“Is there value in fashion?
Do you think you can associate the same cultural value with fashion as you can with art or literature or even music?” Up in the hills, at a height of 7000 feet, away from most civilization, this wasn’t a question I was expecting.
Of course, I defended fashion. How could I not? You cannot, obviously, ignore its economic impact, the livelihood it creates, the sustainability efforts of a section of the fashion industry.
But is this impact going to last? Are generations who come after us going to be awed by the creations of Chanel, Dior, or McQueen, the same way we are mesmerized by the music of Beethoven, the art of Da Vinci, or the words of Shakespeare? Or does fashion have the same value that gourmet food has; it’s art for sure but it’s ephemeral in its appeal, transient in its beauty?
As someone who constantly talks about how fashion needs to be studied as cultural history and an anthropological lesson in what makes human beings, human, I believe that fashion can offer more than what it is currently given credit for.
Internationally, museums across the world often offer major fashion displays; galleries hosting exhibitions are also commonplace. As of today, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is hosting an exhibit on Yves Saint Laurent, Victoria and Albert Museum in London has curated an exhibit on Balenciaga, the Kensington Palace is showing a collection of Princess Diana’s most memorable outfits; back home, as a part Google’s ‘We Wear Culture’ project, The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay is hosting an exhibition on the 15 variations of the saree, and The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (BDL) is participating with 10 exhibitions which includes ones on textiles and attires and rare books on Indian textiles and clothing from the 19th and early 20th century.
And it is Google’s ‘We Wear Culture’ that I hope will be a gamechanger.
It is what, I believe, will finally make fashion exhibition worthy and subject of conversation. The virtual exhibition project is an attempt to encourage people to explore the history of clothes dating to as early as 3000 years ago. From clothes that are from the Silk Road era, to those worn in the court of Versailles, and the different draping styles of the saree, the idea is to trace the stories of the clothes in your wardrobe. With over 400 online exhibitions and stories which share over 50,000 photos, videos, and documents on world fashion, this project elevates fashion to art that needs to be studied and documented to better understand the human story.
Jean Paul Gaultier famously say, “Fashion is not art. Never” There are other equally famous designers who share the sentiment. I don’t know enough to argue with industry greats. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but I feel we need to look beyond that characterization, one that does not narrow it down being a subset of art.
#The views expressed in this column are the authors