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Published 08/11/2006 email E-MAIL print PRINT

London Fashion Week: Sympathy for the Devil

London Fashion Week coincided very closely with the launch of 'The Devil Wears Prada', starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt, and was surrounded in a mist of infamy concerning size zero models - questioning whether Nancy Regan was mistaken when she said, 'A woman can never be too rich or too thin'. The event this year was a performance brightened by the flash of cameras shooting not only the artistic marvels draped over waifs and nymphs, but shooting down those apparent demons of the fashion world; beauty that hurts, killer heels that could quite possibly kill, and expressions so deadly that the paparazzi have to check their lenses for cracks.

The fashion world is the epicentre of contemporary hedonism, the actualised desire for beauty, and as Emily in 'The Devil Wears Prada' explains, it is more than art - because, it is the art one lives in.

There is, indeed, a sense of joie de vivre in the fashion world that is absent in the theorised daubs of Postmodernist paint, and the metallic sterility of design. There is art for the sake of art and, quite wrongly, architecture for the sake of architecture. Fashion, however, is different - it is fashion for the sake of glamour, or couture for the sake of seduction. Their illustrations are animated by life itself. In doing so, fashion accurately portrays its subjects - its wearers.

Fashion as an art form has long been cast off the lifeless mannequin of artistic criticism, deemed less than art and a kind of craft for socialites. But a closer look at the collections of designers at this year's London Fashion Week suggests otherwise - that rather than being the poor cousin of art, eloping with capitalism in a sinful manner, fashion is the one part of art that is still alive.

By its very nature, fashion is concerned with people. They are clothes designed to work with and around the human body. Whether a dress is designed to comfort a body and work with the natural lines and flaws, as Donna Karan is known to do - or whether, as in haute couture, a dress restrains one's breathing and makes the body's form new and changed so that it looks better and more idealised (as Elsa Schiaparelli said, 'Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress ...'). Fashion is foremost concerned with the physical anatomy of a single person. It is where art touches an individual, where the ideal is within grasp, and where beauty is not merely an abstraction.

It is the only artistic medium where one can categorically claim that art affects life, that art can change the world, and where art and appreciation of its making and creators is a daily contemplation. Socialites may have their immoralities, but they are more in tune to the essence of art than their shoddily dressed counterparts.

There is no point in claiming that art students grasp Rothko better than Vogue writers, or that the starving sculptor is in any more pain than the PA who hasn't eaten a croissant for a decade. In an age where bread is affordable to everyone, but obesity isn't - starvation has become oddly democratic: according to the socialite manifesto, everybody must starve - and be beautiful.

Over the past four years, Studio International has featured retrospectives of Elsa Schiaparelli, Versace, Vivienne Westwood, 'Modes en Miroir' in Paris, 'Fashion in Colours' and 'Anglomania' in New York. The museums of the Western world have exhibited fashion increasingly as art in recent years. Furthermore, the link between art and fashion, or textiles, has been uncovered in the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, addressing Matisse's lifelong reference and fascination with textiles. Vivienne Westwood is known for using French 18th-century painting to inspire her couture, as is Galliano. Art has always taken from couture, depicting the work of unknown couturiers for centuries in portraits, whose main attraction, equal to any technical brilliance and colour, is the patterns and texture of the fabrics, the sensual creases and colours, chosen not by the painter, but by the tailor and - the Royal Court's answer to the stylist - the lady in waiting.

This year at London Fashion Week, therefore, the same performance is playing. No journalist (the modern portrait artist!) is concerned that a young girl looks like a waif and has a little narcotics habit - it has been going on for centuries (see new release, 'Marie Antoinette', directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst for reference to historic hedonism). All a journalist cares about is creating a perfect picture. The photographer shoots - the paper sells - the fashion world is condemned - the model pouts - the game goes on. It is an art in itself, another strand of the fashion designer's weave.

Whether it is a comfortable thought or not, it is quite true that the fashion world, where traditional art used to be, is the mirror of society. It is too rich and it is too thin. And yet you keep buying the pictures, the clothes and keep selling your soul, because it looks so good. The devil may wear Prada - but Prada, they say, is within God's grand design.

Christiana SC Spens



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