LONDON – The relationship between fashion and art is a long one, and a new exhibition in London highlights a moment, just after the Second World War, when they were sure — and it shows a brand new work.
“Styled by Design”, curated by Gray MCA, the fashion, design and textile illustration gallery, reflects a colorful time when British-based textile manufacturers worked with giants of modern art to create fashion, home and decorative textiles .
The exhibition, which features rare and limited textile designs by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and others, opens on Tuesday and runs until April 30 at Cromwell Place in South Kensington.
The pioneers of the movement were Zika and Lida Ascher, a husband and wife team of textile experts who left their native Prague for England in 1939, shortly after Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia.
Shortly after the war, Zika Ascher began brokering deals with the artists to create designs for textiles. He wanted to leave behind the pain (and dreary aesthetics) of war and add color – and hope – to people’s wardrobes. He also wanted to get the artists working again.
“This was a real hardship: the artists were not getting the commissions and work they had before the war. The art market had disappeared. The big question was: ‘How do you get traction again?’ It was the same with fashion,” said Ashley Gray, director at Gray MCA
Gray said Ascher and his colleagues in the textile trade were eager to attract new audiences in Europe and the United States, and succeeded in pressuring popular artists into action.
“Suddenly the work of modern artists was flourishing in the streets. Their art was worn as clothes, or beautiful scarves. Modern art became democratized,” Gray said, adding that “the show celebrates the modern view that ‘good textiles equaled good painting’”.
In the years after the war, the Asks developed relationships with a number of artists, which gave them the freedom to create whatever they wanted. The Aschers then worked out how the designs would work on a variety of fabrics such as cotton, rayon, silk and woven wool, and to ensure that the colors and prints were just right.
The trend of tapping the best artists continued, and Moore was soon designing fabrics for costumes in Hollywood films; Claire McCardell worked Picasso fish prints into her dresses; and today’s supermodels were sitting in Marc Chagall’s studio, wearing his dreamy prints and warm colors.
At one point, Zika Ascher even got Lucian Freud on board to design a crêpe de Chine fabric. Meanwhile, the Aschers were supplying fabrics – artistic and otherwise – to the likes of Christian Dior, Balmain and Balenciaga.
The famous Ascher silk squares, featuring original designs by artists including Ben Nicholson, Moore, Hepworth and André Derain, made their debut at the Dorchester hotel in London. They were framed, just like pictures, and made an international splash.
After their Dorchester debut, the silk squares embarked on a world tour, with exhibitions across Europe, South Africa and the United States. “The set became a phenomenon,” said Gray, who over the years has scouring Europe and the US for the textiles featured there. the show.
“Styled by Design” is a sold out exhibition with prices ranging from £1,500 to £170,000.
Highlights include Ascher’s 1949 large screen print on linen by Moore titled “Two Standing Figures”; Nicholson’s 1937 “Vertical” for Edinburgh Weavers, a home furnishing maker near Manchester, England; and Patrick Heron’s “Nude” silk scarf, drawn while Heron was working for his father, Tom Heron at Cresta Silks.
Gray said the frenzy of textile research, development – and creativity – in post-war Britain cannot be underestimated.
Ascher and his colleagues were not only making textiles, they were researching and developing dyes (before the war, most dyes came from Germany) and experimenting with synthetic textiles.
“Machinery and mechanisms were changing rapidly, and you could produce fabric economically,” said Gray, who described the 1950s as a “furnace of creativity” in Britain.
By the 1960s, the golden age of art textiles was coming to an end.
A new generation of textile designers, influenced by abstract expressionist artists such as Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, were visiting art galleries, looking at museum catalogs in color rather than black and white, and creating painterly designs of their own. own.
“The great artists shine, and the innovation starts to come from the art schools,” Gray said.
And – thanks to Zandra Rhodes, Celia Birtwell and others – the relationship between art, applied art, and fashion was changing again.