The Impact of Pop Art on the World of Fashion - From Art to Industry and Back

November 7, 2015

Ever since pop art emerged in the fifties, it has been going hand in hand with the fashion industry. Rebelling against elitist values and self-reflexive expressionist movement, pop art embraced mundane living experiences, introducing aspects of mass culture and bringing art closer to the new generation of Americans who were starting to experience all benefits of the consumer paradise in the welfare state of post-war America. Pop art employed familiar mass culture imagery from advertisements to other banal objects, wrapping it into sensational and bold color combinations. Richard Hamilton, one of the pop art pioneers used to describe pop art as "popular, transient, expandable, low cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business". All these qualities pop art shared with consumerist culture and fashion industry as one of its main features. It wasn’t long before pop art and fashion merged. Pop artist introduced a bright palette of colors and print definition form, which were used as the inspiration by many designers at that time and onwards.

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Philip Colbert - Venus In Sequins dress collection inspired by various iconic works of art

Andy Warhol and the Paper Dress Craze

Andy Warhol is probably the first major pop art icon to become the influential figure in the fashion world. He started his career as a fashion illustrator, working for the magazines like Glamour, Mademoiselle, and even Vogue. He was also one of the first artists to turn his art into fashion items. Just like pop art was turning towards mass culture in the fifties and sixties, high fashion as the thing of elites was challenged once the fashion industry with mass produced items entered the scene. In the sixties, Warhol started to print his art designs on the paper dresses which were at the time becoming a novelty. These garments captured the very essence of the consumerist lifestyle as they tackled the idea of disposability of consumer goods. Probably the most recognizable paper dress from the sixties was Souper Dress, the one featuring Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans print. Although they were exclusive at the time they appeared Campbell’s shortly developed a whole line of these products making Souper Dresses available to anyone for a couple of dollars. During the sixties pop art-inspired paper dresses became the mainstream garment kicking off a craze in the fashion world and even now when they have completely disappeared from the market they continue to inspire contemporary fashion designers.

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The Souper Dress

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Campbell's Souper Dress

Marriage between Pop Art and Fashion Design

The commercial partnership between art and fashion design is nothing new to us, as every single year we see art-inspired collections on the catwalks worldwide. However, because of its nature rooted in celebration of consumerist goods, vibrant and catchy patterns and the ability to speak the universal language, free of fine art elitism, pop art was destined to become the most referred art movement in the fashion industry. This marriage between pop art and fashion industry started to develop in the sixties not to be disturbed ever since. Once again, the social context of the decade decided the future of this particular connection. During the war and the time of austerity, clothes were more practical and unified in their design. Post-war prosperity changed that and new fashion items became more diverse. At the same time, pop art was gaining popularity among the mainstream audiences and designers saw this new movement as a potential source of inspiration. Furthermore, during the sixties fashion designers and artists were moving in the same circles influencing each other’s work and being part of the same, shared culture. For example, Yves Saint Laurent was among the first designers to turn a work of art into a dress design and to fully explore pop art in his collections. Not by chance, Andy Warhol also portrayed him in one of his four-panel silkscreens.

Roy Lichtenstein - The Biggest Inspiration for Designers besides Warhol

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Iceberg Collection Inspired by Lichtenstein's work, 2001

Fashion Industry’s Most Popular Artists

When we talk about those artists who have left a big impact on the fashion design we again need to mention Warhol, as he definitely is one of the most referenced artists in the fashion industry. In the nineties, Gianni Versace used his Marilyn print on his dress designs, and in more recent times Christian Dior released a collection inspired by Warhol’s shoe sketches and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac presented garments imprinted with the artist’s portrait. The same can be said for Roy Lichtenstein whose work is a never-ending source of inspiration for designers and brands alike. Garments featuring Lichtenstein’s work were included in Iceberg and Lisa Perry collections, and the artist is favored by the footwear brands like Nike, Vans, and Converse. When we talk about artists whose have marked the high fashion we simply cannot skip Keith Harring and mention Vivienne Westwood’s 1983 collection dedicated solely to the work of this artist.

Murakami Vans Collaboration
Slip-Ons by Takashi Murakami & Vans

Contemporary Artists Working with Major Fashion Brands

Pop art has influenced fashion in various ways and as we have seen the works of the renowned pop artists continue to do so even after all this time. But in our time it is even less unusual to see the artists take the role of designers and collaborate directly with the world’s famous fashion brands. A good example might be the leading Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami who has collaborated with numerous brands and individuals in the recent times. This year his vibrant pop art designs became part of Vans special collection of slip-on footwear presented at Paris Fashion Week. Murakami also collaborated with Marc Jacobs while he was a creative director for Louis Vuitton. There are numerous examples of collaborations between artist and fashion industry and even the contemporary superstars like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are not strangers to the world of fashion. Back in 2012. Hirst created a limited edition of skull scarfs for Alexander McQueen and Jeff Koons collaborated with H&M last year in making an affordable collection of bags wearing his signature balloon dog on them. While we’re talking about superstars let’s just mention Marina Abramovic who art directed Givenchy fashion show.

Jeremy Scott Continues the Line of Consumerism Inspired Fashion

Jeremy Scott's McDonald's Uniform Collection at MOSCHINO, 2014

Pop Art Fashion – Here to Stay

Today’s fashion trends are probably one of the best indicators to tell that pop art is still popular today as it was in the past century. In the world of mass consumption, pop art still thrives on those cultural values that have led to its origin. There are even those who now believe that pop art fashion should be proclaimed a movement in its own right. More than half a century has passed from the first Campbell’s Soup Dress to Jeremy Scott’s celebrations of consumerism in 2014 Moschino collection and yet pop art stand stronger than ever in the fashion world. Whether they rely on the pop art ideas or borrow inspiration directly from pop art imagery, contemporary designers continue to return to this art movement. In recent years, we also saw an emergence of graffiti-inspired garments, but will street art become the new pop art and beat the organic connection this art movement has built with the fashion industry is yet to be seen in the upcoming years.

   Editors’ Tip: Pop!: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 -1976

This spectacular volume is a true must-have for all those in love with Pop art and everything it touched on the way to becoming the defining art movement of its era and beyond. Published to accompany an exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2012, POP!: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 - 1976 covers all aspects of Pop design in Britain and America, from record covers and packaging designs by Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton, to the work of fashion designers such as Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki from Biba, Vivienne Westwood and John Stephen of Carnaby Street fame, as well as their contemporaries in America such as Betsey Johnson of Paraphernalia.

Featured image: Jeff Koons collaboration with H&M. All images used for illustrative purposes only.