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Fashion is Expression, But is it Art?

09/20/2012 07:53 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST
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Buying more for less is what modern consumers do. Things are made faster, their lifespans are shorter and their cost is smaller. Clothing is a big part of this trend, and the fact that your neighbourhood H&M can provide you with a clone of what went down fashion week runways at a fraction of the price is pretty appealing.

Aside from being totally unsustainable and perpetuating really terrible trends (would you buy tangerine and turquoise suede ankle boots if they were more than $40?), it makes us forget the origins of fashion, and that some people are still striving to maintain its status as wearable art.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with a less fashion-obsessed friend about appreciating designers, and I used a metaphor that made him understand the importance of identifying who created a garment you think is beautiful.

"You care about who sings your favourite song, right?" I asked him. "And you care about who wrote your favourite book, or painted your favourite painting?"

That is what fashion is to me, and to countless others. It is another form of expression, like music, literature, art and dance, with the added benefit that everyone in western society participates in it, whether consciously or not.

Like the Oscar de la Renta reference involving the cerulean sweater Anne Hathaway's character wears in the Devil Wears Prada, fashion designers have a great deal of influence. Whether you shop at Holt Renfrew or Walmart, you're likely wearing something at least in the image of a thoughtfully designed and constructed garment.

And success in this industry is rarely handed to an aspiring designer for no reason, unless you're Kanye West, but that's a whole other kettle of obnoxious fish. Usually, years are spent studying design, sewing and tailoring, and all the while, a unique aesthetic and wearability must be simultaneously maintained.

This is where fashion separates itself amongst other art forms. A piece is not created to stagnantly hang on someone's wall -- it is created to be worn on someone's back, and to fulfill a basic human need. If you don't think this can be done artistically, you've been spending too much time looking at American Apparel T-shirts. Let me direct your attention to Balmain's fall/winter 2012 collection.

Symmetrical, tapestry-inspired pieces walked Balmain's runways in February and beautifully showcased a modern interpretation of Pierre Balmain's aesthetic, whose father ran a drapery business. It was the second to come from Olivier Rousteing, the newest designer to head the iconic French fashion house, and a well-received deviation from the ripped jeans and T-shirts attributed to former head designer Christophe Decarnin.

Rousteing, who was 25 when he took on the coveted position at Balmain, graduated from Paris' Ecole Superieure Des Arts Et Techniques de la Mode in 2003, interned at Roberto Cavalli for seven years, and ran the Women's Wear design studio at Balmain for two years. To have a resume like Rousteing's at the age 26 may seem like an anomaly, but in fashion, it is not.

Although Marc Jacobs was 31 when he became the creative director at Louis Vuitton, he designed his first eponymous collection at 23. A year later, he became the youngest designer ever to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent, and then The Women's Designer of the Year Award five years later.

Mary Katrantzou, a relative newcomer in an industry full of legacy brands, debuted at London Fashion Week for fall/winter 2008 when she was 25. There is nothing like the vibrant, kaleidoscopic prints of her structured cocktail dresses, and it will be amazing to watch her aesthetic grow.

Learning how incredible the frontrunners in the fashion design world are, especially the younger set that has such an amazing springboard, is integral to appreciating the art they create.

I was so happy to see several biographies of both new and seasoned designers in the September issues of several fashion magazines, especially a piece in Flare which included gorgeous sketches of each designer's work they featured.

What shaped these people and how their accomplishments justify the level of recognition they receive is so important. We care about where our food, our cars, our makeup, our electronics, our everything comes from. Clothing shouldn't be left off that list.