Mickalene Thomas and Artful Animalia - Neiman Marcus

Mickalene Thomas and Artful Animalia

Regina Campbell

November 11, 2013


When has art not been a fashionable reference? Prior to Yves Saint Laurent’s ever-famous Mondrian day dress, which made its debut in 1965, and years before Salvador Dali’s surrealist-inspired jewelry for Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s, art has been at the forefront of fashion. Designers have been pulling from their creative counterparts for years now and continue to do so each season. Both on and off the runway, art has cemented its place as a central source of inspiration for fashion designers of past and present.

The art world has become increasingly accessible in recent years, in part thanks to social media and largely due to fashion. Gone are the days where owning a Yayoi Kusama means a piece hanging on your walls at home. Designers have been tapping into the art world to bring the work of esteemed artists to consumers. From Marc Jacobs’ unmatched roster at Louis Vuitton – Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Fabrizio Plessi, etc. – to collaborations between Rob Pruitt and Jimmy Choo, Rop van Mierlo and Mari and Damien Hirst and The Row, there is no limit to what fashion and art can achieve together.

Such collaborations span further than luxury consumer goods and have began making their way onto runways, billboards and the pages of high fashion magazines. For fall/winter 2012 Marc Jacobs worked with artist Rachel Feinstein on a surreal runway backdrop crafted entirely out of paper, while for fall/winter 2013 he was at it again, replicating an installation by artist Olafur Eliason at London’s Tate Modern from 2003. Even more recently, Alexander Wang opted for a Sol Lewitt-inspired set for spring/summer 2014 and above the Chloe runway hung a single, silver disk, similar to the work of sculptor Anish Kapoor.


On the advertising side, contemporary artists from Marilyn Minter to Maurizio Cattelan have collaborated with Tom Ford and KENZO, respectively, while famous works by Manet to Robert Longo served as the inspiration behind current season campaigns at Dior and McQ. The queen of self-portraits, photographer Cindy Sherman, has played model for Comme des Garçons, Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs and Chanel, while other artists have turned the attention on designers. Alber Elbaz and Jean Paul Gaultier have been photographed by Chinese artist Liu Bolin, while Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg were painted by Andy Warhol and Parisian couturier Azzedine Alaia has a portrait of himself by artist Julian Schnabel.

While numerous art references pay homage to original works – take Andy Warhol’s fashion sketches that Raff Simmons utilized at Dior, or contemporary artist John Divola’s trademark squiggle print that Jack and Lazaro of Proenza Schouler reworked into a core pattern for their fall/winter 2013 collection – some runway trends emerge each season that inadvertently reference an artist’s work.

Top honors for influencing the most fall/winter 2013 runway trends belonged to Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas. Ms.Thomas has become known as widely for her elaborate paintings, living room installations and colorful portraits as she is for their subjects. Her trademark rhinestone-adorned canvases often depict scenes of retro interiors, collaged landscapes and some of fashion’s favorite faces – everyone from Naomi Campbell to First Lady Michelle Obama have been subjects of Mickalene’s portraits.

Her love of animal-prints and ‘out-there’ patterns couldn’t be more inline with countless fall/winter ’13 trends that walked the runways from New York to Paris. From the heavy beading and zebra print at Tom Ford, to the colorful fur-filled Fendi show and the larger than life artful jewels at Lanvin, there are enough references this fall for every girl to look like she stepped out of Mickalene’s wild world.

Tom Ford embroidered sheer tulle gown with burnt peacock feathers.
Tom Ford embroidered sheer tulle gown with burnt peacock feathers. Photo by Sarah Moon.
MICKALENE THOMAS Interior: Zebra with Two Chairs and Funky Fur, 2012 rhinestone, acrylic paint and oil enamel on wood panel 96 x 132 inches 243.8 x 335.3 cm
Interior: Zebra with Two Chairs and Funky Fur, 2012
rhinestone, acrylic paint and oil enamel on wood panel
96 x 132 inches
243.8 x 335.3 cm

Courtesy Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and A.R.S. (Artists Rights Society), New York 

This is a new column by Colby Jordan aka Minnie Muse.

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