Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Art & Culture / An Intellectual Fashion

Tom Sachs

In his column, Donatien Grau speaks to prominent thinkers and creatives about fashion and its connections to contemporary creativity

Waffle House, Tom Sachs

Since the mid 1990s, New York-based artist Tom Sachs has become known for critiquing fashion and street cultures, manipulating ideas of consumption, branding, commercial imagery and objects of money and power. His first major solo show at the New York's Morris-Healy Gallery in 1995 included works entitled HG (Hermés Hand Grenade) (1995) and Tiffany Glock (Model 19)...


Organised around a regular pattern: in this column each interviewee picks the picture that illustrates their interview, answers six questions that are the same for all contributors and then two more that are designed specifically for them.

Since the mid 1990s, New York-based artist Tom Sachs has become known for critiquing fashion and street cultures, manipulating ideas of consumption, branding, commercial imagery and objects of money and power. His first major solo show at the New York's Morris-Healy Gallery in 1995 included works entitled HG (Hermés Hand Grenade) (1995) and Tiffany Glock (Model 19) (1995), both of which were models made with Hermès or Tiffany packaging. His sculptures have been exhibited worldwide, at venues including Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2003), Fondazione Prada, Milan (2006) the Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo (2006) and Lever House, New York (2008).

How would you connect fashion to elegance?
They are totally unrelated. Fashion is a compliance and elegance is an attitude.

What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
Fashion is not so important to me. I just consider it a tentacle of advertising. As such, it’s another craft. It’s great when it is the expression of an artist like Azzedine Alaïa, who makes women look gorgeous, and it’s awful when the advertisement says "you’ll be happy if you buy this product".

Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did?
Fashion is its own language like anything else. Barthes' great contribution was his ability to share with us his insights that any discipline — whether fashion or pro wrestling — has its own hidden language and discourse with the user. There is a difference between the people who are a part of it, and who are outside of it; there are discourses for both. Barthes let us in to see both sides of that and once you've seen it you can't go back.

The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in which way?
Fashion, like racing or any other craft, can be the expression of politics, in so far as it relates to the individual. The concept of the fashion season is antithetical to innovation — with a collection coming every quarter, or every sixth of the year now, it creates a false sense of urgency and pushes the creative mind behind his effort to innovate. In some cases, it forces companies, artists and craftsmen, to make things that are designed to sell rather than to perform. And when I say performed, I mean, in the case of an athletic equipment, actually perform, so that the athlete can win. And, in the case of fashion, I mean something that makes women beautiful.

What does fashion have to do with intellectuality?
I don't know.

Would you relate the idea of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
Fashion is conformity and part of a community, style is a personal expression.

Your art is based on the deconstruction of fashion brands. What is the relevance of brands the concept of fashion your work expresses?
You are alluding to works that are over ten years old and trade heavily on the power of those brands. I'm also not sure what deconstruction really means. A full-size guillotine is scary because it is a real tool of capital punishment; but when you put a fashion logo on it connects to the brand and a new meaning is born.

You mentioned advertisement. How would you relate fashion to pop culture and advertisement?
Fashion is great if it makes you look gorgeous, and it can be incredibly destructive if it makes you feel inadequate for not having the product. A lot of advertisement is engineered in the purpose of making promises; if you have this product, all the problems of your life will be resolved. I’m not in favour of banning advertisement, I’m not that much of a democrat. A quality product is it's own best advertisement.

In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the filmmaker Bertrand Bonello.

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