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Is Fashion Art? A Journey into Upcycling and Wearable Art

Model wearing upcycled clothing in front of an abstract painting acrylic on canvas

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A question that has often sparked heated discussions: Is fashion really a form of art? The key to this debate lies in the innovative concept of ‘wearable art’—an approach that melds aesthetic brilliance with functionality, paving a vibrant path between fashion and art. A rising star in this movement is upcycled fashion. This process breathes a fresh lease of life into discarded or previously loved pieces, transforming them into high-fashion statements. Let’s dive into the upcycled fashion movement and settle this ongoing debate once and for all!

Artistry in Upcycled Fashion

The artistry in upcycled fashion revolves around creatively reincarnating materials that are often overlooked, breathing fresh life into them. This transformative journey from discarded pieces to modern, attractive clothing instills in them a sense of uniqueness that resonates with the philosophy and definition of art.

Creative Expression 

Abstract art depicted by a model wearing an upcycled garment facing an actual acrylic on canvas painting.

The creation of a piece of upcycled clothing demands significant imagination. From sourcing and pairing materials to the actual design process, there are many parallels to a sculptor or painter sourcing the best brushes and raw materials. Much like a painter starts with a blank canvas, an upcycled creation generally begins with a blank garment. The designer sees the initial piece of clothing as a medium to convey artistic expression, similar to a canvas for a painting or clay for a sculpture. Through experimentation and error, new techniques are uncovered to make an old piece of clothing breathe new life. 

Craftsmanship 

The precision and craftsmanship of creating an upcycled piece cannot be overlooked. Just like anyone can draw a simple illustration, anyone can “upcycle” a piece of clothing by cutting off the sleeves of an old t-shirt. What sets true artists apart from the rest, is meticulous attention to detail and superior knowledge of the craft. In the world of upcycling this can be an expert knitter who can give a garment a perfect deconstructed look, or a sewer who can blend two garments together with seamless detailing. 

Storytelling 

Much like traditional art forms, each upcycled piece carries its unique narrative. The tale of its original form, the journey it has undergone to acquire a new identity, adds depth and richness to the garment. It metamorphoses from a mere clothing item to a wearable statement piece.

Uniqueness 

Each upcycled garment stands as a one-of-a-kind creation. The uniqueness of varied materials, design ideas, and crafting processes make these pieces akin to art. They are exclusive creations mirroring the individuality of both the creator and the wearer.

High-Fashion Meets Art At The Chrysalis Lab

In today’s rapidly evolving fashion industry, Emma Trask is pioneering a high-fashion upcycling initiative through her Malibu-based upcycling atelier. The Chrysalis Lab offers curated vintage pieces transformed into unique wearable designs. She harmoniously merges sustainable practices with fashion-forward aesthetics. Through her unique process,  Trask, along with a team of knitters and upcycling experts, “embellish what’s [already] there, and repair, repurpose, and make [the pieces] come to life to make them wearable art.”

Upcycled Dior Sweater Before and After

Trask’s studio stands out as a refreshing breath of air in an industry where fashion excess is the norm. The concept of reusing and upcycling resonates throughout her work. In her studio, fashion pieces are often positioned next to more traditional art mediums. Trask has even collaborated with abstract artist Donna Isham on a dress fused with the artists’ canvases:

I actually just did a collaboration with a fine artist [who] does these really abstract paintings and she gave me some of her canvases. [Together we] cut them and then I sort of sculptured them onto some clothing pieces that spoke to me that I married together.

Emma Trask, The Chrysalis Lab

Her work, a testament to her meticulous craftsmanship, is a product of countless hours of labor.  An upcycled piece, a result of an artisan’s labor, is more than just a vintage item—it’s a unique piece of wearable art.

Trask’s studio operates on a slightly unconventional model. She emphasizes educating her customers about her work and familiarizing them with the essence of upcycled fashion, rather than simply selling pieces. The goal is to transform their mindset about sustainable fashion gradually.

The Transformative Power of Fashion

Fashion is more than just clothing—it is a powerful form of expression that fuses creativity, communication, and practicality. Each garment is a statement that resonates with the human spirit, turning wearers into living embodiments of the design. This dynamic relationship between the wearer and the garment attests to fashion as a credible art form, on par with painting, sculpture, and music.

Every piece of clothing, like a work of art, carries its unique energy, which can influence the wearer’s emotional well-being and self-perception. The fashion we don reflects who we are and aspire to become, underscoring the undeniable relevance of fashion as art.

Emma Trask, The Chrysalis Lab

Settling the Debate

It’s undeniable that fashion can be elevated to the status of ‘living art.’ Upcycled clothing can fit the bill of both art and fashion—it can be seen as individual artistic expressions, bear sculptural attributes, qualify for museum displays, and continue to serve its primary purpose of being worn. This fusion of fashion and creative expression challenges prevailing views, reinforcing that fashion, in its authentic form, is an extension and demonstration of art.

FAQs About Wearable Art

Wearable art refers to individually designed pieces of handmade clothing or jewelry created as wearable, unique design expressions. Unlike mass-produced clothing or accessories, wearable art is typically characterized by emphasizing inspiration and expression. Each piece is often one-of-a-kind, and its creation involves innovative techniques and materials, intricate detailing, and high-quality craftsmanship.
Wearable art is a creative fusion of fashion and artistry, and one prime example of this is upcycled clothing. This involves transforming discarded or old items like dresses and jackets into something new and exciting. A vintage dress might be deconstructed and stitched back together in a fresh, innovative design, or an old denim jacket could be embellished with embroidery, patches, or a mix of other fabrics.
You can shop for wearable art online through platforms like Etsy and Depop. Some upcycled designers sell through their websites, as well as in retail boutiques, pop-up shops, and craft fairs that specialize in unique and upcycled fashion.

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