how painters celebrate fashion and inspire it

A new painting by Scottish painter Peter Doig, titled Alpinist, will hang as part of a new exhibition opening at London’s Courtauld this week. Completed in 2022, it shows a man wearing a wildly colored harlequin suit, uncannily similar to the crystal-covered Egonlab jumpsuit worn by Harry Styles on the red carpet at this week’s Grammy Awards. Their resemblance was not lost on Doig, who posted a picture of Styles in the Grammys set on Instagram, complete with a pair of skis and a backpack of the original painting rudely added. A fabulously wise nod from the artist, and another excellent turnaround between art and fashion.

From the Lucian Freud exhibition at London’s Garden Museum to the upcoming Lynette Yiadom-Boakye exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao and the opening of the Basquiat x Warhol blockbuster at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris in April, when it comes to reinventing the way we dress, there is fashion inspiration in every gallery you look at.

This collision is not new. Elsa Schiaparelli worked with Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dalí in the 1930s, and the label she founded continues to make waves under its current designer, Daniel Roseberry, who created Kylie Jenner’s controversial lion-head dress for the week of Paris fashion last month. But it’s Andy Warhol, who began his career as a fashion illustrator for Vogue, who remains the trendiest of them all, from creating portraits of Halston and Giorgio Armani to posing with Basquiat in Everlast boxing gear, and making have her work appear on Versace dresses and Uniqlo T-shirts.

The Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation show in Italy in 2016.

The Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation show in Italy in 2016. Photograph: Estrop/Getty Images

Doig already has fashion shape too. In 2021, she collaborated with Dior menswear creative director Kim Jones on a fall/winter collection. “We looked at her paintings of men, skiers, ice hockey players and the night sky,” Jones told Vogue. On another collection, Jones worked with the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo.

When I saw Doig’s new work, it made me look in the patterned section of my wardrobe, which I had been ignoring all winter. It is one of many works of art celebrating the joy of clothing on canvas. Some are even a worthy rival to what you might see on the runways.

Take for example one of Yiadom-Boakye’s elegant male characters, captured in profile in a yolk-yellow polo shirt and tan pants in Divine Answer (2021); or photographer Harry Diamond’s portrait of Lucian Freud dressed in a loose-fitting khaki raincoat, gray V-neck, and unbuttoned shirt in Interior at Paddington (1951), a painting that was rediscovered after the Garden Museum exhibition.

See also the later portraits of Milton Avery, such as Sally by the Sea (1962), in her beetroot-pink skirt and cheery yellow top; o Self-portrait with short hair (1940) by Frida Kahlo, with her dress and large earring. Dressing like paintings has, it seems, a smorgasbord of possibilities.

Galleries are a great source of inspiration in an age of buying less and redesigning what you already have. A pin-up for this concept is Vivienne Westwood. The late fashion designer, who made “Buy Less, Choose Well, Make It Last” one of her defining career philosophies, once said, “I couldn’t design anything without looking at art.”

In this age driven by social media, interest in fashion has skyrocketed. But so has the need for designers to have stronger narratives around their clothing. Collaborations with artists or their foundations, from Raf Simons with Robert Mapplethorpe in 2016 to Acne Studios’ partnership with the Larry Stanton estate last year, can also create collectible pieces.

Sometimes the influence of artists is more casual. Last fall, an Alice Neel exhibition at London’s Victoria Miro Gallery featured a 1947 painting by Georgie Neel, her nephew, showing Georgie wearing a deep red sweater with pointed blue shirt collars outside the knit: a simple idea that changes your look immediately. above. She, too, felt very Prada, and indeed, the brand’s new menswear show showcased a similar collared look.

There are hardly any clothes in the new Giorgio Morandi retrospective at London’s Estorick Collection, save for a few in a self-portrait. But Morandi’s work, much of it painted here in the 1940s and 1950s, is more of a fashionable mood. His use of color in his still lifes of carafes and vases—butter yellow, warm tan, off-white, a plethora of grays—was certainly meant to be used together.

It would also be remiss to ignore Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe on Tar. Her gray shirt from the Parisian label Lemaire is very Morandi. There’s also a vibe here from The Row (Blanchett also wore the brand), whose Instagram is a great source of inspirational art references, like Georgia O’Keeffe’s Blue Road, a heavenly minimal color shift.

It also resonates with the angular, architectural women of emerging artist Heidi Hahn, in all her Jil Sander-esque minimalism. A similar sensibility (and palette) appeared at Loewe’s fall/winter 2023 menswear show, where creative director Jonathan Anderson teamed up with up-and-coming artist Julien Nguyen. The collection was built around a coat-like silhouette, worn like a dress, echoing Nyguen’s painting Woman in a Lab Coat.

Fittingly, there’s a new Alice Neel show titled Hot Off the Griddle, which opens at London’s Barbican this month and features plenty of stylistic changes. In her painting titled Wellesley Girls, there are polka dots – very Marni for next season – and miniskirts. A 1977 portrait by Mary D Garrard shows her sitter sitting in Neel’s signature striped armchair, dressed in a navy blue coat paired with a knitted hat, red scarf, and khaki pants. Another portrait, that of Abdul Rahman (1964), is likewise an excellent case for a double-breasted green coat with a mustard-colored shirt.

Like Freud, Yiadom-Boakye and Doig, Neel paints clothes with real taste. It would apparently be impossible for any fashion fanatic not to leave this show without at least one new style to wear.

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