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Fash of the Titans II: Singapore Edition

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@fashofthetitans Singapore Edition

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced you to Gillian Daniel, the creative genius behind @fashofthetitans, an Instagram account that pairs famous artworks with runway looks and cheekily asks “who wore it better?”

Can we find any echoes of local art in the world of high fashion? Gillian shows us how it’s done.

1. Christian Dior Spring 2020 vs Souri (1952) by Liu Kang

Christian Dior Spring 2020 vs Souri (1952) by Liu Kang.
Christian Dior Spring 2020 vs Souri (1952) by Liu Kang.

Souri is a 1952 pastel study for a 1953 oil painting with the same name. The works were made after the much-storied trip Liu made with fellow artists Chen Chong Swee, Cheong Soo Pieng, and Chen Wen Hsi to Bali in 1952. Indonesia’s lush landscapes and rich culture would inspire a new visual language and subject matter for these artists that were instrumental in the development of what is loosely termed the Nanyang style.

The most striking similarity between Souri and this Dior look is their colour palette. Golden turmeric, terracotta, aubergine, peacocks – I love how the colours evoke the region. The horizontal lines of colour in the vivid swathes of fabric wrapped snugly around the dancer recur in striking vertical bands on the Dior dress. I also like the suggestion of movement in both images. Liu Kang’s dancer holds her hand precisely in her practiced pose, the deliberation of the gesture visible right down to the arches of her feet. The Dior model’s dress creates a swirl of colour around her as she sashays down the runway.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the two women also share a taste in accessories, with their belts, beaded bracelets and neckpieces, and mono-earrings!

(Artwork details: Liu Kang, Souri, 1952. Pastel on paper. Image measurement: 61 x 46cm. Frame measurement: 61 x 46cm. Gift of the artist’s family. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.)

2. Dries Van Noten Spring 2020 vs Cat and Butterfly (Undated) by Chen Chong Swee

Dries Van Noten Spring 2020 vs Cat and Butterfly (Undated) by Chen Chong Swee.
Dries Van Noten Spring 2020 vs Cat and Butterfly (Undated) by Chen Chong Swee.

Chen Chong Swee’s painting Cat and Butterfly uses the traditional techniques of Chinese ink paintings, even though it is rendered in watercolour. Where classical Western paintings use techniques like perspective and chiaroscuro to create the effect of realistic three-dimensional volume on the flat surface of the picture plane, Chinese ink paintings make use of expressive brushstrokes and negative space to evoke the feeling and impression of a scene.

Through the use of linework with varying weight, the painting depicts a cat with a glossy black-and-white coat, perched on a jagged rock. It looks over its shoulder at a butterfly floating weightlessly in the air mid-flight, as blades of tall grass dance gently in the wind.

This Dries Van Noten look immediately struck me with its similar juxtaposition of gestural black lines on a white canvas. The dragging lines on the draped layers of the model’s skirt mimic the craggy face of Chen’s rock. The cat’s elliptical body is evoked with a single puffy sleeve. Two lengths of heavy black ribbon fall over the model’s shoulder, like the lazy curl of a cat’s tail. Even the black bar of smokey eye makeup across the model’s face playfully echoes the patch of black fur over the cat’s right eye.

(Artwork details: Chen Chong Swee, Cat and Butterfly, undated. Watercolour on paper. Frame measurement: 213 x 73.5 cm. Image measurement: 105.3 x 54.2 cm. Gift of the family of the late Chen Chong Swee. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. © Family of Chen Chong Swee.)

3. Celine Fall 2017 vs Untitled – 29 Pieces (29) (1977) by Cheo Chai Hiang

Celine Fall 2017 vs Untitled – 29 Pieces (29) [1977] by Cheo Chai Hiang.
Celine Fall 2017 vs Untitled – 29 Pieces (29) [1977] by Cheo Chai Hiang.

The matches that tend to get the most likes and reactions from my followers are the striking ones with vibrant colours and patterns. This probably is probably amplified by how images are consumed on Instagram in an endless scroll. But wherever possible, I like to throw in a few more subtle ones that require the viewer to stop mid-scroll to really look at the two images.

This match is the quiet one of the bunch. The tall, rectilinear shape of the black Celine dress on the long, lithe model reminded me of some of the shapes in this series of etchings and aquatint on paper by Cheo Chai Hiang. The cream accents on the waistline of the dress and the model’s shoes also echo the paper in these works. The hang of the fabric belt on the dress recalls the detail of this particular work in the series, which features three black rectilinear shapes with little dancing snips.

(Artwork details: Cheo Chai Hiang, Untitled – 29 Pieces (29) , 1977. Etching and aquatint on paper. Image measurement: 57.2 x 76.8cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.)

4. Alexander McQueen Spring 2020 vs Lotus (1984) by David Kwo Da Wei

Alexander McQueen Spring 2020 vs Lotus (1984) by David Kwo Da Wei.
Alexander McQueen Spring 2020 vs Lotus (1984) by David Kwo Da Wei.

This match is my favourite one of the bunch. I love this ink work by David Kwo Da Wei. I am drawn to how the expressive brushstrokes evoke the long-stemmed lotus plants, bowing gently under the weight of their fan-like leaves. Colourful pops of red evoke the delicate petals of the lotus flowers. I imagine them swaying just above the glassy surface of a still pond.

When I came across this McQueen look, I instantly thought of this work by Kwo. Immediately, the black and red painterly floral print on the suit recalls Kwo’s lotus pond with its gestural strokes. But my favourite detail is the draped sleeves on this unique jacket, which echoes the folds of the lotus leaves and their dished shapes. I also like that the model’s gelled-down baby hairs match the rhythmic skew of the lotus stems.

(Artwork details: David Kwo Da Wei, Lotus, 1984. Chinese ink and colour on paper. Image measurement: 227.7 x 96.8 cm. Gift of the artist. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.)

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Hungry for more @fashofthetitans battles? Check out the final instalment of this series here.

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