The Influence of Street Art on Fashion Design

Art and Fashion’s Most Famous Crossover Collaborations

Art and fashion, always intertwined, and now more so than ever. Today you’ll find influential artists from a range of artistic disciplines given a platform in the world of fashion. Their touch is everywhere, from major labels to boutique houses, from catwalk set designs to clothing design. And is it surprising? This, after all, is the era of self-expression, a period when clothing has moved far beyond their practical benefits, and functions to reveal something more about the wearer, and society in general. Wearable art is a logical extension of this notion, and a move that benefits everyone. The artist gains a wider audience, fashion gains credibility through association with a respected culture, and the consumer expresses himself or herself. And perhaps the public benefit from exposure to new ideas, too.

There are many ways in which art and fashion overlap, but in this article, we’re going to take a look at the intersection between fashion and the most public and unsanctioned of all visual arts: street art.

Grace Jones painted by Keith Haring, 1984. Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe

Street Art and Fashion

Street art may not be universally beloved, but it does play an undeniably important role in society, or rather, to a section of society. The low-level entry point has historically made it an appealing outlet for people usually underrepresented in more formal art circles; the term ‘street art’ may refer primarily to the location of the art, but it also speaks to the roots of the movement, too.

Like all art, there is a message or opinion expressed in each piece. Unlike all art, it is mostly spontaneous and informal, and has a strong countercultural spirit.

After the rise of street art in the latter half of the 20th century, it didn’t take long for street art to have an impact on the graphic t-shirt world, an influence that continues to this day. Indeed, there are t-shirt labels whose continued success is thanks to their street art connections.

The street art movement, just like all art and design movements, is ever in flux, and that ensures there’s always a fresh supply of inspiration and creativity for fashion producers.

There’s also little risk of movement stagnation with ever-growing numbers of independent producers. With art and design styles always evolving and adapting, and high-quality printing techniques increasingly more affordable and accessible, we’ll inevitably see more street art appearing on t-shirts.

Street Art Crossovers

Keith Haring

A pioneering figure in the street art world, Keith Haring was one of the first artists to bring elements of “low” culture, which includes street art, into “high” culture spaces, like museums and art galleries. His style was characterised by bright colours, accessible imagery, the simple representation of the elements, and, most of all, a strong social message, often dealing with contemporary issues such as AIDS, drug addiction, and apartheid.

He stood out in a sea of emerging street artists by highlighting serious issues through fun and upbeat aesthetics. He undertook many collaborative projects during his career, the most famous being his work with Vivienne Westwood on her “Witches” collections, and is regarded as one of the primary reasons why street art has become so important to fashion.

Keith Haring, 1986. Photograph: unknown
Vivienne Westwood - Keith Haring, 1983

Jean Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat is considered to be one of the leading street artists of all time and continues, more than thirty years after his death, to have a significant influence on popular culture. Emerging from New York’s gritty underground punk scene, his neo-expressionist artwork brought him considerable mainstream success and was routinely exhibited in the world’s leading art galleries. Today, his works are printed on super nice t-shirts across the globe.

Jean Michel Basquiat, Brooklyn 1976

Street Art today

Street art’s popularity with the fashion industry shows no signs of subsiding. This, after all, is an art form that is often illegal, provocative, and unexpected, and that mixes well with a fashion industry that pushes to be edgy, expressive, and trendy. From small, independent producers to worldwide labels, street art is touching all aspects of fashion. Moschino has graffiti-laden dresses; Gucci recently launched its GucciGhost collection.

Gucci Fall 2016. Photograph by Imaxtree

Artist Stephen Sprouse defaced Louis Vuitton bags in an approved collaboration and brought in $300 million’s worth of youthful customers. The high-fashion world, once riled by the rise of an art form that seemed to mock their sensibilities, have now embraced this street movement with open arms.