By Lígia Carvalho Abreu and Pamela Echeverria (2016)

Photos: Ugo Camera/Portugal Fashion

 

The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery, Storytailors’ 2016 Spring/Summer Collection

 

All over the world we assist in an undeniable growing interest of museums and art galleries that present fashion design exhibitions. In some cases those art places are becoming more interesting than fashion districts and its stores, in particular, their presentation and the spreading of creative fashion.

Akiko Fukai, director and chief curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute, in her book Dress and Fashion Museums claims that in order to:

Understand fashion in museums, it is necessary to consider its connection to a new, broader perception of what constitutes art, as well as a growing academic interest in the young discipline of fashion studies.[i]    

 

What is this new, broader perception of what constitutes art? In other words, can fashion be considered art? Can art be wearable? How can wearable art be defined according to legal and artistic criterions?

Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, producing works to be appreciated for their beauty, emotional power and cultural and social meaning.

Commonly seen as a style, a popular taste of a particular time and place, fashion has also emotional and cultural power, a little something that pushes it out from its ephemeral condition. Thus, art and fashion seem to be linked by the fact that they are both a product of human creativity, meant to be appreciated for its beauty, and to contribute to our visual culture and cultural identity.

An example of this symbioses between art and fashion is the extraordinary 2016 Spring/Summer collection of Portuguese brand Storytailors named O Diário de Uma Princesa em Descoberta (The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery), created by designers João Branco and Luís Sanchez.

 

Gowns from The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery, Storytailors’ 2016 Spring/Summer Collection, commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

 

The Diary of a Princess in Discovery is a combined interpretation of Luís de Camões’ Epic Poem ‘Os Lusíadas’, the legend of ‘The Three Enchanted Moorish Women’ and the story of ‘Princess Saint Joana’ the patron saint of Aveiro, a city  in the north of Portugal. It is an expression of Portuguese culture, reinforced with the gains received from intercultural dialogues.   

Two gowns of this collection were commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Preforming Arts[ii] and displayed in March 2015 at the Iberian Suite of the Kennedy Center, six months before being presented at Lisbon’s Ritz Hotel for Portugal Fashion.

The collection is faithful to the artistic concept of the brand: to use tailoring, fabrics and design to construct metaphors and stories. There is an artistic logic, intuition and reasoning behind the silhouettes marked by elements of water, air and transparency, the solicitude and fragility of the porcelain and tiles’ fragments and their delicate motifs.

 

Gowns from The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery , Storytailors’ 2016 Spring/Summer Collection

 

The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery is a fairy tale about the “determination and resistant vibe that overcomes tragedy and fatalism and leads to discovery and conquest”.[iii] It is a discovery through imagination, and at the same time a realist metaphor about “the riches to be gained from intercultural changes”[iv] 

This conceptual vision leads us to the notion of Wearable Art. In 2015, Viktor & Rolf used the term Wearable Art to name their 2015/2016 Fall/Winter Collection in which painted canvases and golden frames were made of fabric, transformed into dresses and finally into works of art. Since then, Wearable Art has referred to individually designed pieces (usually handmade), and of clothing or jewellery, created as fine or expressive art. It is intended to be accepted as a serious and unique artistic creation or statement. Pieces may be sold and/or exhibited in museums. Thus, Wearable Art is not only fashion design commissioned by museums and art galleries but it can also encompass practical or casual clothing.

 In this context, some fashion theorists may disagree with our position. Their arguments for not considering fashion as art are related to its ephemerality and the function of clothing in order to protect the body and to embellish it: Fashion is produced and presented at regular intervals; it is conceived to be sold and as a consequence, it has commercial value which is priced by the cost of goods and brand perception; fashion is ever changing based on trends; art is created regardless of its potential economic value, unlike fashion that is priced etc….

In this spirit, many designers like Karl Lagerfeld consider fashion to have nothing to do with art.[v]

A very interesting example that challenged this theory was pointed out by English fashion designer Zandra Rhodes: “You could say a painting is designed to go on the wall, but if it were made as a fresco, where it was part of the wall, would you say it was not art because it was practical?”[vi] We find it a pertinent comment.

It is worth bearing in mind that not every piece of fashion can be considered as Wearable Art. A plain white t-shirt cannot be considered as art, not because it is a wearable practical item, but because it has neither original artistic features nor is it part of an artistic concept.

Thus, this notion of Wearable Art can be extended to the more casual clothing of Storytailors’ Diary of a Princess collection because they are part of the same artistic concept. However, in addition, they need to have original features which lead the knowledgeable consumer to identify the creators of these designs.     

 

Casual looks from The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery, Storytailors' 2016 Spring/Summer Collection

 

Originality is, hence, the other criterion to considerer fashion as an artistic work according to artistic and legal evaluation.

For both art and intellectual property law originality is not necessarily synonymous of geniality. We can consider that something is work of art  based on the complexity of artistic skills and the uniqueness of its author. But we can also find art on the work of an author who was the first to think about a particular way to express an idea and convert it into something tangible. Hence, a creator does not necessarily need to be a genius to be considered an artist. He can be the romantic author, the aesthetic genius as well as the creator who uses simplicity in form, shape and materials to express his ideas and is placed in a particular moment of man’s history, influenced by social and economic facts.

According to the doctrine and jurisprudence about intellectual property, an artistic work is original for copyright purposes if it is “independently created by the author”[vii] and “possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity”[viii]. It must have “some creative spark”[ix] and not be a “mere mechanical reproduction”[x] of a work that already exists.

As arts columnist David A. Smith points out, an artist and a designer are both based on similar skills: they have to be able to express their idea into reality. The difference between them is the medium through which their creativity is expressed: the designer in a piece of clothing, the painter on canvas, the composer through musical notes.[xi] 

According to Alexandra George, in his book Constructing Intellectual Property, what is important for intellectual property is the expression of ideas into a documented form [xii] by the physical creator. [xiii]  To imbue the documented form with meaning “is relevant only to the extent that it affects the creation and sustainability of the intellectual property object.”[xiv]  Moreover, when we speak about authorship “the reality of the ways in which human creativity occurs”. [xv]   Nothing or almost nothing is completely new or original. “Most artists also use materials, styles and artistic techniques that pre-exist their efforts”. [xvi] 

The construction and the volumes of some dresses are influenced by the Fibonacci Spiral and by the theories of Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Pythagoras. 

Gown from The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery, Storytailors’ 2016 Spring/Summer Collection

 

The golden number and the golden ratio expressed in nature are behind the shape of some of the collection’s clothing. The use of the golden ratio in contemporary design is not unusual. It is a logical and poetic form, operating in the words of Adolf Zeising:

 

As a universal law … in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realisation, however, in the human form. [xvii]

 

This marriage between, art, science and philosophy is also the artistic essence of Storytailors. 

Furthermore, art is also conceived to be appreciated for its beauty, evaluated in a subjective way, thus meaning both perfection and imperfection. And fashion attracts for its beauty and for the interests related to it. They can both be original forms to express beauty. 

Gown from The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery , Storytailors’ 2016 Spring/Summer Collection

 

[i] Akiko Fukai. Dress and Fashion Museums. Brian Moeran translation and Joanne B. Eischer Editor. Oxford University Press: 2010.

[ii] StoryTailors at The Kennedy Center: https://www.kennedy-center.org/video/index/A88244

[iii] Storytailors’ Press Release for the presentation of The Diary of a Princess on a Discovery at Portugal Fashion.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ann Binlot “Is Fashion Art? Karl Lagerfeld Puts the Debate Back Into the Spotlight by Dismissing the Notion”. BLOUINARTINFO. May 24, 2012 http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/805583/is-fashion-art-karl-lagerfeld-puts-the-debate-back-into-the . Meredith Blechman. “Is Fashion Art? Addressing the Ongoing Debate”. March 12, 2013: http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/on_trend/is_fashion_art-5946

[vi] Zandra Rhodes and Alicia Rawsthorn. Is fashion a true art form? The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/jul/13/art.artsfeatures1

[vii] Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.: 1991, 499 U.S. 340 at 355.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Alexandra George. Constructing Intellectual Property. Cambridge University Press: 2012, 212. 

[x] Ibid.

[xi]   David A. Smith. “Fashion is art with form and function”.  Wacotrib.com. May 9 2013.  http://www.wacotrib.com/entertainment/accesswaco/david_a_smith/david-a-smith-fashion-is-art-with-form-and-function/article_90d8845e-c93e-550a-9fbe-f306a3020445.html

[xii] For example a tangible medium of expression for copyright purposes. 

[xiii] Alexandra George. Constructing Intellectual Property, 169.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Alexandra George. Constructing Intellectual Property, 167.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Richard Padovan. Proportion. Science, Philosophy, Architecture. E&FN Spon, London, New York:1999, 308.