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Art and fashion collaborations in Spain

Spain’s fashion world has long been inspired by its artists – and vice versa. Karen Munnis looks at the stylish legacy of this very special synergy

Karen Munnis portrait
Karen Munnis,

‘A fashion designer is an artist born as a designer; fashion is some kind of art, one way or another,’ says Leonor Pérez Pita, director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid. International designers such as Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Phoebe Philo at Céline may have produced bold, painterly collections for spring/summer 2014, but in Madrid there is a true synergy between art and the fashion industry, where each continues to influence and work with the other.

History lessons
Spanish artists gained international recognition early on in their careers collaborating with fashion designers. Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel famously worked together in the 1920s on two of Jean Cocteau’s ballets, with Picasso designing the stage sets and Chanel the costumes. Salvador Dalí collaborated with fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, uniting his surrealist images with her clothing. The 1937 Lobster dress was inspired by Dalí’s New York Dream - Man Finds Lobster in Place of Phone; the Shoe hat, which began as a Dalí photograph in 1934, became part of Schiaparelli’s autumn/winter 1937/38 collection.

Madrid movement
The synergy between the artistic and fashion communities in Madrid flourished during the Movida Madrileña, a counterculture movement that sprang up following the death of General Franco in 1975. Fashion designer Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada launched her womenswear brand in Madrid in the early 1980s and was an important supporter of the movement. ‘The Movida Madrileña was exhilarating proof that Spain was changing,’ she says. ‘The cultural floodgates were thrust open; artists just wanted to be free, creative and to enjoy themselves. I was lucky to be part of such a dynamic time and generation, where anything seemed possible.’

Architectural influence
Growing up in a family of architects and artists influenced much of Ruiz de la Prada’s work. ‘When I was a child I wanted to become a painter because my father was an art collector. I think that is why art is present in my collections in an instinctive way. I love Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Rothko and Vasarely,’ she says. She began just with womenswear, but her bold, pop-art inspired prints have since expanded to include menswear and childrenswear, furniture design, bed linen and cosmetics ranges.

Geometry class
Madrid-based designer Amaya Arzuaga looks to soft geometry and architecture with her work. For spring/summer 2014 Arzuaga, whose signature pieces include micro-mini skirts and structural shapes, showed a palette of fuchsia, cream, canary yellow and black. ‘Her designs are architecture,’ says Pérez Pita. ‘The architecture comes first. The clean lines and her use of volume are inspired by the works of many Spanish architects.’

Vital Vidal
Vogue Who’s On Next 2013 award winner Juan Vidal studied painting and fine art in Barcelona before switching to a career in fashion design, and art continues to influence his collections. ‘There exists something intangible in art that influences my work with colour or contemporary graphic design,’ he states. ‘Also, the cinema as an art is one of my favourite sources of inspiration for a collection.’ Each of Vidal’s collections is named after a female character type; for next season, it’s Diana the huntress.

Museum pieces
Work from Spanish fashion greats are housed in Madrid’s Museo del Traje, its costume and fashion museum, in a building designed by award-winning architects Jaime López de Asiaín and Ángel Díaz Domínguez. When Spain’s fashion industry boomed in the 16th and 17th centuries, so did its textiles and art. As a result, visitors to the museum can see fragments of the first Spanish fashion magazine, which launched during this golden era.

Balenciaga and brushstrokes
There are also pieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga, who was born in Getaria in 1895. Balenciaga was heavily influenced by the works of Spanish masters such as Velázquez and Goya, and often worked with heavy and rich materials, embroidery and embellishment as a result. Works by other Spaniards, including Mariano Fortuny, who worked in theatre and lighting before becoming famous for his Delphos gown, and Paco Rabanne, who studied architecture prior to creating his famous, shiny metallic dresses in the 1960s, are also on display.

Art heart
Fashion designer Manuel Fernández launched the Fashion Art Institute to promote the interaction of art and fashion throughout Spain. His first collaboration was with painter Juanjo Castillo. Since then, instead of showing on the catwalk, his collections are housed in galleries and museums and he works with different artists depending on which city he’s in.

Although Madrid seems be a hub where artists influence fashion, and vice versa, the trend continues to stretch beyond its borders. ‘I think the art world nowadays, and always, is aligned with fashion all over the world. ’ says Vidal.



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