Fashion Designers: Inspired by Art

  • Dijana Lukunic
  • fleur walker
  • Katrina Hinrichsen
  • Alan Firmin

Fashion and art have always had a close relationship, and designers often look to paintings for creative inspiration. Using the Bridgeman archive as our guide, explore how fashion designers have borrowed from parallel art movements and art history for their collections.

1. Alexander McQueen – Performance / Installation art / Victorian Gothic art 

Ahead of the race, Alexander McQueen comes in first place for pushing the boundaries of fashion with his fierce and fragile fashion designs. He was said to be an artist of the romantic tradition. Passionate about fine art, McQueen started every collection with an idea or a concept for the runway presentation, reminiscent of avant-garde installations and performance art. After the concept, he would have a complex storyboard with various references from art, film, and music.
His collections explore themes in art, including the Romantic Gothic collection, portraying his love of Scottish history and London, combined with his interest in the Victorian Gothic, or his Romantic Exoticism collection which explores his interests in other cultures such as Japan and China, as depicted in his kimono designs and prints. He was a pioneer among designers, for he saw beyond clothing’s physical restraints.

2. Elsa Schiaparelli– Surrealism 

Elsa Schiaparelli was a flamboyant Italian fashion designer who made her mark in Paris from the late 1920s to the 1950s. Schiaparelli’s collaborations with artists, who were also her friends, resulted in some of the most renowned works of twentieth-century haute couture.
An evening coat forming an optical illusion of a vase of roses which transforms into two faces in profile was designed with Jean Cocteau and Schiaparelli’s ‘Lobster Dress’ was a collaboration with Salvador Dali. This connection with the growing art world moved Elsa Schiaparelli into a new realm. She was not just concerned with beauty or transient fashion trends, but with art, culture, ideas and innovation. Ultimately, Schiaparelli was distinctive in her activities with the wider intellectual world, her eccentric chic style proving inspirational to later designers including Muccia Prada.

3. Versace – Warhol / Greek Mythology / Botticelli 

Gianni Versace’s Spring 1991 collection featured outfits printed with  Andy Warhol‘s brightly coloured, silk-screened portraits of Marilyn Monroe and other famous icons. Along with modern art, Gianni Versace had other sources of inspiration including African tribal and ancient Greek art.
The influence of Greek mythology was conveyed in Versace’s use of the medusa head as its logo which embodied female power. A glance at medusa would turn one into stone: she stunned people with her domineering look and snakes in her hair which she ended up with, having survived from the loss of a partner through an affair.
Returning to his Italian roots, Versace also looked at religious works by the Renaissance painter Botticelli.  Many of Versace’s collections use delicate fabrics and sinuous cuts, evoking scenes from neo-classical art to romantic art, with models depicted as sirens and mermaids.

4.  Louis Vuitton –Takashi Murakami   

Louis’s Vuitton’s multi-coloured Takashi Murakami monogram was made famous across bags and accessories. The collaboration between the artist and the French house made public in 2003 was the invention of former Vuitton director Marc Jacobs. It was one of the first marriages of high art and luxury that have now become pivotal in an age of extreme wealth.
Murakami’s collaboration extended even further: he began featuring the LV monogram in his paintings, and established a Vuitton boutique in his retrospective at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

5. Missoni – the Futurists

The Missonis’ designs were inspired both by the natural environment and by their own collection of art from Europe’s Modernist era including the work of Tancredi, Matisse, Sonia Delaunay, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, whose vibrant images of dancers reflect close parallels with the geometric patterns of Missoni fabrics.
The Futurists’ vision that all aspects of life should be elevated from providing a simple, functional role to being a vehicle for the highest artistic aspirations led to their growing interest in clothing during the 1920s and 30s. This resonates with the Missoni aesthetic of striking museum pieces that have a functional use as clothes.

6. Sonia Delaunay – the Fauves

Influenced by the vibrant palettes of the Fauves, Sonia Delaunay was an abstract artist through and through. She invented orphism with her husband Robert Delaunay which they developed out of Cubism in the 1910s, and played a central role in the story of modern art in the 20th century. She was the first living woman to have an exhibition at the Louvre and is a prime example of an artist turned fashion designer, who worked with her husband to explore the dynamic power of colour and movement.
Delaunay worked with costume designers such as Diaghilev, made ‘dress poems’ and set up a textiles workshop. On top of this, she even opened her own boutique La Maison Delaunay and collaborated with the Dutch store Metz and Co, and latterly for Liberty.