I inherited a love for haute couture from my mother. We would sit together purring dementedly like two hungry felines at a koi pond while paging through collections, sighing every now and again in mutual appreciation. When Alexander McQueen followed his mentor Isabella Blow and stepped off the planet, I was deeply shocked and distraught. I felt an art movement had been stopped, the unique creative force behind it gone forever.
What now? Would the remaining players be like Queen, who, when my beloved Freddie Mercury died, quietly abdicated the crown? Now, almost two years later I am somewhat relieved that Sarah Burton, who immediately ascended to the throne of the House of McQueen, and has held court admirably attempting to retain that raw power of McQueen. This is the same feeling I get when I see how Karl Lagerfeld has honoured the House of [Coco] Chanel. Although watching Ms. Burton conforming for the Royal wedding gown for Kate Middleton was an exercise in the uncomfortable, akin to imagining Salvador Dali being regulated to painting landscapes in watercolour.
As one who eagerly follows modern and contemporary art, I believe haute couture has become a form of performance art. How you attire yourself is an outward expression of yourself, your style and your creativity. Admittedly, there have been days when I wished I had the energy and budget to dress like Tank Girl, but most occasions I am clad in my own trademark forms of expression.
To illustrate my point, here is an obvious but glorious visual reference: Frida Kahlo’s verve, vivid colour and expressive form extended beyond her artwork and into her life and sense of dress.
I adore the late McQueen for his tremendous imagination and ability to create beauty, while reaching far beyond the box, through frontiers, and shredding the envelope only to re-stitch it together as a gown. All who were fortunate enough to be adorned by McQueen became performance pieces. How it must feel! Lady Gaga can be labeled a performance artist. Love her or loathe her you still have to appreciate her sheer nerve and dedication to stay true to her performance art persona, while challenging our perceptions of the norm. She uses her body and fashion to uphold the interdisciplinary tradition of this avant-garde medium. There are no rules, no guidelines. Whether she plans every outfit carefully or some are for spontaneous public appearances with or without audience participation, she demands our attention and pushes the boundaries of what’s considered normal. I love that. This has got to take a whole lot of huevos.
And, she is a Performance Artist because however you find her — be it entertaining, amusing, shocking or horrifying — she is memorable.
“And now, I’m just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.”
― Lady Gaga
Arguably, Lady Gaga’s competition comes in the form of a strange, pixie-like firebrand: Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the co-front person of the experimental rap-rave, hit group Die Antwoord, from South Africa. She unabashedly embodies the ideologies of performance art so wholly, you can’t ascertain where the performance piece ends and the woman begins. The reaction she has received has been mixed. Some find her fearsome, shockingly alien, just too ‘freeky,’ while others embrace her with cult-like zeal. Whatever your feeling, you can’t help but marvel at the uniqueness and dedication of her creation.
I have noticed the dichotomy in reaction to these performance artists, the phrase “love it or hate it” seems to apply for most, especially the Grand Dame of the avant-garde, Yoko Ono, who provocatively said, “Everybody’s an artist. Everybody’s God. It’s just that they’re inhibited.” We tend to resent these artists and resist their performances because they rudely stick their fingers through our grey matter into our comfort level and swirl it around until we are filled with questions.
The leading pioneer in performance art today is Marina Abramović, who refers to herself instead as the “grandmother of performance art,” for her part in the earliest of the movement’s experiments. Ms. Abramović embodies Ms. Ono’s philosophy that, “Art is life and life is art.”
Ms. Abramović pushes the limits of the body and mind, and just how much we as her audience can take.
(You can view a preview of the HBO documentary of her MoMA exhibit here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY3VwmiT3j4)
This audience (by the way, her last piece, “The Artist Is Present” broke MoMA’s record of 850,000 visitors) have discovered a yearning to have their horizons expanded, their consciousness explored and inhibitions challenged, an-n-n-d if you reach for your bullshit detector, so be it — this is why we live!
Say, when did a work of art last do this to you?: http://marinaabramovicmademecry.tumblr.com/
Art and couture are fused and inspired by each other. McQueen’s mentor, Ms. Blow, served as a muse, and ardent supporter, to the immensely artistic and inspired haute couture milliner Philip Treacy (Mr. Treacy went on to subsequently design headwear for almost everyone mentioned in this post). This example, below, shows how the influence of art, bespoke, and design all came together in one head piece he created for Lady Gaga. This objet d’art is a superb nod to Dali.
Every movement or ‘ism’ needs its Peggy Guggenheim — someone who is a promouvoir, a champion. The current one for this style is the marvelously inimitable and innovational Daphne Guinness. Her aura and art personality are brilliantly captured in this New Yorker article, by Rebecca Mead, so worth a read with such lines as, “…her affect, which is that of a slightly deranged fairy invented by C. S. Lewis.”
My very elegant Aunt Ingrid used to say this all the time, and it is still my mantra for solving problems in all forms related to design, (plus, it happens to be one of my favourite McQueen quotes):
“There is no better designer than nature.”
― Alexander McQueen