In Legendary Artists and the Clothes They Wore, Terry Newman Examines the Sartorial Style of Great Artists

Image courtesy of HarperCollins

Is fashion art? Some believe that fashion is too self-indulgent to be considered art, while others contend that fashion should be equally ranked with classical music, ballet, and the great masterpieces of Reubens, Renoir, Chagall, and O’Keefe.  And though fashion at one time was viewed as the province of a select group of designers that made garments for very wealthy women, in recent years with the proliferation of fashion exhibitions in major international capitals that celebrate the brilliance and integrity of some of the industry most esteemed designers, fashion is beginning to take its rightful place as in artform.

Terry Newman, in her book Legendary Artists and the Clothes They Wore highlights and celebrates many great artists’ sartorial style. In this book, Newman presents more than forty-five fully illustrated profiles of great artists whose personal style gives a purview into who they were as great artists.

From the great Cecil Beaton to the minimal style of Cindy Sherman to the highly undervalued Leigh Bowery, Terry Newman provides a detailed look at the style of many great artists of the last century as expressed in studio portraits, humorous quips, and archival photographs.

Terry Newman image courtesy of HarperCollins

Fashion Reverie: Why a book that examines the sartorial style of great artists?

Terry Newman: There is this conversation that has been bubbling up for some time about art and fashion. For me, the way to get a bird’s eye view into any cultural phenomenon or cultural movement is through what people wear.  Acknowledging that, it made sense to me to look at art through the clothes that the artists wore. Then I could take the conversation on how fashion has appropriated art, and how artists appropriate, sometimes fueled by fashion.

There is this convergence of the two mediums that I find interesting. And the main interest for me is through the clothes. However, we are at this moment in time where we are having this conversation.

FR: How did you come up with the concept of the book? Because this book is not about great fashion worn by artists, but how fashion was infused into these artists’ lives.

Terry Newman: If you take an artist like Frida Kahlo who was the prism of what I wanted to present in the book. The clothes that people wear is very much a part of their identity. A way into understanding an artist’s work would be not only their biography, but also the clothes they wore. The two are intertwined.

I find it fascinating what people are wearing, not in a judgmental way, but clothes say something about who you are, your likes and dislikes, and it really speaks to your moods. The element of personal style really speaks to me. Fashion is finally broadening and becoming more inclusive. Knowing and resonating in an artist’s work goes hand in hand with what they choose to wear and how they choose to present themselves to the world.

FR: Fashion designers now have art exhibitions. That wouldn’t have happened 50 years ago. That said; could you comment on this current era of fashion as art?

Terry Newman: Global, blockbuster fashion exhibitions in iconic museums is really elevating fashion in the art world.  Fashion is now open to academic and critical analysis. Fashion in museums as exhibitions is not very new. What is different this time around is how these museums are attempting to engage the public around these fashion exhibitions. 

Alexander McQueen’s exhibition is the biggest fashion exhibition that we had here in London and that exhibition also traveled globally. Only when fashion industry professionals start elevating fashion to that kind of critical analysis will fashion be platformed more as an artform.

The art world today, more than in any other time, bases success on sales. When you see the commodification of art, as it is happening now, these mass exhibits are all about sales, and that does change the genre. So, there is a movement that says if art can be commodified to increase sales, why can’t fashion as art be commodified the same way?

Photograph of Marina Abramovic by Dusan Reljin. ©Dusan Reljin. From Legendary Artists and What They Wore, published by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019.

FR: How did you choose your subjects for the book?

Terry Newman: It was a difficult process. I chose mostly artists from the 20th and 21st century because in a book like this you must have photographs. You want to see what artists are wearing and that becomes more difficult when you step out of the 20th century. I also didn’t have enough room in this book for every artist I wanted to include.

FR: How did you choose the artwork that accompanies each artist in this book?

Terry Newman: It is so important to make sure that images in the book pair up to give the effect I was trying to get across. It took me about year to write the book, and a year to come up with the images. It was really a labor of love. I have thousands of images that I’ve sourced. There was the practicality of getting the right resolution for the images I wanted to use and if I could get permission to use the images. Then I also wanted to present to readers images they may not have ever seen.

One of my favorite images in the book is of Keith Haring painting Grace Jones. Haring was very egalitarian and very generous with his work, putting his signature on so many things so his friends could have something with his name on it. There are photographers that have massive archives of images of Keith Haring that are just sitting around and have never been published.

FR: You also put runway images in the book. Why that inclusion?

Terry Newman:  I wanted to show a little bit more of the conversation that goes on between fashion and art. In the Stephen Sprouse collection, he used Andy Warhol prints. They had a friendship and a communication between the two of them, and Warhol allowed Sprouse to use his imagery on his garments. And how those two things crosspollinate is very important.

I also thought it was very important to demonstrate in the book how fashion designers are inspired by art and how they translate that onto the runway. Yves St. Laurent was always inspired by art; you can’t really do a book like this and not reference Yves St. Laurent. Including runway images was a bit of a step away from the general subject of this book. However, I wanted show how the worlds of art and fashion are linked.

Image of Bruce Nauman by Francois La Diascorn. ©Francois La Diascorn. From Legendary Artists and What They Wore, published by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019.

FR: You divide the book between hats, glasses, suits, and hairstyles. Could you explain why you chose to order your book this way?

Terry Newman:  Well, it was kind of a cheeky way to put the book together, because fashion should be fun. Sometimes, artists are recognized by distinctive things that they wear. Rene Magritte was known for wearing bowler hats. I am not saying that these artists are all about their glasses, hats, and suits. But what they consistently wore says a little bit about their personality, their eccentricities, and a little bit of who they are as artists.

So, you have Bruce Nauman with his cowboy hats, Magritte with his bowler hats, and Grayson Perry’s alter ego always wearing these bonnets.

FR: Why did you choose performance artist Leigh Bowery for this book?

Terry Newman:  I am particularly in love with Leigh Bowery. But, why put him in the book when so many people have no idea who he is? Particularly, alongside Picasso, Dali, and Pollock.

First, let’s be very clear, Bowery was an outstanding artist. The clothes he wore were pieces of art and he made most of the garments he wore. He didn’t care if he sold his clothes or not. When you think about fashion, you know it is successful if it is selling. However, with art the artist feels he has achieved success if the work expresses what he or she was trying to say.

With Leigh Bowery, he really didn’t care about selling his clothes, he made them for himself as an expression of who he was and what he wanted to express. And in that respect, what he made was art. I feel people need to know who Leigh Bowery was and because it is my book, I get to choose the artists in the book.

I teach a couple of days at an art school in London, and my students are all in their late teens and early 20s. There is a whole world that is pre-digital that they don’t know much about. So, I wanted to include Leigh Bowery so that my students would know who he was because he was pre-digital. I know that he is an odd entry in this book, but he was too wonderful leave out.

Cecil Beaton image by Norman Parkinson. © Iconic Images/Norman Parkinson. From Legendary Artists and What They Wore, published by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019.

FR: What’s next for you?

Terry Newman:  I don’t know really. I would like to continue to talk about clothes, and personal style, and keep doing what I am doing. I am interested in personalities in fashion and wherever that takes me, that is where I will go next.

Terry Newman has worked in the fashion industry for more than twenty-five years, both as an editor at i-D, Attitude, and Self Service and as a contributing writer for newspapers including the Guardian, the Independent, the Times, and the Sunday Times. She has also written and presented fashion programs in the United Kingdom for Channel 4 (She’s Gotta Have It and Slave). The author of Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore (Harper Design), she has contributed to books including i-D’s Fashion Now, Fashion Now 2, and Soul i-D. She currently lectures at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom, England and lives in London with her husband and two children.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is published by HarperCollins.

William S. Gooch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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