition after its runs in cities including Hong Kong and Shanghai. Chadstone’s centre manager, Michael Whitehead, says “Melbourne is so fashion-conscious that it was a natural extension to push into that art space as well”.
Sarah Rovis, the managing director at Mimco, would agree. The brand has been collaborating with the NGV for almost six years, often producing their own bespoke collection to tie in with an exhibition – they did so for Escher x nendo as well as with Keith Haring / Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines. As Rovis says: “It’s about two Melbourne icons coming together.”
This year the company is a sponsor for the Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala exhibition, “which is about the journey of working with Indigenous artists and communities, and we’re really only at the beginning of that journey.” She says the partnership makes sense because “we’re both accessible: the NGV is an accessible gallery where everyone from children right through can go, and we like to see ourselves as accessible luxury.”
Rovis adds that Mimco is “design led – we start with a creative brief and the designers might then walk through galleries to be inspired by glassware or sculptures that trigger ideas. We are different in that way … otherwise everyone in the market would start to look the same.”
But even though fashion often finds its way into galleries, can it really be considered art? Christine Barro’s wares from her eponymous store were part of the Fashion x Art show, and she has heard that some of her clients will display the Philip Treacy hats they’ve bought from her store on stands in their home instead of showing art in the same space.
She approves, but only conceptually, rather than practically. “I worry when they do that with a hat because it should be kept in the box, you know!” Still, she approached her Collins Street store as more of a gallery space than a clothing store.
“We have people who come in and say they’ve never seen a store like this anywhere in the world. They thank me for my edit.” It is what Melbourne customers demand, she believes. “Because of our more European climate, we’ve been ‘indoor creative’. Whether you’re talking fashion, architecture, food or music – there’s this amazing cross-pollination of talent, and we’re focused on creativity and beauty.”
But Karen Webster, who is principal and dean of design college LCI Melbourne, still believes in the natural distinction between fashion and art, saying that the end user – the wearer – is an integral part of fashion’s purpose. Art, on the other hand, is not dependent on the purchaser.
“Fashion is not art,” Webster says. “Even when it is avant garde or conceptual, fashion sits within a different domain to art – that of design …[But] art and design do share a symbiotic relationship. They both deserve a rightful place in galleries and museums as they provide a valued contribution to our visual culture.”
Talking Chanel and fashion with its NGV curators
Danielle Whitfield, curator, fashion and textiles, NGV: “Fashion in the context of a museum isn’t a new thing, and it starts with a desire to highlight the work of somebody who you feel is significant for a whole range of reasons. I don’t think that Melburnians are singular in their appreciation of fashion, but I think the NGV as an organisation has supported the exhibition of fashion for a long time. People recognise fashion’s place within society and culture; it’s linked to identity, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it intersects with social or political or economic issues, and it’s tied to the collective consciousness. It reflects where society is at.”
Katie Somerville, senior curator, fashion and textiles, NGV: “We exist for the people of Victoria, and a core part of our premise is reflecting what’s happened in this part of the world as well. Hence, we’ve been actively collecting major collections of work from Melbourne designers like Martin Grant, Jenny Kee, Linda Jackson and Jenny Bannister. One of the things that happens readily in this city is a collaborative approach, with people crossing into different disciplines.”