Wearable Art’s Comeback: Fashion Is the New Canvas for Painting

A painted jacket and pair of Dickie’s from the label Rhee.

The line between art and fashion has long been blurry, made more so by the wearable art movement that aimed to get art off the walls of museums onto human bodies as the mode of exhibition. Originating with a generation of artists practicing in the ’60s and ’70s, wearable art is a concept that has seen a new resurgence in the millennial age. 

In our current era of fast-fashion and overproduction, some artists and designers are investing into handcrafted techniques and custom pieces, creating clothing that you could also hang on your wall. New York-based luxury men’s brand Robert Graham recently announced that they’d be celebrating their 20th anniversary with a wearable art capsule wardrobe. Releasing a series of artist collaborations for the fall/winter 2021 season, the brand’s president Andrew Berg recently told WWD that they’re “known as a brand that produces wearable art,” and that the collections are a “big initiative moving forward.”

Estelle Tcha, a classically-trained painter based in Seoul, Korea, has developed a practice of using clothing as her canvas. Painting on archival Dior pieces, she launched her brand eee Official as a way to make “sharing value” in the art world easier by making the practice of collecting art more accessible. “Art and fashion have always been an inseparable part of me, so it was only a matter of time for me to find a way to combine the two as a way to express myself,” she told Observer. I realized that the most significant difference in fine arts and fashion are in their identities: fashion has the function of being worn, and art, though technically functionless, is seldom a multiple. Their difference is where I saw potential partnership between the two.” 

A jacket from eee’s new line.

Customization is an important element to Tcha’s work. Previously tailoring vintage pieces into “portable frames” by creating holes in the back of the jackets or using velcro on the margins of the unstretched canvas, she now works with a seamstress to ensure the paintings are removable and, in turn, interchangeable. “The past few years have been progressive in accepting diversity and difference, and society has generally been more encouraging of people to accept and embrace their unique identities,” she said. “Customization options have become a must in every brand’s agenda, and what could be more personal and personalized than art?” 

Tcha considers herself an artist first and always, and is currently “working towards becoming a better designer.” Growing up in Western Australia, she said she was always drawing, painting, and making. Her current work for eee explores her interest in life and death through her “Smoking Zodiak” series. One painting, she said, takes one to three days and some have up to 40 layers to them. “By wearing a painting framed by a hand-picked, repurposed vintage eee jacket, one activates the piece,” she said. “The painting, which was once 2-D, becomes sculptural. It

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