Why fashion is not inspired by art

Marina Abramović & Givenchy
 Photo: G etty Images
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The buzz in the build-up had all been about Caitlyn Jenner — attending, or possibly walking the catwalk. In the end she didn't come to the show — this Givenchy show, where fashion and art would celebrate their latest reunion. The BFF‘s Marina Abramović and designer Ricardo Tisci constructed a favela-inspired setting to combine runway show and art performance. Our writer Dean Kissick was not amused.

Once I went dress-shopping on Oxford Street for Marina Abramović. It was around seven years ago, and she sent me off to American Apparel, New Look, and Primark to purchase costumes for her performers at the Serpentine Pavilion. She seemed nice. The men wore white, the women red. A couple years after that she was interviewed for the Financial Times alongside Riccardo Tisci, the creative director of Givenchy – they’re close friends, they used to live together in a five-floor house in New York and shared a Japanese rock garden and pool – and that conversation came to the following conclusion:

Tisci: I want her to art-direct a fashion show for me.
Abramovic: I want to train models to walk a different way. I -
Tisci: Don’t tell!

Well, finally, she has just art-directed the Givenchy spring/summer 2016 show, which took place this September 11th.

Now, Marina Abramović is something of a figure of fun in the art world today, one seen as a bit obvious and pretentious and passé. In his essay on how “The Egocentric Art World is Killing Art” JJ Charlesworth observed: “It’s not every day people queue round the block for an art show without complaining. But such is the reverence accorded to Abramovic’s arted-up version of a New Age self-help plan that not only did they queue, they queued for the privilege of standing around for hours, doing nothing much, at the orders of guru Abramovic, with the Serpentine turned into a kind of minimalist hipster ashram.”

She’s also become a figure of fun in the music industry, ever since that absolutely excruciating, unwatchable art performance/music video with Jay-Z. And in the movie industry, since she was roundly parodied in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013) in which a Marina-Abramović-alike, naked except wrapped in white gauze, runs and throws herself against a viaduct in front of Rome’s high literati, who applaud her as brilliant. And in the meme industry, with these parody advertisements for headache remedies.

But in the fashion world Marina is still adored, and the style press writes about her endlessly, worshipfully. Because, I suppose, she is the only proper art world celebrity. And a spiritual, beautiful one, and a rather fabulous one that enjoys a party; at the closing of her show The Artist is Present at MoMA in 2010, Tisci threw her a starry party to celebrate, and had his atelier make her a special jacket of 101 snakes as if she were a terrifying amalgamation of Cruella de Vil and the Medusa.


Maybe Abramovic needs Tisci – maybe – and certainly he really needs her. Because Givenchy, it’s just not very cool anymore, is it? A couple years ago even A$AP Rocky – that much-loathed idiot rapper, that trustworthy barometer of all that is to be avoided in life – bemoaned “I’m tired of all these rappers wearing Givenchy… Now, I can’t enjoy Givenchy anymore. They don’t even know what any of it stands for. They don’t even know why they’re wearing it… Now don’t even wanna wear Givenchy anymore because they spoiled it.” To be honest he’s right (for in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, for even a broken clock tells the time correctly twice a day) because that’s what Givenchy has become – a brand that really awful rappers and singers and footballers wear. And even they don’t wear it any longer.

But this season Givenchy is showing in New York for the first time, and visitors arrived at Hudson River Park to find it reimagined, at Abramovic’s behest, into a favela-inspired setting made of salvaged wood and corrugated iron. They were seated on old pallets and presented with an open letter from Marina Abramović to Riccardo Tisci:
“Dear Riccardo, when you asked me to work with you on this show, I felt honoured but I also felt a great responsibility. The 11th of September is the most sad day in recent American history. As the artistic director, I want to create something respectful and humble...”

Around this make-believe shantytown she had arranged actors solemnly re-enacting her old performances: a man clad in black waving two small trees around; a woman in a Givenchy blouse stood under a running tap in the looming shadow of the nearby One World Trade Center; somebody climbing up and down a ladder. All faintly ridiculous. At the same time New York’s most glamorous celebrities arrived in explosions of flashing lights. Kanye wore a plunging neckline and looked like a pot-bellied count. Kim was a noirish pregnant Givenchy witch, rather like that witch in Game of Thrones that birthed a wraith-like smoke monster. And finally, after a long wait began the fashion show. It brought lacy camisoles and other underwear-looking things in mournful shades of black, and supermodels with ostentatiously bejewelled, vajazzled faces.

It looked like Givenchy’s collections always do these days – perhaps better suited to a high-class sex party than the anniversary of a terrorist atrocity.

So this whole enterprise was a memorial to September the 11th. But it was also a celebration of the opening of Givenchy’s new Madison Avenue flagship, and of the launch of its new denim line. It was a lot of things. Abramovic had installed a large illuminated billboard explaining “I believe in the power of love”; and more than anything this was just another, farther intertwining of the parallel universes of luxury fashion and luxury art.

Now, back in 2011 Abramović was photographed breastfeeding Tisci for the edition of Visionaire magazine that he guest-edited, apparently to visualise fashion’s relationship with art. She recounts, “That was my ultimatum. I said to him, ‘This is the situation: do you admit that fashion is inspired by art? Well I am the art, you are the fashion, now suck my tits!’ He’s very shy, so it took him a while to come around. But he did.”

But that’s not actually true, is it? Fashion is not that inspired by art. Once you’re operating at their sort of level, art and fashion are often just the same thing: a visual manifestation of luxury culture; a way to show off how much money you have, how sophisticated you are; a form of entertainment; and for a certain international party crowd all those art fairs and fashion weeks and openings just roll seamlessly together into one endless flow of faux-intellectual, decadent pleasures.

Anyway back to the fashion: this collection is bad, don’t bother with it. There are better ways to never forget the horrors of the past, than by buying any of this.


Dean Kissick is a writer based in Los Angeles.