how painters celebrate – and inspire – fashion

A new painting by Scottish painter Peter Doig, titled Alpinist, will be hung as part of a new exhibition opening this week at the Courtauld in London. Completed in 2022, it features a man wearing a riotous colorful harlequin suit, eerily similar to the crystal-encrusted Egonlab jumpsuit Harry Styles wore on the Grammy Awards red carpet this week. Their resemblance didn’t go unnoticed by Doig, who posted an image of Styles in the Grammys ensemble on Instagram, complete with a pair of skis and a backpack from the original painting crudely added. A fabulously telling wink from the artist – and yet another excellent flip-flop between art and fashion.

From the Lucian Freud show at London’s Garden Museum to the upcoming Lynette Yiadom-Boakye exhibition at Guggenheim Bilbao and the Basquiat x Warhol blockbuster opening in April at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris – when it comes to reimagining from the way we dress, there is fashion inspiration in every gallery you look.

This clash is not new. Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dali in the 1930s, and the label she founded continues to garner attention under current designer, Daniel Roseberry, who designed Kylie Jenner’s controversial lion head dress for Paris Fashion Week last month. But it’s Andy Warhol, who began his career as a fashion illustrator for Vogue, who remains the most fashionable of them all, from doing portraits of Halston and Giorgio Armani, to posing with Basquiat in Everlast boxing gear, to appearing his work on Versace dresses and Uniqlo T-shirts.

The Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation show in Italy in 2016.

The Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation show in Italy in 2016. Photo: Estrop/Getty Images

Doig already has fashion form, too. In 2021, he collaborated with Dior’s creative director for menswear, Kim Jones, on a Fall/Winter collection. “We looked at his paintings of men, of skiers, ice hockey players and the night sky,” Jones told Vogue. In another collection, Jones collaborated with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo.

When I saw Doig’s new work, I had to dig through the knit section of my wardrobe, which I had ignored all winter. It is one of many works of art that celebrate the joy of clothing on canvas. Some are even a worthy competitor to what you might see on the catwalks.

Take one of Yiadom-Boakye’s elegant male characters, captured in profile wearing a yellow-yellow turtleneck and tan pants in Divine Response (2021); or Lucian Freud’s portrait of photographer Harry Diamond dressed in a slouchy khaki mackintosh, gray V-neck and unbuttoned shirt in Interior at Paddington (1951), a painting rediscovered after the Garden Museum’s show.

See also Milton Avery’s late portraits, such as Sally by the Sea (1962), with his beet pink skirt and perky yellow top; or Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Short Hair (1940), with his oversized suit and earring. Dressing like paintings has, it seems, a range of possibilities.

Galleries are a great source of inspiration in an age of buying less and restyling what you already have. A pin-up for this concept is Vivienne Westwood. The late fashion designer, who made “Buy less, choose well, make it last” one of her career-defining philosophies, once said, “I couldn’t design anything without looking at art.”

In this social media driven era, interest in fashion has exploded. But so does the need for designers to have stronger stories around their clothes. Collaborations with artists or their foundations — from Raf Simons with Robert Mapplethorpe in 2016 to Acne Studios’ collaboration with Larry Stanton’s estate last year — can also yield collectibles.

Sometimes the influence of artists is more coincidental. Last fall, an Alice Neel exhibition at London’s Victoria Miro Gallery featured a 1947 painting by Georgie Neel, her cousin, showing Georgie wearing a deep red crewneck jumper with blue pointy shirt collars worn outside the knit – a simple idea that immediately caught on. look changes upwards. It also felt very Prada – and sure enough, the brand’s new menswear show showcased a similar collar style.

At the new retrospective exhibition by Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection in London, there are hardly any garments to be seen, except for a few in a self-portrait. But Morandi’s work, much of which was painted here in the 1940s and 1950s, is more of a fashion mood. His use of color in his still lifes of decanters and vases – butter yellow, warm brown, off-white, an abundance of gray – was certainly made to be worn together.

It would also be remiss to ignore Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe in Tar. Her gray shirt from the Parisian brand Lemaire is very Morandi. There’s also an air of The Row here (Blanchett also wore the brand), whose Instagram is a great source of inspirational art references, like Georgia O’Keeffe’s Blue Road, a celestial minimal swerve of color.

It also resonates with emerging artist Heidi Hahn’s architectural and angular women, in all their Jil Sander-esque minimalism. A similar sensibility (and palette) emerged at the Loewe Fall/Winter 2023 Men’s Show, where creative director Jonathan Anderson collaborated with emerging artist Julien Nguyen. The collection is built around a silhouette in the shape of a coat, worn as a dress, which echoed Nyguen’s painting Woman in a Lab Coat.

Conveniently, there’s a new Alice Neel show titled Hot Off the Griddle, opening this month at London’s Barbican, and featuring plenty of styling twists. In her painting titled Wellesley Girls, there are polka dots – very next season Marni – and miniskirts. A 1977 portrait by Mary D Garrard shows the subject seated in Neel’s trademark striped armchair, wearing a navy blue overcoat with a knitted hat, red scarf and khaki slacks. Another portrait, by Abdul Rahman (b. 1964), is also an excellent case for a green double-breasted coat and mustard yellow shirt.

Like Freud, Yiadom-Boakye and Doig, Neel paints clothes with great enthusiasm. It would be seemingly impossible for any fashion fan not to leave this show without at least one new styling takeaway.

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