The 'Fashion Arts': Jean Michel Frank, Elsa Schiaparelli and the interwar aesthetic project

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Fashion Cultures Revisited, 2013, 2, pp. 217 - 233
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The relationships between art and design has a long and complicated history. Their commercial potential, their reliance on creativity and the mondaine lives of their protagonists, have made art and fashion an established pairing at least since the rise of couture and impressionist art in 1860s France. The same can be said for fashion and design, though theirs is a more recent affair. In the early twentieth century the couturier Paul Poiret played with the idea of design, but it was only in the postwar period that the alliance between design and fashion became strong, in particular with the rise of pret-a-porter, the made-in-Italy and American casual wear and lifestyles. The danger is of constructing histories in which fashion remains a distinct unit of analysis that only interacts with other realms of material creation - as if fashion were either separate from either art or design. This essay takes a different approach to the relationship and emphasises the imbrication of interior design and fashion. Our focus is on an 'improbable' couple: the French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank and the Italian-born couturier Elsa Schiaparelli. We use an anthropologically inspired 'thick description' methodology to reconstruct interiors that are no longer extant. The aim is to break down the barrier between the designer and the client, but also between interior decoration and dress.
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