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PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Offering new perspectives on masterpieces, the Impressionism, Fashion And Modernity exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art features Claude Monet’s Luncheon On The Grass.

FASHION AS ART’S MUSE
Fashion is not a trifle but a way of life as well as an inspiration for art

ONG
SOH CHIN
he other day, Mr Lionel Yeo, the
chief executive of the Singapore
Tourism Board, mentioned
home-grown fashion labels
Hansel and Ong Shunmugam
when referring to Singapore’s
attractions.
I took this as a heartening indication
that people in power are starting to
regard fashion not as a frivolity, but as
something worth championing.
His encouraging reference
acknowledges the changing local
fashion landscape, which has largely
flown under the radar of the general
public.
After all, local fashion does not get as
much air time or column inches as, say,
the arts.
Also, in terms of government
funding, what is pumped into fashion,
through initiatives such as the annual
Asia Fashion Exchange, for example,
cannot come close to the $270 million
that has been committed by the
Government over the next five years to
bring cultural events to the heartland
and boost arts education.
That funding pie, as well as an
initiative where the Government
matches each dollar of donations from
the private sector towards the arts, was
part of the recommendations of the
Arts and Culture Strategic Review
committee, which was convened
especially to look into cultural policy.
Perhaps, Mr Yeo’s high-profile
endorsement of local fashion as
something real and organic to
Singapore can spur more people to
think of it not purely as something lofty

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and expensive to be
indulged in only by the
rich and the privileged,
but as part of the DNA of
everyday life.
And while fashion
often draws inspiration
from art, it can also have
a profound impact on it.
In fact, the current
exhibition at the
Metropolitan Museum of
Art in New York
illustrates that very
notion, offering the
public a delightful new
perspective on some
classic and iconic
artworks.
Called Impressionism,
Fashion And Modernity, A photo of a young Catherine Deneuve, wearing huge
the exhibition, which
earrings, is displayed at the Man Ray Portraits exhibition.
runs till May 27, has
been receiving rave
department stores, illustrated fashion
reviews for placing familiar loved works
magazines and ready-to-wear clothing;
in a completely new context.
but also of the couture fashion house.
Masterpieces by Claude Monet,
Fashion was so fascinating and
Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
alluring that poet Stephane Mallarme
Edgar Degas and Georges Seurat are
even created a fashion magazine, called
seen through a fashion-tinged loupe,
La Derniere Mode, in 1847, which he
with the emphasis on the period gowns
wrote, edited and designed. The eight
and accessories depicted in the art.
issues that he produced contained
The Impressionist masters
fashion news, book and theatre essays,
functioned almost like street-style
notes on food and even dress designs,
photographers today, chronicling the
all under flamboyant pseudonyms,
fashions of the day in their paintings.
including Marguerite de Ponty and
In fact, The Sartorialist, Scott
Miss Satin.
Schuman, in a YouTube video about
All this is quite a refreshing
the exhibition, even compares the
eye-opener, considering the accepted
young woman in Degas’ The Millinery
norm is for fashion designers to be
Shop to a young woman today making
influenced by art, rather than for artists
ironic T-shirts in a little shop in the
to be inspired by fashion.
Lower East Side of Manhattan.
But artists have been inspired by
The paintings also fill out the
fashion for a long time. And the fashion
historical details in Parisian society in
medium has offered many artists an
the mid-19th century. In particular,
alternative means of expression.
they chart the rise of not only
commercial fashion in the form of
In another ongoing exhibition, this

one at London’s National Portrait
Gallery, also until May 27, the
revolutionary photographic techniques
of Man Ray, one of the leading artists of
the Surrealist movement, are showcased
through more than 150 vintage prints
from 1916 to 1968.
The exhibition, titled Man Ray
Portraits, features his famous shots of
icons such as Marcel Duchamp and
Coco Chanel, as well as his fashion
photography for publications such as
Vanity Fair. In one of his last
assignments, for London’s The Sunday
Times, he photographed a young
Catherine Deneuve, wearing huge
gold-plated earrings that eventually sold
at Sotheby’s for US$20,000.
Man Ray never felt that lines had to
be drawn between fashion, art and life.
Neither did the Impressionists. But,
sadly, many people still do.
It is interesting to note that both The
New York Times and the New Yorker
began their glowing reviews of the Met
exhibition by first apologising for its
title.
The New York Times said the
juxtapostion of fashion with
Impressionism sounds like a “double
dose of pandering”; while the New
Yorker said it suggests “box office
candy”.
Their qualifiers are clearly meant to
allay any suspicions that the curators
are scraping the bottom of the barrel by
throwing fashion in as a sugary cream
puff of an excuse to lure the shallow
and the weak.
Similarly, in Singapore, fashion is
regarded with some disdain as a trifle,
or as the dangerous siren call of a
consumerist culture. It is time we
treated it with some respect. If it was
good enough for Manet and Man Ray,
it’s certainly good enough for you.
sohchin@sph.com.sg