Wearable art is a new art form introduced with the invention of the sewing machine and its practitioners interpreting fashion the way they think it should be. Vince Quevedo discusses about Japanese influences in fashion and the techniques of creating wearable art.
Results of these experiments were quite successful, giving women one way to express themselves. The famous designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced use of unconventional objects and silhouettes as acceptable in high fashion. That’s how you may have faces emblazoned on the front of shirts and jackets. Yarn on sleeves has hair for those faces, and plastic bugs for buttons. While couture fashion was out of reach for most women, the outlandish styles they portrayed were art forms worn on the body.
It was this freedom that allowed women to be more creative in their clothing choices. Instead of going to a couturier, some people took on the task of creating original fashion using the best technique they could in producing these clothes. Those who can sew well and could interpret their concepts into something wearable, were able to mimic couture quality clothing. Those who did not have the skills still created original art that turned out beautiful or failed at making a successful garment.
It is this differentiation that caused the variation of defining wearable art just as it is easy to determine good painting from bad ones. There is another contention among artists whether wearable art is truly an art form. While I believe the wearable art movement is still in its infancy, some of the driving forces that affect its legitimacy are technology, access, concept and skill. While making clothes does take a level of skill, it does not make one an artist. With technology giving people the ability to transfer their ideas into something a machine can interpret, it is almost always a pre-determined selection such as machine embroidery, machine applique, machine long arm quilting, sewing patterns and kits.
Access to technology and lack of skills do not prevent anyone from calling themselves an artist. There are many sewing and quilt guilds as well as hundreds of workshops and conferences across America that are open to all. Women wearing vests they’ve made with flowers and butterflies with machine appliques or sewn by hand are the result of attending such a workshop.
Cultural Influence in Fashion
The nude, they say, is the naked body clothed in culture, yet fashion is difficult to define. One thing that comes up frequently in defining fashion is its ability to move fast within the confines of culture. Along with fashion, beauty is almost always intertwined in defining it yet culture has more to do with defining beauty. Fashion is a complete reflection of society. It seems, internationally, the western ideal of beauty was adopted and stood as a standard for all to follow beginning from 1760 to 1840. The industrial revolution introduced technology that exposed new scientific inventions and communication around the world. In the late 19th century, the rotary printer was invented and the fashion magazine was created.
A good example began with copying naval military uniforms of the British by the Japanese soon after the Franco-Prussian War. In 1872, the Meiji emperor mandated men of the Imperial Court to wear western clothing consisting of a frock coat or hat or military regalia. In 1886, the women had to adopt the same rule by wearing corsets and bustles. It was during this period the Japanese elite realised a near-perfect imitation of western wear.
The Mechanism of Change
American advertising has helped distribute fashion especially after World War II. Reflections of lifestyles, fashions and trends made consumers aware of what was available. A massive amount of magazines were published just prior to the 20th century and among them was Vogue. In the forefront of American industries were fashion and publishing. The two united made for a unique blend that American women adopted and depended on for fashion news.
France has been considered the fashion capital of the world since the country’s influence in European fashion towards the end of the 18th century. Even with the world in turmoil and fashion magazines and advertisements terminated during the German Occupation, France withstood the challenges and continued to be the capital for fashion. The introduction of new collections by designers in Paris exposed the country to the worldwide fashion audience while earning high credentials from the world of fashion. In 1981, Yoji Yamamoto persuaded Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo to show their collections. These Japanese designers made an impact that influenced the fashion industry because it demanded female independency which was quite controversial at the time.
Post-Apocalyptic fashion has been part of the fashion scene since the 1980s when Japanese designers received international notoriety for a new perspective on fashion. Asymmetry, architectural shapes, bold textures, Asian nuances and subdued colours were mainstream concepts accepted as Japanese fashion. They questioned conventional attitudes towards fashion and were considered to be subversive to western standards of clothing. The Japanese fashion aesthetic took on complex, multiple and multilayered ideas as part of their normal approach to designing clothes.
Segments of cultural pop assisted in the acceptance of the avant-garde lifestyle. The popularity of science fiction movies depicting the end and what life will be like after Armageddon or the Biblical Book of Revelations as concepts for movies have popularised the depiction of post-Apocalyptic life. First introduced in the 1980s, this unconventional design style was called The Day After and Post-Hiroshima. While Issey Miyake may not be the first Japanese designer to introduce Japanese-influenced designs, he was the epitome of Japanese aesthetics rooted in its country’s history.
Wearable Art Defined
Difficult to define, wearable art is controversial among many art enthusiasts. “Serious” artists reject this new art medium that does not seem to fit the realm of fine arts. From painting and sculpture the top echelons of the art world, followed by photography then crafts. Crafts seem to be the best fit for this relatively new art form because it dealt with using textiles. While rejected by the fine arts for not having a concrete definition of what it is, fashion introduced the wearer as part of the work itself. Unlike the realm of dance or the use of space to build installations, wearable art doesn’t require a level of intricate dexterity.
Most wearable art takes the form of clothing without a sense of real meaning or purpose but rather, more for decoration. The usual materials used are fabrics and textiles of many forms. Sewing is usually the method used in producing these pieces of “art”. While couture is the highest level of fashion, couture can also be considered wearable art. But not all wearable art is couture mainly because it may not have been produced using the best techniques and/or materials. The end product is mainly concerned with the concept of the design, rather than quality. There are many levels of wearable artists and some of them may not even consider themselves artists. What defines wearable art is its intentions. And the more serious art with concrete concepts and intentions almost always is considered couture. It is this undefined meaning that helps to cause this art form to be taken seriously by others.
Moreover, it is the artists who separate themselves from sewing enthusiasts. Fibre arts, in comparison, are created by artists who specialise in the making of textiles. There are quite a few wearable artists who also consider themselves textile artists or fibre artists. But the two can be very different from each other, mainly based again on intentions.
Techniques Used in the Making of Wearable Art
Quilts are technically defined as three layers consisting of the exposed layer, batting, and the back. Quilting has been an American tradition which utilised old clothing to repurpose by cutting into shapes sewn together either at random or in prescribed patterns. This was a good way to recycle fabric into a usable object for warmth as well as decoration on the bed or the wall.
The Art Quilt started during Victorian times as a way to use scrap fabric, mostly velvet and velveteen, to put together a quilt using random shapes of fabric. Seams were covered with ornate hand-stitching with thread and/or ribbon. Because these quilts did not resemble the usual symmetrically designed quilts, they were also called crazy quilts.
Title: Sherukamaya (Quevedo, 1996)
Small pieces of fabric cut and then re-sewn form the first layer of a quilt. This quilted panel garment was influenced by stained glass and liturgical clothing.
Title: Susan (Quevedo, 2004)
Stippling is the sewing of meandering patterns of stitching to create textures on the surface of the fabric. This design can be interpreted as wearable art or couture because of its conventional style yet unorthodox way of wearing clothes.
Fibre/textiles art consists of printing, dyeing, painting, stencilling, discharging (take colour away), weaving, knitting, crocheting, and hand-stitching, among other techniques that can be used to create a wearable art piece.
Title: Matrix (Quevedo, 2002)
Originally, the fabric used to make this garment was black. Discharging takes colour away like bleach. Strips of fabric were uniformly cut into half-inch strips, tied together and made into a ball of yarn. These strips were then crocheted together to make the scarf and sweater.
Digital Textile Printing on Textiles
One of the most important technological advancements in the development of textiles is the use of textile printing using dyes. Overall, digital printing on textiles works very much like a regular desktop printer but on a much larger scale. Textile printers can be wide enough to accommodate 60 to 84 inches wide fabric of any length required for the design.
Title: On the Seventh Day He Rested (Quevedo, 2003)
This quilt was digitally printed on cotton sheeting and quilted using Channel or Shadow or Echo stitching, where one row of stitches follows another row of stitching a quarter of an inch apart from each other.
Hand manipulation is literally the use of your hands to create special stitches or knots such as crocheting, hand knitting, machine knitting, embroidery, applique, knotting, weaving, ribbon work, felting and many other techniques using specific muscle dexterity.
Title: Trebor (Quevedo, 2002)
Strips of rayon fabric were cut and crocheted to make this sweater and scarf. The head piece was made from strips of fabric that were dyed, then stitched together again.
Untitled (Quevedo, 2001)
This vessel was created by cutting strips of thin synthetic fabric wrapped over a metal form that was then melted. Once cooled, the metal form was taken away and the fabric was plasticized.
Untitled (Dewey and Quevedo 2011)
Repurposing in fashion is about finding another reason to make something into another idea you can still wear. This fifty year old white wedding dress was ruined in many parts including the veil. By cutting out only the useful parts of the wedding dress, a new dress was made to fit the person who owned the wedding dress. Dyed to an aged and feminine look, this former wedding dress is now a vintage evening gown.
This design proposal will include salvaging post-consumed textiles found in thrift stores and reclaimed retail depots. The concept for the design will be conceived from a story I wrote years ago that included societies created from having to protect themselves from a failing atmosphere resulting in an apocalyptic event due to war. These societies were conceived based on materials available to them from having to live deep into earth’s surface. After centuries living underground, these societies apart and dependent from each other produced unique cultures based exclusively on what was available to them. Not all were successful, but those that failed equally had their own communities dealing with everyday events as well as those that were significant to their situation.
From this narrative, a selected community and their fashion will be created. Considered to have succeeded in surviving this horrific event, these people were able to yield from a substantial amount of textile waste. These stories are a collection of communities throughout the planet earth. This unpublished science fiction collection of stories was started as a project to help student’s jumpstart a creative and conceptual design process. Because communities based from different locations were used, parameters were created mostly based on environmental impact rather than societal but were not exclusive of each other.
Experiential Learning and Interpretation
The story selected to introduce this specific project came from a community rich with post-consumer products that were reused from procuring clothing to its most basic element without the assistance of technology. Strips of fabric were used to create new yarn or trims were put together to create fabric or newer trims. For this project, a store was located. It sold only pre-consumed products or things from another era. Many of the items in the store were from the 1970s and the 1980s with original prices as the final sale price. Rayon tapes of various colours were available and two boxfuls were used for this garment.
Keeping to the original concept of not using any type of technology to create this garment, several tests were attempted that only used hand techniques such as hand-sewing, hand-knitting and hand-crochet (Figure 1). Hand-crochet was applied due to its ease of use and unique surface texture, when completed. Since each roll of rayon tape was discoloured because of age and dye lot, it was important to camouflage the colour inconsistencies to reveal a newer and coherent textile.
Figure 1. Crochet Technique (Quevedo, 2000)
Finishing the edges needed a sturdier yarn which the rayon tape could not provide. Instead, a two ply yarn was crocheted at the edges using a smaller crochet needle size for the sturdiness of the garment at the edges like hems and necklines.
The garment consisted of a dress and a jacket (Figure 2). This outfit was close fitted and seemed translucent owing to the transparency effect of the large crochet stitch used. Lining was not an option because the garment was crocheted. Stretch was an obvious compliment to this design for comfort and ease of care. An undergarment such as a swimsuit was intended for this beach cover-up or poolside hostess dress which has become part of the luxury market these past seasons. Companies are now producing swimwear that is not intended to get wet. They have expanded their textile choices to go beyond the usual spandex. Instead, these poolside garments were specifically designed for warm weather pool parties and cruises.
Versace, Dior and Missoni are some of the companies that produced dry-clean only swimwear that is not meant to get wet. Many of the fabrics selected for these don’t fare well in water. Sequins that fade in the sun or metals deteriorating from creams are a far cry from the wash and wear care labels.