Fashion as Art

I am surrounded by dyes, paint brushes and fabrics; strips of rainbow-hued silks dangle down from the ceiling. I feel (as the dryer whirs behind me, and someone power-washes a screen printing board nearby) that I have been transported to another land, one of the whimsical forests of Disney, perhaps, morphed into an artist’s workshop. I am in the studio of Waller and Wood.

As Carole Waller leads one of her classes, the room buzzes with creativity and the women take their paint brushes to fabric. The finality of each movement terrifies me; down goes the brush and wham – a permanent imprint is made. But, I remind myself, such is the nature of art. Only this art would be worn.

And so, it was only a few minutes into my internship at Waller and Wood that I began to consider the distinction (if there is any) between “fashion,” i.e. clothing, and “art.” Is all clothing — from the runways of Dior to the rails of Zara — a form of art, or are there limitations? Certainly, clothes can be a product of an artist, or of artistic expression, but does that render it art within itself?

art n. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

The question might seem simple enough. Per its dictionary definition, art is the product of human creative skill and imagination, appreciated primarily for its beauty or emotional power. Articles of clothing, then, must be art: someone (or their creativity) made them. I mean, those articles of clothing that weren’t created by an algorithm and fed en masse to us hungry consumers; clothes that were created.

But what about the less rigid, less definitive conception of art? The notion that (and please disagree with me on this) art is meant for public appreciation (or reserved for the wealthy), for the creation and expression of emotion, and is rarely produced in large quantities. Is clothing —from the sweatpants I wear at home to the plain white tee-shirt I wear everywhere — still art? Is the way we dress ourselves “art”? Is fashion, defined as a popular trend in styles of dress and ornament, “art”?

I turned to museums for answers. A centuries old home for the arts, the museum as an institution must decide what it determines to be art, and what, of that art, is worthy of public consumption. While rare it is to find a museum dedicated solely to the celebration of fashion (making it even more exciting to have one, The Fashion Museum, here in Bath!), it seems to be increasingly common to find fashion exhibits in art museums.

In 2011, the New York Times determined that there are at least a dozen fashion-focused exhibits happening at any given moment worldwide (not including galleries or displays); a number that I’m sure has only increased since. These shows are often reserved for the haute-couture, the powerhouse brands or designers whose clothes and creations are expensive and, well…artistic. These brands, available for purchase only by a select few, can afford to be creative and are expected to be such. Their runway shows have devolved into the theatrics, their window displays have transformed into fairy-tales, and their advertisements speak like short, still films. But they are only a small portion of the community of fashion labels, and these exhibits are strictly business.

The groundbreaking exhibit on Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2015, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, was the V&A’s most popular exhibit, ever. It sold almost 2,000 meters of fabric for scarves, 150,000 postcards, and 80,000 books. The idea of a popular fashion exhibit thus became a guaranteed way to get people into (and buying from) museums. It is all business, after all.

Alexander McQueen's "Savage Beauty"
Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty”

And so we return to square one. If museums have fallen victim to the call of commercialization, what hasn’t? How can I know if clothing is art? As I sit and watch Carole tease images onto fabric, I cannot ignore the obvious: she is an artist at work. But still I grapple with the question: can this label of “art” be applied to all clothing?

At its heart, the production of clothing is very creative. Someone, somewhere, had an idea for something that could be worn. But I fear that the average article of clothing has distanced itself from the artistry from which it sprung; at a certain point, the production is reduced to a science. What will sell? What will trend? What can be marketed? As clothing is produced at a quicker rate, the creativity involved seems to slump. If “x” sold, so must “y,” I imagine the designer thinking, as they tweak a graphic tee-shirt. The notion of producing something so that its beauty is appreciated seems to be less important when producing clothing for the masses or “fast fashion” brands.

Now this is not to say that I believe that clothing is losing its beauty. Some, mostly designer and independent labels, seem to produce for beauty, or to make a statement, or to carry a message. These brands can be few, and rely on those who appreciate the communicative and expressive powers of clothing (and who can afford to buy them) to stay afloat. But seeing Carole Waller’s and her student’s work has left me inspired. The clothing that we put on our body should be art; the way we dress ourselves should too become an expression of creativity and emotion. Why do we not present ourselves to the world as bodies of art?

I dress myself subconsciously, and yet it remains an expression of who I am. An influence, internal or external, prompted me to buy the clothing; perhaps it was to dress a part — that of the student, the intern, the 20 year old — or perhaps it was in response to inspirations I have collected. When I dress myself, it is a projection of a part of myself, of my creative side (or lack thereof), of my imagination. When I shop, the decisions I make are also a product of my creative side and my imagination, as I look at a piece and gauge its potential in my wardrobe.

This has become most evident to me throughout this internship. Never before had I occasion to see the clothes I lust after being created. When Carole makes a piece, she is an artist at work; watching her dab her paint brush over the fabric, one almost imagines oneself absorbing her creative energies. Her clothes are definitely art within themselves, and they make me wonder: can it all be art, too?

In short, I am inspired: inspired to wear clothing that I appreciate as artwork; inspired to dress myself in the creativity of others, but in a way that allows me to express my own creativity, as influenced by theirs.

ONE TWO FIVE TO WALLER&WOOD

From One Two Five Gallery to Waller&Wood

 

The creative partnership between Carole Waller and Gary Wood began over twenty years ago at their home in Bathford. Having just bought a house with two outbuildings in the back garden perfectly suited for conversion into studios, they then converted the main house, including provision for a gallery in which they could display Carole’s sumptuous clothing and art pieces alongside Gary’s ceramics. They already had a growing mailing list of clients and at this point began promoting a series of regular exhibitions at the house, which was called One Two Five. The name of the house came about because the main train line to London Paddington runs parallel to Box Road and having struggled to come up with a house name, they were inspired one day when a high speed 125 train whizzed past, immediately solving the problem of finding a name.

Three exhibitions a year in spring, summer and over Christmas soon became popular events, attended by an enthusiastic audience and the reputation of One Two Five as a great venue in which to see and purchase unique works of art, developed a strong following. In addition to showing and selling their own work, they also included work by other artists in their exhibitions and in the summer would show outdoor sculpture in the garden as well as other works in the main gallery indoors. Work by various contemporary jewellers became a popular, regular feature and was very sympathetic with Carole’s painted clothing.

 

One Two Five Gallery on Box Road continued for the next 16 years. Many happy days.

photo by Annabush Crews

 

After a brief experimental endeavour to take on a public retail outlet selling their work at The Shed on Box Road proved successful, they decided to seek a similar outlet in central Bath and in 2015 found the perfect premises at 4 Abbey Green. One Two Five Gallery now had an ideal opportunity to reach a wider public and the client base began to grow even stronger. Gary and Carole love meeting people and sharing the essence of what they do. Now in its second year, One Two Five continues to grow.

Because the title of the gallery historically linked to the name of their house in Bathford, Carole and Gary made a radical decision this year to re-brand and re-title their business WALLER&WOOD. Everyone out there in and around Bath who are already familiar with One Two Five Gallery  will soon notice the new signage of WALLER&WOOD. Looking forward with renewed vigour to an exciting time ahead!

Tales of an intern

For the last two weeks I have had the pleasure of interning with Carole Waller.

It has been very hectic at times, and I have experienced things that no multi-million company could have offered me.

I am Faye Patterson – and I am currently studying my final year for a foundation degree in Fashion and Textiles at Bath Spa University, and I will be applying to a Textiles BA for my 3rd year of design. As my course is a mixed degree we’re constantly moving on to a new area of study, so I have not had as much opportunity to work with textiles. I would still like to pursue a career in it as I find it more exciting than the fashion elements of my course, which is why an internship with a textile designer has been incredibly helpful. Like Carole, I am an artist at heart and so her work on fabrics fascinated me.

 

devore printing

 

Baking the devore to burn out

During the first week I was taught new, invaluable skills. These included work with steam-set dyes, and learning how an abundance of materials can have dye transferred onto them (including Carole’s own beautifully coloured buttons). Being such a newcomer to textiles still, I didn’t realise how much work was needed to produce just a few metres of fabric. As an example, I was taught how to use a technique called Devoré, where mixed fibre fabric is treated so that a design is eaten away to reveal semi-transparent areas. There are several stages to completing this, making it both expensive and labour intensive. I also tried a few new finishing processes such as fringing, a simple skill but one that is useful to learn.

Carole had just received a new set of coats (part of her Winter Collection that was due to be finished that week) as she was working with a women’s association in Gujarat who use the traditional technique of Kantha stitch to quilt fabrics. She wanted to try their work out with a completely different coat shape  – so I was tasked with copying a master pattern in order to send them the new design for manufacture. I also altered one of her shirt patterns to make it more suitable for winter. Internships rarely involve pattern cutting as it can be a difficult task so this was an amazing opportunity.

kantha stitch clothing constructed with offcuts of painted silk

A photoshoot for her Winter collection at  the new hotel, No.15  Great Pulteney, involved working with professionals from various backgrounds, and liaising with hotel staff to ensure we got as much photographed as possible in the little time we had. This also gave us the chance to discuss which photographs would be selected for her press release.

photoshoot with Chris Daw

The most mundane of tasks are vital to the success of Carole’s collection:  I leafletted, washed tables, ironed metres of silk, I ran errands, I worked on pricing new products, designing wrapping paper, and I mopped the floor. Working with someone who runs their own business allowed me to see the completion of the big picture.

Working at her shop, One Two Five Gallery, gave me the chance to discuss garments individually with customers and understand why certain shapes or colours worked well on certain people. It is hard to envision how a garment will look without first considering who the customer is, something that I struggled with as a designer. Carole’s clothes come to life on people because she has developed an affinity to do this, so watching her work on commissioned and stock pieces has been incredibly useful.

in the gallery

Working as any sort of designer incredibly hectic, especially since Carole had so many deadlines whilst I was interning. Just two weeks of working with her has given me skills that will be useful for a lifetime, and I now have a newfound appreciation for textiles

 

Faye Patterson August 26th 2017

Waller and Wood – ceramics, candles and canvas

Gary Wood. Blog. 27/7/17. Waller and Wood

 

An exciting recent development in my work resulted from a meeting with a company in Bradford-On-Avon called Heaven Scent, who make a wide range of ethically sourced products including soaps, candles, reed diffusers and body products. Heaven Scent are the first company to create a natural alternative to a paraffin wax candle, over 24 years ago. They developed a unique blend of plant wax that burns cleanly and effectively, infused with fine fragrances and essential oils.
I discovered through talking with them that in addition to making a range of their own candles in glass containers, that they could fill containers made by other companies. I took them a range of different sizes and shapes of my pots, chose some scents and had these samples poured. The results were very good, the aromas beautiful; they smell amazing even when they are not lit! So now I am working with Heaven Scent building up a range of candle pots to sell in our gallery. When the candle has burned away you can clean out the residual wax and use the vessel in your home – cups, bowls and more besides. I am planning to do individual candles and also boxed sets for gifts, especially around Christmas.

Carole is also collaborating with them on a range of organic soaps wrapped around with her painted canvas and glass candles in a sleeve of painted silk all with Christmas in mind even though it is still July – but the samples are filtering onto the gallery now alongside a lovely collection of bags and pencil cases painted on canvas and combined with real leather. Carole is working with  Charlotty also nearby, in Trowbridge to design and make these with her fine sense of colour and craftsmanship. Find the first of the bags on her website here.

We have titled this new range of ours: Waller and Wood.

Candle pots group 2 webbag 1 back blue bag b

Work Experience with one two five gallery

On my first visit to Bath I happened to stumble upon One Two Five gallery and loved the unique style as soon as I walked in. As I am currently studying Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University, I have a real passion for Craft and surface pattern design which is why I was so drawn to Carole’s painted garments. After contacting her, she invited me to do some work experience and this is what I’ve been up to…

Day one-
Carole invited me along to one of her workshops where I got to see her studio and some of her amazing work. I got to have a go on the heat press with transfer dyes and Carole showed us a range of samples she had collated which explore the possibilities with the heat press (and there are a lot!). There was a great energy in the studio and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the lovely ladies who were also at the workshop.
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Day Two-
I had the opportunity of visiting a hotel where Carole is currently working on a commission piece, it was truly fascinating seeing the versatility of Carole’s paintings, one day she would be painting a commissioned coat and the next painting panels for an installation piece. Being able to visit the hotel of the commission meant I could visualize the context of the paintings.
However, as I was Carole’s assistant for the week I had the daunting task of helping cut up her beautiful painted fabric into perfectly measured panels… after measuring, measuring and re-measuring with our hearts in our mouths we finally got through the dreaded task.
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Day Three-
We began looking at product development and wrapping organic scented soap and candles in a creative and unique way, we did so by using a strip of Carole’s painted fabric to cover the soap boxes which serve as a dual purpose, once the soap is un-wrapped the fabric can be used as a bookmark; making it a perfect item for gifting. Being part of this process has been enlightening as we’ve explored packaging in an innovative way, as well as showing how Carole’s work can be used in a number of decorative ways.
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Day Four –
During my time with Carole I was working alongside Simone, a student from Italy on an English language course whilst doing work experience with Carole. Together we worked on screen-printing Cotton bags and the bookmarks with Carole’s prints for the soap. We also printed buttons on the heat-press ready to sell in the shop.
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Day Five-
I helped with uploading garments onto the Carole Waller website, this involved navigating around a new website set-up and providing product information such as measurements. At this time Carole was holding a sale in the gallery so we had to synchronise the gallery sale items with the garments online.
Carole arranged a photoshoot outside of the gallery on the abbey green on a beautiful sunny day, she was promoting her new printed t-shirts for her social media. Simone and I tagged along with some of his Italian friends to model the t-shirts on the green.
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The experience with Carole has been really exciting and I’ve gained an insight into what it takes to run a creative business; besides a lot of hard-work and the ability to juggle numerous jobs at once there is also a lot of satisfaction and pleasure that comes with discovering new ideas and work.

Izzy & Simone
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