The ‘High Art’ of High-Street Fashion

Fine art and its consumption has been long been confined to museums, institutions and education. This means that it can often be an exclusionary element of culture, and one that many write off, thinking that they couldn’t possibly understand it. But high-street fashion is something that we all can appreciate: not only have we all bought such clothes, but for many the high street is a place of socialisation and popular culture. So what happens when we bring these two together?

Recently, the brand Vans released a collection with the Museum of Modern Art New York, and Pull and Bear have also collaborated with the Tate on a very similar collection of ‘fine art fashion’. Both collaborations involve well-known artists such as Monet and Dali, which will help the consumer to feel like they understand and are involved in ‘high art’. It is also a good sign for art accessibility that it is these large and highly-esteemed museums which are pursuing such projects, encouraging other museums to follow in inspiring the public to become more involved in art.

Although the Vans collection seems expensive, Pull and Bear’s T-Shirts market at only £15.99, which is even more conducive to accessibility. Pull and Bear’s slogan for the campaign, which is also printed on the clothing, reads ‘because art is for everyone’, supporting this effort to involve a greater proportion of the population in art. To this end, the companies have not ‘dumbed down’ the art for public consumption: all the paintings remaining unchanged and are just shaped to fit the clothing.

However, this also means that one wonders whether the Vans T-shirts are worth the hefty £58 price tag, as they seem to simply be a print of the artwork on a cotton frame. Such has been done before by museum gift shops and even people at home, and although it is courteous to respect the original artist, design could still be thought about a little more. One piece that does this better is the Pull and Bear ‘J.M.W. Turner puffer jacket’, which introduces a new section of sunset-colour with each segment of the coat. Although a riskier strategy, these collections would draw more cultural attention if they played around a bit more with design.

This does, however, signify a good start to the process of making art accessible, and could be taken even further with the collaboration of lesser known artists, which could give them a greater public platform. Such a move out of the museum is also relevant to the effects of the pandemic on art and its associated institutions: viewing art out in public has become, and will continue to become, a more significant arena for fine art.

These works also invite the public to think about fashion as art in a more generalised way. High fashion is often thought of in the same categories as fine art, but high-street and even mid-range fashion is held in a totally different category. As postmodernists begin to deconstruct such categories such as the ‘canon’ of art, the other clothes that Pull and Bear or Vans make might even be thought of as artistic works in themselves.

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