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The Art behind Fashion

Mary Peffer

As we gear up for Art Basel Miami Beach, we can’t help but notice the increase of fashion’s presence, both at surrounding events and attendees to the main exhibition, since the international art show’s Miami inception back in 2002. Once primarily known as a cultural destination for collectors and academics, the show now includes rsvp’s from high-fashion influencers and the stylish elite. We asked Rafa Arrrocha, co-founder of Diablo Rosso, the Panamanian art gallery the Ace Hotel and popular fixture showing during Miami Basel’s Untitled Fair, for his take on the prominence of art influencing fashion. He shared, “There has always been a connection, but it seems to be more evident in the last couple of years. In 2014 it was everywhere, from Chanel’s gallery girls prancing, to Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby”, to Prada’s Spring 2014 pop art explosion…Art and fashion go together today like super models and rockstars did in the 90s. Forget Ocasek & Porizkova and say hello to (Raf) Simons & Ruby, (Phillip) Lim & Lichtenstein, (Marc) Jacobs & Kusama. They might not trash hotel rooms together but they sure will make some beautiful babies.”

This is hardly the first time lines have blurred between the worlds of fine art and fashion. A strong connection can be noted over decades. When conceptualizing a collection, designers often admit to, and at times even promote, their process of looking back at different era’s and impactful works of art from points in history. From the museum to fashion week, here’s a look at a few powerful art influences spotted on the runway in seasons past.

Piet Mondrian

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“Mondrian” day dress, autumn 1965

French designer Yves Saint Laurent is probably the most notable example of a fashion house referencing Mondrian’s work. The shift day dress, from the Parisian designer’s Fall 1965 collection, was created with the Dutch Painter’s Tableau 2 in mind. YSL’s execution of primary colors and color blocking is a dead ringer for the inspiration.

Olivier Rousteing’s Spring 2015 Balmain collection included an eye-catching body-conscious dress in bold colors. This sexy and colorful look, reminds us, yet again, of the Dutch painter’s iconic style.

Brush Strokes

A more general reference to art was visible with the application of colorful brush stroke motifs to minimalist apparel. Like the dresses from Jil Sander’s Spring 2014 catwalk seen on model Julia Nobis.

Celine’s collection from the same season was said to be influenced by graffiti artists, and photography by Brassai. But it’s clear there was also a nod to other forms, with swipes of color, resembling the work of artist Sonia Delaunay, seen along skirts and silk tops resembling those of a painter’s passionate brush stroke.

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Irises by Van Gogh

Van Gogh

Maison Martin Margiela’s Fall 2014 collection included a pretty literal reference to Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises” painting, a masterpiece created in the artist’s final year before his passing. Model Kasia Jujeczka adorned a dress with an almost identical print and presented the garment with her face veiled, possibly making a connection to the artist’s personal struggles at the time.

Two years prior, when describing Rodarte’s Spring 2012 presentation, the Mulleavy sisters and creative duo behind the brand, confessed to looking to both Disney and later, the Post-Impressionist because of their choice of color palette.

Andy Warhol

Chanel’s Fall 2014 supermarket themed ready-to-wear event at the Grand Palais included bold colors on tweeds, jumpsuits and even the set itself. Karl Lagerfeld shared with Vogue, “The whole thing is related to Pop Art,” for example Warhol’s famous Soup Can painting.

Then of course there is Diane von Furstenberg’s collaboration with The Warhol Foundation on her limited edition pop wrap capsule collection aligning with the designer’s ‘Journey of a Dress’ exhibit earlier this year at LACMA in Los Angeles.


American contemporary fashion designer Tory Burch said that her muse for the label’s Spring 2015 collection was Françoise Gilot, a French painter and author who also served as romantic partner and creative muse to Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. It has been argued the collection greatly reflects Picasso’s presence in Gilot’s life.

Belgian designer Raf Simmons (now Creative Director at Christian Dior) sent a more overt reference down the runway during his Spring 2012 show for Jil Sander. Sweaters included faces reimagined from Picasso’s pottery work. Simmon’s himself had a private ceramic collection which went up for auction the following year.

While it remains up to the individual to decide if fashion is considered a form of art, the evidence is clear, acclaimed works from renowned artists throughout history have certainly helped shape some of the most iconic collections to hit the catwalk. With Basel only days away, we wonder what trends are to follow. We know we can hardly wait to find out.

Mary Peffer is a contributor to, Stylecaster, and partner at Navy PR. She is a fashion expert having spent 6+ years at Saint Laurent.