Impressionism Meets Punk - Revolutionary Movements and Fashion

Two cultural movements and their impact upon fashion trends are explored as we discover that reactions to the status quo can dictate what we wear. Evidenced by couture Dior chiffons and leather biker jackets, the Impressionist and Punk Movements share an unlikely story. 

The Impressionists. We all flock in our millions to see the works of Monet, Manet, Dégas – the list goes on. These seemingly simple yet truly highly complex pieces of artwork are gazed at in museums and private collections around the entire world. Yet, a now global art phenomenon was once a mistrusted rebellion against the status quo. The Impressionists sought to break with tradition, moving away from the precision of the previous decades and towards a freer interpretation of the world around them. As a reflection of certain newfound freedoms in society (the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 in Great Britain, greater representation in the courts of law in Europe and a more liberal France post-Napoleon), these artists experimented, indeed rebelled against their predecessors.


What was once a misunderstood and relatively small movement has grown to become the most easily recognisable in the world by people of all walks of life. As is often the case with art, these beautiful paintings have trickled down and are printed on everything from pencil cases to badges, but the most important for all and sundry purposes is the transfer of Impressionist designs on to fabric which have been featured by Dior and most recently of note, by Dolce and Gabbana in their A/W 2008 Collection. These voluptuous designs invoked not only the delicate dreamy air of the Impressionists but Dior’s 1947 New Look.


Art and fashion have always been, and will always be, inextricably linked with the painting or sculpture inspiring the designer, a key example being the work of Missoni inspired by Cubism and Futurism. Some movements are prompted by the intelligentsia, such as the modernist movement as a reaction to increased literacy in the early 20th century. Alternaitvely, others are a reaction against the status quo with a niche example being that of the Punk Movement inspiring fashion – both on the runway and on the street.


A movement that began as a clear rebellion against the previous generation sparked a new wave of music, design and fashion. Tailored suits were replaced with ripped jeans, black biker jackets and mohawks, while fishnet tights and heavy makeup took the place of pretty pastel dresses and heeled shoes. While the Punk Movement only officially lasted from 1976-78 compared to the longer 1867-86 timespan of the Impressionists, the effects have been felt. Alexandre Vauthier’s feature of fishnet, black and leather along with countless other designers incorporating aspects serves to indicate that rebellion has become very much mainstream. While Punk may not have expanded to all social circles and cultures as Impressionism just about has, the existence of the Punk Exhibition at the British Museum in 2016, highlights the new mainstreaming of this once rebellious trend. Impressionism has been present for much longer, but the adoption of Punk by the masses ensures its survival and spread. Who knows – perhaps we will even seen Dolce and Gabanna Impressionist inspired gowns styled with black biker jackets, combing these artistic trends which have similar evolutionary stories.