Fashion and Art

Is fashion’s “volatile superficiality” influencing the “deep and eternal” Art?

Through ideas comes progress, and art as its fruit to mark the cornerstones of human achievements — the immortal pieces, symbolising the passing of time. It is known that Artists shape their time, but are artists shaped by time?

by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

When we think of modernity, the Eiffel Tower comes to mind. Erected for the 1889 World’s Fair, it was supposed to express all the futuristic developments of the epoch. So futurist in fact, that the beloved Parisienne Tower of today was at the time subject to severe critique. Artists gathered in a committee to protest, and even a petition was put in motion to banish the “hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”. Guess the epoch wasn’t ready yet, it wasn’t “fashionable” then. It’s particularly ironic to think that the tower was supposed to be taken down in 20 years, but its communication utility conquered destruction long enough to match future tastes.

Alexandre Dumas sketched by Achille Devéria

Einstein has told us that time is relative, but that is relatively unnoticed by those of us whose twin brother isn’t traveling at the speed of light, or going for late walks around blackholes. The social passing of time, though, is changing: “time” is passing ever faster. Tim Urban, author of my favourite blog exemplifies: if you transported someone from 1750 to this date, he would probably die by disorientation. But if this person travels to 1500, and brings someone from back then to his time, the XVI’s century person sure would learn a lot while in the XVIII’s century, but wouldn’t be as shocked. Thus, with increasing technological and social development, the notion of passing time increases.

by Paul Gavarni

This “time trigger” began with machines. Also with machines did Paul Gavarni’s career began, as he, like many others at his time, worked in a factory. Dedicating his spare time to drawing classes, he would eventually work for the Government Ordnance Department, land surveying and mapping. Only later would Gavarni dedicate his technique towards art, mainly through illustrations. It was by then the birth of realism, as literature aimed to take a clean picture of society, thus many of his illustrations reflect XIX century quotidian.

by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

Today, regarding such illustrations is a curious exercise: everything, from clothing to posture, is so distant from today’s standards that a cloud of ridiculousness looms above what was once the norm. Reminding that beauty has two layers, on its core an eternal bloom for harmony, and a circumstantial materialisation, ever evolving.


by Honoré Daumier

The present holds an essential quality. After all, despite all the great memories you might have, the only thing presently real, not electrical impulses nor synaptic relations within the mechanics of your memory, is you reading this, right now. So, in a way, my words are, while you read them, of a bigger magnitude than that time you went diving, as someone might have implanted those memories, and even if you truly have experienced it, it’s “just” that, memories.

by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

This quality we gift the present with both obscures the past and gives a false sense of authenticity: the “this is the proper time” notion. We can intuitively feel it while listening to music, watching films, and most preeminently in fashion. Today is not just the norm but a rule, while what has passed looks inadequate and, sometimes (imagine you using those gigantic wide trousers from early 2000) just plain wrong.

by Paul Gavarni

This sense for the present isn’t just revealed in what you choose to use on the outside, as your inside, your ideas and beliefs are also susceptible to “fashion”. Every epoch envelops a notion of aesthetics, morals and thoughts, being one shaped by the circumstances, as we all naturally know but seem unwilling to take as intuitive.

by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

So, for a rational, historically objective theory of “beauty” (given as all things appealing, both to the sight and to the mind) — contrasting with an abstracted and absolute theory — beauty has a double dimension: an eternal element, which reflects an intrinsic notion towards allure, such as harmony and balance, perfection and imagination; and a relative element, which is circumstantial, enclosured by the conjectural components of time, like predominant thought, fashion, and even moral.

Without the “circumstancial” element there is no basis to capture and represent the “eternal”: the latter being the matter to represent, and the first the matter to represent with, without which would be unsuited, even maybe impossible, to execute; the author, as a subjective singularity exposed to the limitations of time and space, is always subjected to “fashions” —shaped by external circumstances — the painter’s particular temperament will reflect, in a larger or smaller scale, the ideals of a given time.

by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

If this sounded all very obvious to you now, it is because you are not a platonic. Plato had a way of perceiving ideas as sublime, being Beauty superior to conditions and positions. For him there was such thing as Objective Beauty, forever the same and imune to perspectives, and though quite old, this view is still widespread. If a double dimensioned beauty made more sense to you, that is because you follow a more Behaviourist approach, never underestimating the power of environment stimuli.

This notion of passing time was consciously described by “mores painters”, chroniclers of the everyday. You can find some of them in the illustrations’ above.

Soon enough your fashionable haircut will be as cool as a 80’s mullet.

Artur Deus Dionísio