Matisse & Style: Exhibit at Philadelphia Museum of Art Reiterates Art + Fashion Connection

By Erin Moonyeen Haley

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s recently unveiled exhibit, Matisse in the 1930s is drawing fresh attention to an artist whose relationship with fashion has always been tangential and impactful, a kind of energized friendship between two colorful and flamboyant friends. While the thesis of the exhibit is to explore “a collection of the legendary artist’s work during a decade of artistic exploration—from experimentation to failure, to renewal” its focus is on The Dance (1930-33), a work he was commissioned to complete in the Barnes Foundation main gallery, one that electrified the artist out of an atypical creative slump.


While The Dance might be heralded as the ne plus ultra of the exhibit, Matisse's patterns, colors and texturized imagination featured throughout the museum recall haute couture designers who have always channeled the artist when in the midst of their own creative frenzies, making Matisse a zeitgeist beyond the canvas.

For the Autumn/Winter 1981 exhibit, Yves Saint Laurent flaunted Matisse's colors and designs down the runway, drawing particular inspiration from Matisse's The Sheath (1953). The childlike fronds and primary color palette decorated skirts and sweeping dresses, all of which paired perfectly with the early 80's makeup trends of bold iris-purple eyeshadow and cherubic cheeks in dusky pink and rose.




The Yves Saint Laurent Spring/Summer collection from 1992 harkened back to Matisse's time in Morocco in 1912.

Meanwhile, designer Vivienne Westwood channeled Matisse's Femmes et Singes (Women and Monkeys), 1958,

in her "Nostalgia of Mud" collection, from Fall/Winter 1982-1983. The collection name was in honor of a shop Westwood co-owned in the early 80s, where the architecture consisted of plaster designed to make the opening look like a muddy cave entrance.

In 2006, Vera Wang forged an oddball inspirational coupling. Simultaneously drawing from the then-hit show Deadwood and Matisse, Wang declared that her intention was to go primitive, to showcase how Matisse's"models dressed not unlike the female characters on that show." The result was iridescent chiffon nightgowns, uncomplicated silhouettes, salopettes, farmers' shirts, and textures and colors that drew from Matisse's own time as well as from the raw and unfiltered looks of the gritty western.




Perhaps most surprising is the fact that Matisse's paper cut-outs have been used as inspiration for wedding gowns, such as in Carolina Herrera's 2006 Bridal collection.


Of course, Matisse's designs still burst onto the everyday with color and whimsy; he's been an inspirational lightning rod for even day-to-day looks for the likes of such stars as Lady Gaga.

The gift shop of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is itself now home to Matisse-inspired designs and frocks, allowing art junkies, fashion lovers and Matisse fans to indulge in the cross between fashion and art at their own discretion.