The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo Searches For The Middle Ground Of Art And Fashion

Do clear lines between ‘art’ and ‘fashion’ still exist?

BY sarah chong | Oct 15, 2016 | Fashion

Sculptures by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare at the 'Across Art and Fashion' exhibition.

Is fashion considered art? The age-old question that has been debated for centuries holds a few schools of thought. In 2012, Karl Lagerfeld told the Telegraph, “I am against museums and exhibitions in fashion”, and insists on a clear distinction between his work in fashion and his work in art. On the contrary, exhibitions such as “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Met Gala and Iris van Herpen’s special use of material, just to name a few, have gained an impressive following.  

Superficie 295 by Giuseppe Capogrossi, 1958.

Standing in the middle ground is the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. The museum works on a new exhibition project every year, where curators draw inspiration from Salvatore Ferragamo’s history and experiences. This year, the exhibition is entitled “Across Art and Fashion” which explores the long-running relationship between fashion and art. “The theme was in our minds for many years and this was the right moment to face such a challenging topic,” says Stefania Ricci, curator at the Ferragamo Museum. “Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes are artworks and clear examples of the relationship between art and fashion. This is the first time in many exhibitions tied to focus on a very wide subject, without giving an answer, offering the visitors the chance to build their own approach and relative personal interpretation.”

Ricci started the project with artistic avant-gardes of the 20th century, which was what Ferragamo was fascinated by. The exhibition spans five different venues: Galleria d’arte moderna and Galleria del Costume at Palazzo Pitti (Modern Art Gallery and Costume Gallery at Pitti Palace), Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (National Central Library of Florence), Marino Marini Museum in Florence and Museo del Tessuto (Textile Museum) in Prato. “The goal is to create a network of collaborations”, where it is an “intriguing programme for Museo Salvatore Ferragamo and other participants to get such an important project looking at the same theme from several points of view,” Ricci explains.
Having worked previously with the Ferragamo Museum on the exhibition “The Art of the Shoe”, Ricci explains how this project finds a different light in the relationship of fashion and art.

Graphic project by Fausto Melotti, circa 1954.

By keeping the same frame of mind where the exhibitions link Ferragamo’s shoes and the history of his relationship with the artists, they "...aim to start from a historical topic, leading us from tradition to today. We had the chance to focus on a wider target with an interesting attitude to reach contemporaneity, passing through several fundamental moments, starting from the end of the XIX century to today. Art and fashion are two different worlds with a similar approach, but they can also be two faces, the main aspects of a cultural moment in an historical time. It is a continuum of fluid movement…”

With fashion houses and artists setting up collaborations like never before, the lines are blurred further, very often not knowing where one ends and where the other begins. Today, as we can see in the exhibition section devoted to contemporaneity, the relationship is stronger and stronger. Fashion is art and art is fashion, since they both look to one another.”

Graphic Project by Bruno Munari, 1950.

Just like all other exhibitions, what’s pivotal is the preparation, which is always hectic and complex. The biggest challenge faced was in loaning the art pieces. With help from art museums around the world, this exhibition was able to host genuine masterpieces such as a dress by Elsa Schiaparelli, in collaboration with Salvador Dalì in the ‘30s.

“The group of curators worked very carefully on the whole creative process. It has been challenging to finalise the project idea, the budget, the research plan, the loans and all the other aspects until the exhibition became what you see in the museum now,” Ricci adds. She believes that what keeps these art pieces alive all this time is that the pieces “communicate historical and timeless at the same time.”

Both art and fashion make a theme universal. “Fashion is a form of art, and art can be strictly linked to fashion. These are the two more important tools to represent time and life.” Fashion and art both hold their own presence, but these two elements possess a coexisting relationship that will continue to progress simultaneously. That, is a fair point to ponder.

Across Art and Fashion is now on display until 7 April 2017.

First published in Esquire Malaysia, the September 2016 issue.