AN INTERDISCIPLINARY DIALOGUE
Today I will compare and analyse two iconic artists; the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936–2008). Establishing a dialogue between their aesthetics and ideas and explaining how their work responds to the conditions of modernity.
Fashion as well as art has a power in the construction of social conscience. Even when fashion is constantly redefined, and it seems to change on its own terms, throughout History fashion and art have both served as a spectacle, capturing the view of the political, social, cultural and economic climates.
Fashion is a language in itself so is art; my aim with this dissertation is to illustrate in a synthesised manner how Mondrian and Yves Saint Laurent responded to their epoch from the parallel understanding of their established aesthetic values system and influences.
To achieve this I will use as an example the latest works from Mondrian; from the firstcompositions in red, blue and yellow made in post-war Paris, abstract geometric paintings and the Broadway Boogie-Woogie. To be compared with the autumn 1965 Collection from Yves Saint Laurent inspired by Mondrian’s paintings. (images displayed in the featured image of this post)
Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1965 collection, inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and Serge Poliakoff, included one of the most iconic garments of the twentieth century: the ‘Mondrian’ dress. David Bailey photographed the multi-colour Mondrian dress for the cover of Vogue Paris 1965 September issue. Saint Laurent’s Mondrian designs quickly popularised, and multiplied as sewing patterns and knitting patterns. Today, Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dresses may be viewed in museum collections such the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Piet Mondrian’s work evolution started from the Dutch landscape tradition where he found that the nature of lines in interaction with colour on a tree can not been treated realistically by its complexity
The legacy of Mondrian for painting has to do with the search for the essential and immutable, even on his Cubist work the rhythm and structure are very original like he is searching for balance beyond form and is showing the object in transition to the abstract form.
The abstract therefore would be the pure form, like the atom to the scientific world. This approach is extremely revolutionary as Mondrian comes from a Dutch background deeply influenced by religious culture, where nature is the most important element and is a profanity to paint human body images. The Calvinist upbringing was represented on his work by the reductionism of the landscape onto horizontal and vertical lines, as for the Calvinist believes it is a blasphemy to represent images of the body, I feel that Mondrian embraces his culture and explores the symbolic representation of the object besides the obvious nature of it, like he was trying to find the abstract soul of the object and translating it into a painting, this goes beyond the Modern Art movements that Europe was experiencing at the start of the 20th Century.
One of those new movements was the theosophy that attempted to explain why neither science nor religion could provide the answers to life’s mysteries. Theosophy was widespread and many early twentieth century artists, such as Kandinsky and Malevich and Klee, were followers of the philosophy. The Dutch artist, J.L.M. Lauwerkis stated that, “The concepts of Theosophy are preeminently suited to be expressed by art because of their magnitude and profundity.” Meaning that the art can expand its horizons beyond representational or figurative art.
Mondrian change of religion from Calvinism to Theosophy, influences his art work by giving him new ideas of positivism and evolution, “From Theosophy he also derived the idea that progress towards ultimate revelation comes through the balance and reconciliation of opposing forces and that this reconciliation may have to be achieved through the destruction of any principle or belief that is becoming too dominant.” This is obvious in his late work development when he is getting rid of the black lines, for example in ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ (displayed in the left side of the featured image)
But the reader can be wondering how to establish a dialogue between a revolutionary way of painting and fashion? Well, fashion is ephemeral, intangible and ever changing, therefore it is an abstract form, but is also an art form that helps the individual in the construction of the self-identity.
I think that fashion recognises a human quality in the same way that religion does; we do not know what we need, we do not know what to believe, but we have been told we can choose, but choosing your religion is not the same as choosing what to wear today, and it will be different to what you will be wearing next season, next year, in ten years and no one needs to be obsessed by fashion to be a potential consumer. What Yves Saint Laurent does with his Fall/Winter Collection of 1965 is offering an interpretation of modern living, with futuristic shapes and the freedom of movement, is inventing a new way to be. The ‘Mondrian Dress’ is a ‘ready-to-wear’creation. One-piece dress. Sleeveless shift has narrow, contrasting inserts around the hem, down center back, and crossing high in front (see image 5).
By evoking Mondrian, Yves Saint Laurent is not only recognising the importance of the artist for the 20th Century art culture but also representing with fidelity the artist’s beliefs, Mondrian was convinced that he was in lieu of a new way of being a human and a futuristic vision of living. Yves Saint Laurent from his side revolutions fashion, as he is the first successor of Dior and brought in the haute couture house the idea of the ready-to-wear collections, which was a very modern approach to fashion.
The ideology that fashion reproduces in the late 20th Century is ephemeral, which supports the very basis of consumerism. As Svendsen pointed out “The principle of fashion is to create a ever-increasing velocity, to make an object superfluous as fast as possible, in order to let a new one have a chance. (…) Fashion is irrational in the sense that it seeks for change for the sake of change, not in order to ‘improve’ the object, for example by making it more functional. It seeks superficial changes that in reality have no other assignment than to make the object superfluous on the basis of non-essential qualities, such as the number of buttons in a suit jacket or the famous skirt length” But the intentions of Saint Laurent were the opposite to this ideology, he wanted his style to be memorable, iconic and a representation of a timeless style.
By discovering and representing a new style, both Mondrian and Saint Laurent can relate to ‘De Stijl’s’ philosophy. Many of the same abstract ideas embracing the “machine aesthetics” of the new industrial age, with influences of DaDa and Cubism. This new philosophy developed the new style, and became one of the important trends of the 20th Century, a clear representation of modernity into an aesthetic form.
Born in Russia, Serge Poliakoff (1990–1969) was a Paris-based painter associated with the European expressionist Taschisme movement, his art work and development are considered extremely academic and uses colour blocking with abstract shapes, does not use lines as Mondrian but explores similar colour palettes and is a contemporary to Yves Saint Laurent, that is why I think it is an important reference to take inspiration from.
“Prêt-à-Porter” in French, is the term for the factory made, standarised sized clothing which is revolutionary for the traditional haute couture houses, is just by the middle of the 20th Century that the idea of ‘ready-to-wear’ is accepted by recognized high fashion houses, YSL was the first designer of the Dior house on making a ready-to-wear collection.
 This ‘fidelity’ has a limit, as I mention before the strict religious ideology of Mondrian did not accepted certain expressions of art. YSL uses the female as the empty canvas and the dress allows freedom of movement so that the body is not distracting from the design.
 SVENDSEN, Lars ‘Fashion: A Philosophy’ , Reaktion books, first published in English 2006. Page 28.
Dutch for The Style
- BARTHES Roland, “The Language of Fashion” translated by Andy Stafford, Power Publications, The University of Sydney, 2006.
- BLOTKAMP Carel, “Mondrian, The Art of Destruction” Reaktion books, London, 1994.
- GOLDING John, “Paths to the Absolute”, Thames & Hudson Ed. Washington 2000.
- HIDALGO Marta R, “The Sourcebook of Contemporary Fashion Design” Harper Design, New York, 2011.
- RILEY Bridget, “Mondrian Perceived” in Mondrian: Nature of Abstraction, London, Tate Gallery Publishing, 1997, pp. 9-18.
- ROSA, Joseph (Editor), “Glamour, fashion + industrial design + architecture” San Francisco Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2004.