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Interview: Hélène Durand(As a Muse) on Art and Fashion

Hélène Durand is content creator of As a Muse, a multimedia space where she explores the close link between high fashion and fine art. Her Instagram page composes of striking image collages combining designer outfits and the artworks which inspired them, while her blog features articles which delve deeper into the specific ways in which individual designers have interpreted and responded to art. In this interview, Hélène discusses the birth and aims of As a Muse and tackles important questions regarding appropriation and commodification of art in fashion. Hélène Durand works for a British designer in London.

Fred Shan: Tell us a bit about yourself (education background, how you ended up working in fashion in London?)

Hélène Durand: I studied literature and business in France. I did my first internship at the buying department of a famous luxury Parisian department store and it made me realise that fashion was actually very creative. I went to showrooms to see the collections and each brand had its own creativeness, its own DNA. It fascinated me. When I got my degree, I decided to move to another fashion capital: London!

FS: Inspiration is clearly main theme in your blog. Where did you get the idea of starting the blog/instagram page? (Do you create the ‘Muses’ collages yourself, if so what were your thoughts behind it?)

HD: Yes, clearly! Before launching As A Muse, I started working for a British fashion designer who draws her inspiration from pieces of art. She is an aesthete. I made some researches and I realised art is very present in fashion. I thought it was worth sharing and As A Muse was born! I wanted to offer something easily understandable, visual and enjoyable. I write the articles and create the collages myself.

FS: In your recent post on Opening Ceremony & Syd Mead you mentioned how the brand did a poor job in their tribute to the artist. What factors do you think determine whether a designer has successfully adopted an artwork into their clothing?

HD: In my opinion, a successful collaboration is when the fashion designer appropriates the piece of art. If you simply copy and paste a painting on a t-shirt, it is too "easy" - if you see what I mean. When Albert Kriemler uses Thomas Ruff's photography to create his AW14 collection, he takes the time to understand Thomas Ruff's work and he sublimates it through the clothing. There is a deep reflection about the fabric he should use and the shape he should craft to reproduce the effects Thomas Ruff immortalized in his shoot. It is both interpretation and respect. The most interesting scenario for me can be found when the artist and the fashion designer create together. Christophe Chemin and Prada collaboration is a very good example. Chemin drawn especially for Miuccia Prada after having discussed together about the themes and values they wanted to develop - fashion becomes art inspiration.

FS: Which are you favourite instagram accounts that pursue the link between art and fashion?

HD: I really like @artfullyawear, @dressedtomatch and @la_rencontre_poetique which is an account that create a link between art and poetry, I love it!

FS: There’s a theory that art objects in the capitalist world are being converted into signs, stripped of their original context and ‘sanctity’ reduced to mass-produced images on consumable products. Do you think designers’ borrowings from artworks cheapen the art or do they help spread interest for the art?

HD: Your question is interesting. Does art objects mass-awareness make them cheap or less valuable? I would say it depends. When you turn a painting into a print, to put it on a top or a bag, it can look cheap and too commercial in my opinion. However, if it is made subtly, if the piece of art is a real source of inspiration, it becomes an interpretation of the piece of art. It can be seen as an entity, something new. Alena Akhmadullina drew her inspiration from Hokusai’s Great Wave to create a delicate pattern on a lightweight fabric dress. The result is subtle and beautiful and you can’t tell at first glance that it was inspired by Hokusai’s woodblock.

Concerning the second part of your question, to me fashion is an additional way to spread art thanks to its popularity and its accessibility (media coverage, omnipresence in consumer society etc). When Vans launches Magritte sneakers collection, they spread on the market thousands of shoes with the surrealist's paintings on them. So thousands of people only have to lower their eyes to contemplate a Magritte’s painting!

FS: Art and fashion writing seem to be very different in style, have you encountered any issues in combining art and fashion in writing, especially in the blog format and (if so) how have you tackled them?

HD: I write about art and fashion in my own style and try to explain things with my own vocabulary. The purpose of As A Muse is to share knowledge with people who love art and fashion of course, but also with non-experts. I don't want my writing to be pretentious and I want it to be as accessible as possible. When I prepare an article, I always think about how I would explain it to a friend of mine.

FS: In your posts you seem to imply that while fashion could borrow heavily from art, they are still fundamentally clothes rather than art: things to be worn rather than only looked at (Please correct me on this if I’m wrong!). What do you think about institutions which exhibit clothes as if they were artworks, and thereby removing them from their original function and context? (in particular the VnA’s ‘Glamour of Italian Fashion’ and ‘Alexander McQueen’ exhibitions.

HD: You're right. Most of the time the exhibitions show Haute Couture clothes. These ones are handmade and artisans have worked on them for hundreds of hours. I don't think museums are limited to famous paintings. Fashion - I'm not talking about mass-market fashion – is creation. It deserves to be exhibited just as Marvel’s first drawings. It is absorbing to learn the story of an iconic brand, to discover its savoir-faire, to understand in which historical, social and artistic context these creations have been made. To me, it totally makes sense.

FS: Finally, what kind of future do you envisage for your blog and for yourself?

HD: Thanks to my project, I meet a wide range of fascinating people who share the same passion for creation and art. I am learning a lot at their contact and it stimulates by creativity even further. My ideas keep flowing: new interviews, organising an exhibition, creating a capsule collection in collaboration with young designers, etc. There are so many possibilities!

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