Wearable Art and Fashion—The Story

The best works of art are the ones you can wear. When we think about art, many of us first imagine paintings exhibited in the most famous museums around the world. Or we may also often think of performance art, music, or interior design. But what about the wearable art of fashion?

Fashion is certainly art, but also so much more. In the field of fashion, art meets human life, daily or ceremony needs, and the feelings and self-confidence of women and men. From small fashion statements to haute couture, wearable art comes in many different forms. In the words of Coco Chanel:

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.


Wearable works of art are individually designed pieces of handmade clothing or jewelry, also known as “artwear”. Pieces of wearable art are seen as unique artistic creations and statements. Each inspired by its creator’s aesthetic. Essentially if you can wear it, it’s wearable art. However, the elaborateness of many pieces also means they often make their way into museums and books documenting their beauty.

wearable art glasses and jewelry by schiaparelli paris haute couture spring-summer 2020 2021
Schiaparelli Women’s Spring-Summer 2020/2021 Haute Couture
(Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP / Getty Images)

While fashion began as a human necessity and was for many generations addressed with a creative eye, the modern view of wearable art as we know it today was shaped from the 1930s to the 1960s. The social, political, and cultural circumstances and climate of the 1960s, provided a special context for individual expression and the exploration of creativity into body adornment creations. In the US, in the late 1960s, handmade clothing was considered self-expression and a way to affirm and take a position against mass production.

It was also during this time that jewelers looked to their creations as fine art rather than craft, wearable fine art.

As a result, jewelry started to be sold for sums beyond just its material value and presented in galleries and museums. In 1946 The Museum of Modern Art curated an exhibition called Modern Handmade Jewelry, one of the first of its kind and a noted moment in the history of honoring jewelry as art. Jewelry may very well be the most important category of wearable art. The need to decorate ones’ outfit helped to shape design and art globally. A need also satisfied by the art of shoes and purses!

A model walks the runway during the Balmain show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2019 on September 28, 2018, in Paris, France. (Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)
Balmain Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2019
(Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)

Perhaps one of the greatest masters of Wearable Art when it comes to clothing is Alexander Mcqueen. During his life, Mcqueen created countless groundbreaking performances in this very art form. Along with McQueen, haute couture designers all took to creating “art-for-the-catwalk.” And while this form of wearable art is far from mainstream fashion, the options for wearable art you can incorporate into your everyday wardrobe are endless.

Most wearable art features fibrous materials; however, new technological developments have led to the creation of great memorable pieces of clothing and jewelry.

The materials become wires, glowing tubes, feathers, and details only possible with advanced graphic design and 3D modeling programs. One familiar with haute couture may instantly think of Iris Van Herpen, a pioneer of 3D printing techniques applied to the world of fashion and a master at fusing technology and garments.

Judy Kinuthia walks the runway in wearable art during the Iris Van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 20, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)
Judy Kinuthia in Iris Van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020
(Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)

Innovation and new technologies made possible an entirely new world of wearable art, further bridging art and fashion, and where the most incredible pieces of clothing mix art and the human touch. As art for the body, fashion is an innate part of visual culture. Around the world, fashion designers create collections inspired by their creative forces filled with color, form, and style, making them true artists.

The best works of art?
Surely the ones you can wear.

Words by Inês Romba
Article Originally Appeared in Love Happens Volume 5

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