Denis Gagnon, Fashion Art

I work in fashion. Well… that might be putting it strongly. I work for a sportswear brand buying and importing clothes all day. While it’s not high fashion and most of the time I crunch numbers thinking about profit and what would sell in our mainly sports store market, the job has helped rekindle an old interest in fashion, how clothes are made, what they mean to people and their place in social visual culture.

Fashion is an art form. It is. But in the years I spent studying Art History it barely ever made an appearance. Once in a while a certain styles of dress or hairstyle would come up in conversation to help underscore meanings in paintings, but it never became the focus. But why? Why did fashion not get a fair showing? Why am I still hearing from friends that clothing isn’t art? I think what it seems to come down to is the utilitarian nature of clothing, its abundance and is one of the top consumer goods. With clothing being such common place the artwork and at least craftsmanship is generally overlooked. Of course style, colour and other aspects are considered but for the most part the artistic value is less the highlighted.

In terms of fine arts and how objects are considered fashion seems to be on the same level of ceramics. Ceramic objects are some of the oldest pieces some collections boast, some dating back thousands of years. General collections of ceramic history, such as the one at the MBA, display works that cover the centuries and also the different levels of valued ceramics, from the functional bowls and carafes of earthenware to the high end decorative works of delicate bone china porcelain. These collections are often kept away from the main display rooms of museums, tucked into corners and basements, and it is their everyday nature that tends to keep them pushed aside. They are pieces made to use in everyday settings, some much finer than others, but all displaying and teaching about the aesthetics of times gone by and of the artisans who devoted their lives to creating them. This is the same role clothing has in the fine art setting, an everyday object that relates to a time and aesthetic, representing various techniques and craftsmanship and design, but basically still just everyday objects.


Some museum collection are expanding to include garments to help highlight aspects of people and times, think Napoleon pieces in the MBA permanent exhibit on the man, and the MBA had been delving into exhibitions on couture design. In 2008 this started with the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective staged in the wake of his sad passing in June of that year. A beautiful look into the stages of his designs from various collections, from the influence of exotic locales, as in the Russian collection to the pieces based on arts of works by artists such as Picasso and Braque and his iconic women’s tuxedo, the exhibition was a fine art setting for one of a kind pieces of high fashion artworks.

This coming June the museum will again give the focus to the work and world of a couturier, Jean Paul Gaultier and his work from ready to wear and couture collections. Described as avant garde in his design, the inclusion of multicultural influence, dance, music and cinematic images have helped create his surreal, beautiful and playful repertoire of garments.

More recently the free exhibit Denis Gagnon Shows All, which wrapped up this past Sunday, showcased Quebec’s own Denis Gagnon, the first Quebec couturier to have worked shown in the MBA.  One of the most recognizable and respectable Canadian designers.

His work predominately uses leather, metals and muted colour palates. Check out the Spring/Summer line to get a better idea about what he’s doing. The work can be very sculptural and architectural in design. It is incredibly interesting to see the pieces suspended on the mannequins from the ceiling so a proper 360 fitted view is achieved. In this way they take of the appearance of sculptures in a traditional space, but the combinations of the light a tough fabric along with metallic sheens give off the look of a composed and calm movement. The pieces are quite striking in their design and construction of each. The care and time devoted to each is apparent.

Addressed in this exhibit is major difference between fashion and many other art forms, it is a performance art. While other works can be enjoyed and appreciated as they are, standing on a pedestal or hanging on a wall, but with fashion the drapery and layering, the way it hangs from the body and importantly the way it moves with the body is necessary to understand and appreciate each piece. Without the motion there is something lost. Runway shows work better than catalogues. So in the center of the exhibition space hung a pyramid with looping video of the clothes moving, being modelled in real action.

They were beautiful and clever. They are works of art.

~ by ashcanmontreal on February 20, 2011.

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