An Impression of Fashion

I wanted to be inspired last week so I went to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition of Punk, From Chaos to Couture. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions I made to alleviate this rather disconcerting sentiment prompted by Memorial Weekend.

You know, this sense of unease and guilt one feels when you start to question how can you possibly live up to the sacrifice made by the generation that came before. I needed a release of a much more civilian nature to engage my mind, so I went and walked away disappointed by the Punk Show.

My disappointment can be read here as a fashion blog post I contributed to ModaRévisé: The Spirit of Punk.

Unexpectedly, I was floored by another exhibition right next door of Punk called Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.

The book of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity
The Art Institute of Chicago Yale University Press, 2013

Beautifully curated and thoughtfully presented, the exhibition explores the role of 19th century artists played in capturing, promoting, creating, and using fashion as yet another impetus to channel their creative spirit...Sounds familiar doesn't it!


Fashion illustration by Stella, 2010 & Chapter 3 of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity Book. 
Artists like Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, James Tissot, grand dame Berthe Morisot, and many more were at the forefront of this new wave of art called Impressionism.

I doubt they were conscious that they were creating something entirely new and making history, nonetheless, they chose fashion as both the subject and the medium to capture and express new techniques such as light experimentation, brush strokes, and re-invention of the meaning of black and white (gasp!).

Some pushed it even further by their less-than-conventional choices of subject matters and compositional preferences.

Did you know, to paint a lady in her morning dress and lounging in her own sitting room, was considered an unusually intimate choice of subject that verged on the scandalous?

Unbeknownst to Manet, not only did he pushed the artistic envelope, but he also captured the moment in history when the color of white became the color of respectable intimacy and purity.



Or Fédéric Bazille, a gentleman sitting on a chair drawing his legs up was considered "new in an oddly composited sort of way." So unrefined yet you see honesty in this natural and human way of sitting. 

Frédéric Bazille, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1867
Oil on Canvas

Or to see The Parisienne clad in black, the moment when black was given the new meaning of luxury, and sophistication in additional to its accepted mysteriousness. As far as I know, the color of black is still considered the color of luxury 138 years later.

The Parisienne, 1875
Edouard Manet
Shockers, but these artists kept on pushing and pushing, and experimenting despite initial criticisms they unleashed from the public, and let's not forget the prominent critics of Salon de Paris or Academie des Beaux Arts

Then the shock worn off and the public started to see what the artists had seen and discovered all along: " An impression of fashion through the eyes of artists." 

1:10 scale pattern pieces for handbag collection by Stella Chang
Chapter 3 of Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Book 

But why fashion? Well for one fashion has always been synonymous with the upper crest of society.  It definitely takes inherited titles and landed lordships or ladyships to afford fashion. Therefore, to be associated with fashion was to be associated with money.

That would help I would think, and let's not forget that back then the impressionists were considered "rejects" of the established art world, and what better way to rebel against the so-called authority by associating oneself with the ficklest, and the most frivolous pursuit of humane nature: fashion.

fashion illustration, 2010 by Stella Chang
Chapter 4 of Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Book
Perhaps it is safe to conclude that an artist's impression of Fashion really is a rebel without a cause to state the cliché, but nonetheless amusing and so true. I'm certainly on this journey albeit 138 years late!


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