Fashion and art often make for glorious companions, and that is certainly the case when the artist is Gustav Klimt. Now, with the arrival of the portrait “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” at the Neue Galerie, his impact might be felt again. Here, a look at his influence in recent fashion and at Klimt women then and now.
Come July 13, the art world’s highest-priced dame — Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” — will arrive in Manhattan, all $135 million of her to be nestled above a fireplace at the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side, a gift to New York from Ronald S. Lauder. With its history of tragedy and intrigue, the painting fascinates on many levels, fashion among them. The artist’s visual splendor and the elaborate fashions of his subjects have long mesmerized and inspired designers. Whether the arrival of one of his masterpieces will inspire a new round of Klimt-o-mania remains to be seen, but fashion types of all sorts no doubt will be rushing uptown in the coming weeks.
“With all our beading and embroidery, Klimt’s always in the back of our minds,” says Badgley Mischka’s James Mischka. “He keeps coming around again and again.” He and Mark Badgley are not alone. The list of designers who have tapped into Klimt’s Viennese Art Nouveau style in the past few years alone runs long, from Dior’s John Galliano to Carolina Herrera to Derek Lam and on and on. They have found plenty to love in the work of this smock-loving artist.
First, there’s the obvious: Klimt’s paintings celebrate overt fashion, hardly surprising given that his mistress, Emilie Flöge, was, as Neue director Renee Price says, “the Coco Chanel in Vienna,” and a champion of the era’s Reform dressing.
“There’s an inherent decorative quality to Klimt. His paintings almost look like they could be textiles,” says Peter Som.
“With Klimt, you don’t see the person in clothes,” says textile designer Kevin O’Brien. “You see her in relationship to fabric.”
And Cynthia Rowley adds, “The way Klimt chose the composition is almost like a fashion editorial.”
To wit, in the book “Klimt & Fashion,” Christian Brandstätter makes mention of the artist’s fashion photography, for which Flöge modeled.
This story first appeared in the July 5, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Still, Klimt’s grip on his audience is about more than his subjects’ buoyant style. Julie Gilhart of Barneys New York notes “the magical quality” of his work, and Zac Posen, its emotion.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “designers or girls or women are attracted to something they can have an emotional reaction to, whether it’s through texture, symbolism, or the nostalgia of it. That’s what draws people to an image or to a line of clothing or a dress.”
“It’s the sensuality,” adds Price. “Without a doubt, that’s what people respond to.”
And leave it to a fashion girl to act on such a response. “Klimt’s portraits are so erotic, yet classical,” remarks Sarah Easley, co-owner of Kirna Zabête. “These regal ornamented women would certainly stop you dead in your tracks,” she says, slipping into retailer mode to add, “and make you want to go out and just rethink your wardrobe.”