LT ARTicle April 2013 | Borrowed Identities by Saskia Fernando

The fashion and art industry have long been carrying on an illicit affair. Whether it was YSL drawing inspiration from Mondrian, Dior exhibiting in the Museum of Fine Art in Moscow, Louis Vuitton’s continuous collaborations with artists stamped on top of their monogram bags; fashion and art always find a way to mess around with each other. One week away from Colombo Fashion Week and after joining The Stylogist (Sri Lanka’s first fashion blog), I have begun to question the necessity of these parallel worlds continuously meeting up to present one or the others exuberance of luxury and aestheticism. Will we, with our emerging art and fashion scenes, jump on board? Is all this hype worth it?

At the last social event I pushed myself to attend, my eyes caught hold of the new Yayoi Kusama meets Louis Vuitton on the arm of another guest. After doing a little research for my weekly blog entry, I discovered the world of Kusama and was rather enthralled by this artist, somewhat surprised perhaps that these infinity worlds came to me through my love for handbags. Did everyone who purchased a polka-dotted speedy realize that this artist lives in a mental asylum by choice and draws inspiration from her hallucinations? Do they even care? Was it some sick joke of Marc Jacobs was making on the flies who flock to the Champs Elysee to buy the latest collection? Whatever the reason behind it, the marketing aspect of these collaborations gives their monotonous brown monogram and image a makeover; a conceptually design savvy and individual one at that.

The art industry and fashion industry no doubt share the adjective ‘luxurious’ however big names such as Dior and YSL, need to continuously reinvent themselves without completely losing an identity. Somehow these temporarily borrowed identities of artists who have been working their entire lives to express their innermost everything seem to allow the big brands to show the world that they are still very much worth spending your savings on and still forward thinking in terms of design. Does the art world view these collaborations in the same positive light? Certainly not, but who cares when you get paid millions to have your work printed on the most widely mimicked bag in the world. Prada and Chanel have perhaps moved forward with more sensitivity, setting up foundations that express their designers passion for the arts as opposed to a marketing ploy.

So why are we seeing less of these collaborations in Sri Lanka today? In all fairness fashion is still catching up on what has been a thriving art scene since the 40s. In addition craft has often been facilitated in the designs of many older brands such as Buddhi Batiks (batik) and Yoland (handpainted silk). The merge seems to have taken place more between art and architecture, with an entire period of our art history consisting of collaborations afforded by Geoffrey Bawa providing well known artists of his time with spaces in his projects to install or display their work. It is here again, in 21st century Sri Lanka that I would say we need to hang on a little. We are still at a transition point where too much interaction and mixing up could dissolve the organic nature and identities of what is still are emerging scenes internationally.

That said, the wealth of artists and designers and the events that are taking place in the respective industries do point towards possible collaborations in the future. Given Sri Lanka’s textile production abilities the transfer of artist’s abstract colour compositions could be easily merged into collections inspired by series of works. On a conceptual level, designs for both clothes and accessories which draw from works by the more socio politically focused, incorporating themes of graffiti, safety pins and the more tangible objects used by these artists are again the most obvious ways of working between the two industries. On a wider level, the fashion houses locally are not large scale enough to look towards setting up funds to support the young emerging artists of Sri Lanka. That said smaller focused collaboartions between galleries, artists, designers and event organisers are certainly the way to start.

We aren’t quite ready to slide under the sheets but thanks to new initiatives such as we are enjoying a dirty martini every so often.


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