When Fashion Heritage meets Contemporary Art

Whether fashion is art is a crux that is explored time and time again. Whatever the answer might be, it is more interesting to keep on exploring than to arrive at a decisive answer anyway. Dior and Chanel have been doing so, mixing heritage with contemporary art and presenting it in the format of a travelling exhibition. Most notably, Chanel with Chanel  Mobile Art, a giant worm-like container designed by Zaha Hadid that can touch down anywhere, but also  Dior with Lady Dior As Seen By, a travelling exhibition taking place in-store and in seperate spaces.

Key feature of both exhibitions is the involvement of contemporary artists reinterpreting an iconic object that represents the heritage of the brand. Dior had its Lady Dior bag photographed and sculpted by internationally renowned artists, and decorated by fashion blogger Garance Doré (video below this post). Chanel asked twenty international contemporary artists to reinterpret the iconic quilted 2.55 bag. The  larger-than-life Chanel bag positioned at the end of the exhibition was a show-stopper.

The Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion by Zaha Hadid. Photo: Michael Falco for The New York Times via New York Times.

Other than presenting an object in a museum, it seems that the temporary and mobile nature of the travelling exhibition lends the object the ephemerality of conceptual art. Moreover, the fact that the exhibition does not show any object as it is, but only reinterprets it through contemporary artists,  adds yet another ingredient to the fashion-art mix.

The larger-than-life Chanel 2.55 by Silvie Fleury. Image via New York Times T Magazine.
The classic Lady Dior reinterpreted by Kohei Nawa. Image via Fashion Trend Digest.

Interestingly, the nature of the format forms a stark contrast to the iconic object itself. The Lady Dior and the quilted Chanel bag are timeless, classic, rooted in place and history. The irony is that, while not present, they remain at the core of the exhibition. In the travelling exhibition, where an iconic fashion objects meets contemporary art, heritage then becomes a paradox: not present yet present, ephemeral yet timeless, classic yet reinterpreted, rooted yet mobile.

Dior and Chanel have opened up yet another dimension in the fashion and art crux.

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