A girl stands looking at the camera in a white shirt bedecked with Matisse-like line drawings of nude women. The words “Getting dressed is choosing a companion for your skin” are painted in a Tracey Emin–style scrawl on the chest. This photograph is one of the most-liked posts on the Instagram account belonging to Paloma Wool, a small Spanish label that’s reached cult status precisely for its art-inspired clothing. The brand is one of many taking its cues from art gallery walls right now. Though it might not be the first time the worlds of fashion and art have collided, the spring/summer 2018 collections were so rich with examples that sitting on the front row was like a lesson in art history.
Ready? At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri borrowed graphics of fire-breathing dragons and spiders from the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. At Marni, dresses and skirts were adorned with scrawls of nude women smoking, painted by David Salle in 1979. Prada’s set showcased eight women cartoonists’ work, which also made its way onto handbags, shirts and dresses; Calvin Klein’s tank tops were plastered with Andy Warhol’s “Tunafish Disaster” (1963); Coach’s T-shirts and handbags featured Keith Haring’s signature squiggles while Céline’s pleated white shirts and skirts were decorated with beautiful blue sketches of baroque sculptures. Phew.
Meanwhile, artful pieces are causing a serious stir on the shop floor. The global fashion search engine Lyst reports a rise in searches for pieces decorated in line drawings: James Ivory’s Oscars shirt prompted more than 5000 searches in 24 hours while the most viewed Victoria Beckham top is a silk T-shirt decorated in doodles of women (£132).
At the London boutique Browns, a collection of T-shirts, skateboards and trainers picturing work by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold out within weeks of landing. “Our customers respond incredibly well to pieces that tie into the art world,” says Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at the store.
So: Why art? Why now? Beatrice Behlen, fashion curator at the Museum of London, believes it’s partly to do with the blurring boundaries between art forms. “Fashion has become more ravenous in absorbing new concepts and styles while designers, such as Tom Ford, are now engaged in several creative areas,” she says.
Petersson, meanwhile, reckons the rise of “art garments” is down to status, a longstanding notion in both the art and fashion worlds. “Wearing art is a way of showing that you’re in the know.” Perhaps it’s little surprise, then, that in another world where one-upmanship rules—Instagram, people—brands working closely with art are thriving.
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Enter Paloma Wool, the brainchild of designer Paloma Lanna. In four years, the tiny Barcelona-based label has garnered over 148K followers on Instagram and been featured everywhere from Who What Wear to Vogue thanks to collections printed with illustrations of nudes, bodies and faces by artist Tana Latorre. For Lanna, likes on Instagram were just a happy afterthought. “I was as interested in art as I was in creating clothes, so I decided to focus less on typical fashion concepts and more on artistic exploration,” she says.
The good news about all of this is that a high-status purchase doesn’t require a highfalutin bank balance to match. Paloma Wool’s T-shirts start at an agreeable £57. Keep scrolling to see more arty pieces under £200 that promise to give your wardrobe a culture boost.