Wearable Art 

- October 23, 2023

A unique show ‘Fashion Wears Art’ exhibited collaborations between designers and leading artists  

‘Fashion Wears Art’, a brainchild of Sunil Sethi, who is an art lover and the chairman of Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), showcased paintings through the medium of clothing. 

Part of the Lakme Fashion Week 2023, it was an initiative that witnessed seven engaging collaborations with designers, and leading artists from various genres, telling us that art transcends the time and space continuum, just like style.

Sethi collaborated with Shalini Passi, founder, SPAF & MASH, for the event. 

“Art and fashion have had a long association whether it was Schiaparelli and Dali, the artist, or Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama, they have always been soulmates as innovation and expression is at the heart of both. I have curated the show and involved leading designers to interpret paintings through the medium of clothing,” said Sethi. 

He added that he wanted to project designers as artists, and at same time show the work of real artists. 

Both coming together was a mesmerising experience. 

“Art is not about paintings, but how each artist showcases what emotionally moves them,” he added. 

The ‘Fashion Wears Art’ show also saw conceptual artist Mithu Sen collaborating with Rajesh Pratap Singh and the latter believes that she has a distinct language. 

“Her studio was very inspiring and I have known her for a decade now. I was amazed to see what all she collects,” said Pratap.

Glow in dark outfits, pigtails attached to shoes, it also put on show Pratap’s signature pleating and voluminous skirts with corsetry lighting the backbone. 

Both Sen and Pratap literally and metaphorically possess one key thing in the fickle world of style — they have stuck to their core beliefs, often questioning societal norms. 

The ‘Namrata Joshipura X Sudarshan Shetty’ collaboration paid homage to the artist’s repeated patterns, almost putting you in a meditative space. 

“It is like chanting. Shetty extensively works with metal; it reflects light, and has an emotion of permanence,” said Joshipura. 

Her embellishments and global vibe represented the mechanical movements that Shetty is known for in his kinetic work.

Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna X Vibha Galhotra, the latter known for conversation pieces that take up relevant issues from capitalism to climate change, also displayed their works. 

The designers showcased “Flow” series, where the excessive use of ghungroos depicted how our rivers are getting polluted.  

“The surfaces of our ensembles have been worked with metal, and ‘Flow’ has a deeper meaning i.e. we need to conserve our rivers,” said Rahul Khanna. 

JJ Valaya and Waswo X. Waswo was a celebration of the art-work of India; it heralded the innate craftsmanship. 

“He (Waswo) does brilliant photos, set against a quirky Indian backdrop, sometimes even like studio photos taken by families in the past,” says Valaya, who intermingled Indian motifs in saris, with a Western take adding leather belts for a global connection.  

Waswo is an American lensman, who lives in Udaipur, Rajasthan, and is a collector of fine art prints. 

Also on exhibit were designer Varun Bahl X Ramachandran; the latter is Padma Bhushan winning artist and is known for his strong visual language that includes vivid classical art — Kerala murals, Nathadwara paintings and Ajanta murals. 

“I have been a big fan, especially of the ‘Lotus Pond’ series. Making clothes gives me joy, and Ramachandran executes his art-works with a similar passion,” said Varun, whose ode to the lotus was displayed through cut-work dresses.  

Pranav Misra of the label Huemn decided to work with Hanif Kureshi, a street artist and also co-founder of St+art India, a not-for-profit organisation that has started to make art more democratic.  

“I found Hanif’s vernacular street typography extremely interesting and have known him for a decade. He calls his art ‘vandalism’ but it is the most potent form of communication accessible to all as it is on the streets with thousands looking at it. I believe what you wear is not important, but what you do is,” said Pranav.

Shalini Passi, founder of SPAF & MASH, believes that for an art connoisseur, the Fashion Wears Art event serves as a captivating platform for exploring the intricate inter-play between paintings and fashion, ultimately revealing the inherent beauty in both art forms. 

Paintings, as static visual representations, often evoke emotions, stories, and moods. 

“When translated into fashion, these visual narratives come to life, offering a three-dimensional, wearable canvas. Having Sunil Sethi as mentor of the event has also been a very enriching experience. His experience not only offers invaluable insights into the fashion world but also fosters a deeper understanding of how fashion can be a canvas for artistic expression,” said Shalini.

Preserving the visual essence and details of a painting can be challenging when translating it into a garment. 

Paintings often feature intricate details, colour gradients, and shading that may not directly translate into textile materials. Moreover, choosing the right fabric and materials is critical. 

The fabric must complement the art-work and allow for mobility, comfort, and durability. The translation of a painting into a garment often involves an element of artistic interpretation. Designers must make creative choices regarding how to adapt the art-work, which can be both a challenge and an opportunity for artistic expression, she added.

Both Sethi and Shalini believe that featuring artists with varying backgrounds, techniques, and themes can engage a wider audience, and appeal to different tastes and preferences. 

“For example, Waswo x Waswo is an artist who works with Indian miniatures, meticulously painting in the style by incorporating contemporary themes and elements. Combining his work with JJ’s impeccable craftsmanship and his eye for detail in his embroideries would make for a striking visual, one that has never been seen before,” she explained. 

Another highlight of the show was the documentary titled, “The Voyage that time forgot”. 

Sethi saw the documentary by veteran stylist Gautam Kalra in Ladakh, shot by ace lensman Siddharth Singh Bokolia who has been associated with New York Times, Vice and The Guardian

Sethi wanted to give it a platform, where everyone got a chance to see the work. Even though Kalra is known for his commercial outing, this for him was a soulful exercise.  

“Going to Ladakh and shooting there was overwhelming,” said Kalra. 

He remembered the time when his mentor Prabuddha Dasgupta, the acclaimed lensman, had shot there. For Kalra, it was revisiting memories, “going back to my roots with blacks and white”. 

Hormis Antony, who shot the photos captured the powerful landscape which is beset with a feeling of longing. 

“Gautam and I share mutual respect and admiration for legendary photographer Dasgupta’s work. We wanted to pay tribute to him by bringing our own visual language and direction to create magic,” added Hormis about this association. 

Lovebirds, Bodice, Arjun Saluja, Ituvana and Rajesh Pratap Singh were chosen as designers whose clothing was celebrated in the documentary. 

Kalra remembered that when he went there 10 years ago, he was engulfed by a sense of stillness. Therefore, the clothes had to channel simplicity. 

Nubra valley is intense and unpredictable. It took the crew nine hours to reach, and the models– Ksenia Zubkova, Dayana Erappa and Geetasha Rana, shot in the freezing cold this June. 

Next in the offing is maybe textiles; after all, art has many expressions. 

“There is a lot of maximalism in fashion; we do a lot of photo shoots for bridal, but Instagram has created a lot of noise. This shoot and styling is personal; I wanted silence. Freddy Birdy, an advertising genius, who I have known for 24 years has penned down the words, inspired by the pictures,” he explained. 

Kalra let the pictures do the talking, as it is about an internal discovery. 

“Each one of us has our journey and fashion must be about modern India. The idea was to be original. Hopefully it can be a travelling show. Styling for me is instinctive and I always say ‘let the garment, not Pinterest, inspire you’,” he concluded.