Art & Fashion


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Since my early teens, I have had little interest in drawing/painting anything other than people… the human figure. This probably began with my passion for comic books and my own efforts at drawing superheroes... even inventing my own superheroes. In art school, I took as many classes in figure drawing as I could, but I refused repeated attempts by faculty to push me into portrait classes. I had no interest in painting what I saw on the wall of the portrait department: bland images of often unattractive models dressed in the most boring clothing that we all saw every day: t-shirts, flannel shirts, blue jeans, sweatshirts, etc… I remember thinking at the time that some of my absolute favorite artists were masters of the portrait… but I could surely understand Raphael, Rubens, Ingres, Van Dyck, etc… wanting to paint portraits when they had such stunning fashions to work with: lace and tulle and satin and silk:

I’ve always thought the sleeve alone in this portrait by Raphael is a swirling masterpiece:


Peter Paul Rubens, long my favorite artist, is typically associated with the painted Baroque nude. It is often forgotten that most of his figures are clothed in one way or another. Long before Manet’s Olympia, Rubens understood that nudity depends on contrast for maximum impact, that an abundance of fur, satin, tulle, lace, velvet... or a bracelet clasping a plump arm, would enhance the suggestion and sensuality of bare flesh.

Anyone who has been on TOS for some time knows that I am absolutely enthralled by this painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres… and it is certainly the dress as much as anything that makes the painting:


As I began to explore the paintings of the "old masters" while still in art school, I began to truly reognize a similarity between many of their works and that of the comic books I grew up on. Both frequently involved the representation of idealy beautiful super-human beings... often portrayed in dramatic action poses and dressed in exquisite costumes of brilliant saturated colors that revealed or flattered their bodies.

My wife and I were married in a costume party wedding dressed in 18th-century/Rococo fashion. We rented costumes from a company that bought up costumes from the various theaters, ballets, and operas. We were further assisted by a friend who was into American Civil War reenactments. My wife’s wedding dress was not far removed from this one worn by Madame de Pompadour in the painting by François Boucher:

A few weeks ago I watched (again) Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. As Grace Kelly’s last performance as an actress before she became Princess of Monaco, she blew the audience away with her gorgeous tan skin, immaculate golden hair and elegant “graceful” wardrobe. The flowing drapery of her dresses, the pale blue silk, the white strapless gown, and even the day dresses are the picture of glamour… designed by Edith Head, recipient of a record 8 Academy Awards for “Best Costume Design”:


I thought with this thread I would explore the various links between Fashion & Art: fashion in art, fashion as an inspiration for art, art as an inspiration for fashion, and fashion as art.

Here is another still from to Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly’s stunning gilded costume party dress by Edith Head:

Having mentioned Van Dyck, his portrait of Maria Louisa de Tassis is an absolutely stunning example of fashion in painting:

It seems to be that the effect of fashion is not always dependent upon a variety of colors, textures, and patterns. Sometimes just a single swathe of fabric of a single color can be incredibly effective. This seems especially true when the color is red:


The first museum art exhibition that I ever traveled out of state to see was that of a dual retrospective of the paintings of Titian and of Van Dyck. One painting that left me truly stunned was Van Dyck’s Portrait of Agostino Pallavicini, a member of the Genoese branch of the Pallavicini family and the future doge of Genoa, who is portrayed enveloped by the sumptuous, flowing red robes worn in his role as ambassador to the pope. The massive field of swirling red fabric of this large canvas absolutely blew me away:

The red dress and the red robe are striking partly because of the color and partly the way it is displayed on an almost monochromatic background. Shows the importance of planning. :)
The impact of the Van Dyck also had to do with scale. As I stood before it, I was literally surrounded by this field of red. ❤
A few weeks ago I watched (again) Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. As Grace Kelly’s last performance as an actress before she became Princess of Monaco, she blew the audience away with her gorgeous tan skin, immaculate golden hair and elegant “graceful” wardrobe.

Love Hitchcock!
Such interesting thoughts on art and fashion. Thanks for opening up a new world for me.
Like a great many Americans my age, I grew up on comic books... and the costumes of comic book superheroes were likely the inspiration for my first real thoughts about fashion and costume.


Comic book superheroes with their superhuman bodies were my original inspiration for drawing the human figure... originally mostly the male figure. Once I started Art School I was struck by the similarities between the comic superheroes and the gods and heroes of Renaissance, Baroque, Romanticist, etc... art. Some figures, like Wonder Woman (named Diana) could be seen as having a direct link with Greco-Roman gods and heroes (Artemis/Diana).

As I mentioned earlier, the school professors repeatedly attempted to talk me into taking courses on Portraiture... but I rejected these attempts because nothing that I saw coming from Portraiture interested me: bland portraits of mostly less-than-attractive models dressed in bland street clothes. Looking at Rubens, Ingres and others I recognized that portraits could include the sort of stunning fashion or costume that I admired...


Unfortunately, the teachers of the portrait... and life-drawing classes... were too conservative to try something like costumes... with one exception. There was a young teacher... maybe only 10 years older than me at the time... who was trying to bring some fire to the life drawing classes. He had one model who was a male burlesque performer. He started bringing in costumes: Conan the Barbarian's fur wrap and horned hat... Darth Vader, etc... With time, they started to stage narratives. I remember one called "The Morning After" in which the woman was wearing the man's shirt (and nothing else) and ironing his pants while sipping a beer... while the male model sat in a chair next to her wearing only his socks and also sipping a beer. 😜

I became truly intrigued with fashion shortly after Art School. I thought that most of the men's fashions of the time were boring as all hell, but found women's fashion... especially lingerie and burlesque costumes were far more intriguing:


It seems that I was looking for more sensual fashions at just the right time as the period saw the revival of burlesque and vintage-style pinups... in part, turning to a more "innocent" time in rejection of the proliferation of pornography. I communicated with a couple of the models getting permission to use their photographs as reference material for paintings.


When my wife and I were planning our wedding, I was the proverbial "starving artist" so the traditional wedding dress was out of the question. I had a friend who was into historic reenactments. He was especially into the American Civil War. I told him that if I were to participate, I'd want to be a debauched European aristocrat slumming in America. He laughed, and said, "Our group has some of those." He pointed me to a costume rental store that bought costumes from all the regional theaters, ballets, operas, etc... We were able to rent costumes for our entire wedding party for less than 1/10 of the cost of a wedding dress... which would also be worn only once. As I was such a huge fan of the film, Amadeus... and the Rococo period is an admitted "guilty pleasure"... we dressed for the Rococo period. My wife's dress was not far different from Madame Pompadour's from Boucher's portrait... and I had a brown satin great coat.


For years I kept Rubens' use of fashion in mind: Rubens understood that nudity depends on contrast for maximum impact and that an abundance of fur, satin, tulle, lace, velvet... or a bracelet clasping a plump arm, would enhance the suggestion and sensuality of bare flesh. Yet most of my paintings were of the nude. In a way, I looked at the surrounding tessellations, flowers, and gold leaf to offer the contrast to the nudity that the fashion used by Rubens did. Only recently, have I begun to employ fashion... clothing... in my own paintings.

In spite of this, over the years... decades... I have remained fascinated with fashion and collected endless images from burlesque, pinups, Hollywood fashion, haute couture, the ballet, the opera, theater... etc...

I'm especially enamored of traditional Eastern European dress:


Indian/Persian/Middle-Eastern Fashion:


Some of the Persian/Middle-Easter wedding dresses are simply over-the-top:


The same is true of many of the costumes from the Venice Carnival:

Thank you for your interesting post on the fashion topic. I will have to read it all again to absorb the finer points.
I would love to see your wedding photos.

I will try to dig some up. Unfortunately, our wedding took place prior to smartphones. I have more pictures of our dogs, Raphael & Pepper than I do of my parents and relatives growing up, our kids as kids, or even our wedding. Some time ago, I did try to photograph some of the wedding photos, but the results were horrid. The original photos were printed on glossy paper and it is impossible to get rid of the glare and reflections without setting up lighting at an angle and shooting behind a black drop cloth as I have done when photographing works of art framed under glass. Perhaps I'll try a scanner or get one of those apps that using AI to rapidly convert photographs to digital format.

When rolls of film were limited to 24 or 36 pictures that had to be developed at some expense, you didn't take hundreds of photos of your dogs or your lunch without thinking twice. Sadly, I only have a single photo of my beautiful German Shepherd/Husky/Wolf mix, Wolfgang. Luckily, it is a beautiful photo:

Art and Fashion are intrinsically linked. Much of Art History is also a history of Fashion. In our current "Post-Modern" era... in which artists feel free to pick and choose inspiration from across the broad spectrum of Art History as if they were diners at a smorgasbord, fashion designers are just as likely to draw inspiration... steal ideas... from the art of the past... the recent past... and the not-so-recent past.

In 2013, fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana debuted a collection titled, “Tailored Mosaic,” inspired by the Cathedral of Monreale, a beautifully decorated church from the era of the Byzantine Empire. Models walked the Milan runway adorned in golden dresses emblazoned with religious figures and embellished with elaborate jewelry that reflected the opulence of this once powerful, Christian, Eastern Roman Empire. Additional inspiration was drawn from the brilliant mosaics of Ravenna.

For a period in the 6th century AD, Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman/Byzantine Empire under Emperor Justinian. Viewing the exterior of the buildings of 6th century Ravenna: La basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Basilica of San Vitale, Galla Placidia, etc... does not leave one overly awed.

Ravenna-San Vitale and Galla Placidia.jpg

-San Vitale and Galla Placidia

The interiors of these buildings, however, are something else altogether. The Byzantine churches of Ravenna were decorated inside with some of the most spectacular examples of mosaics.

Saint Apollinaire.jpg

-Saint Apollinaire

San Vitale Grouping.jpg

-San Vitale


- San Vitale

Galla Placidia Grouping1.jpg

-Galla Placidia

Ravenna and its mosaics have been a source of inspiration to artists across the ages. Poets including Dante, James Joyce, Rilke, and Adam Zagajewski were drawn to Ravenna. Perhaps most famous, however, was Gustav Klimt, who drew inspiration from the mosaics of Ravenna for his "gold period" paintings:


Dolce and Gabbana's collection, “Tailored Mosaic,” is more blatant in directly lifting images in their designs:

Byzantine Show1.jpg

Byzantine Show 2.jpg

Byzantine Show 3.jpg


While I don't think that D&G's use of the mosaics of Byzantine Ravenna is anywhere near as original as Klimt's... I am always interested in artists... especially in an industry as driven by money as the fashion industry... drawing inspiration from Art History... especially from a period in Art History not so well-trod as some others.
The artist that really got me personally into fashion in art for the first time was Leyendecker.
It’s an really interesting connection, how fashion shaped art and how art shaped fashion.
These things are undeniable linked together

Your posts here are really inspiring.
Makes me want to explore the use of fashion in my own art more
Flowercat, thanks (blushing) 😊... and yes, I quite admire J.C. Leyendecker's work as well...


If there is anything to dislike about his work it might be the fact that it clearly focuses upon... if not panders to the wealthy elite. Then again... we can say this is true of most art... certainly almost all art prior to the mid-19th century.


Van Dyck was surely not working for the peasants of his era... and if we are honest, we can say this is true even of most of the art of our time that focuses on social, political, and economic issues. Unless works of art are produced in such a manner as to be mass-produced (R. Crumb's comics) they remain luxury items in a very real sense. I've joked more than once that I could not really afford to buy my own art. 😜