Life as Art


February 22, 2024

The Art of Black and White: Art and Fashion

Three artists who stand out when utilizing dramatically applied wide brush strokes of black and white paint on canvas are Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Pablo Picasso with his painting Guernica (1937). When an artist uses the contrast of black and white, it evokes a sensation of vast spaces, good and evil, yin and yang, while focusing the viewer’s attention on the artwork’s composition.

This week, as I opened the latest Vogue magazine’s March issue, what stood out immediately was that the first 30 or so pages were all advertisements by top fashion brands displaying models wearing outfits in black and white. These included Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Fendi, Saint Laurent, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Dolce and Gabbana, Donna Karan, and H&M. There were sprinkles of citron green, pale blue, and soft beige in the magazine, but the majority of the designers were showcasing black and white clothing designs. This struck me as interesting, considering that as we enter spring and summer, fashion magazines typically display a more vibrant color palette for the hotter months.

In paintings, artists who predominantly use black and white or off-white, especially in abstract painting, tend to create works that are emotional, dramatic, and sometimes mysterious. Using a base of black and white to add or subtract positive or negative space, in many cultures, the two non-colors are associated with life and death, from baptism to funeral. In the 1920s, fashion designer Coco Chanel was known for the simplicity and elegance of wearing black, white, and beige garments, a combination that has remained elegant ever since. Art and fashion go hand in hand, so what is the message for designer brands doing the same in 2024?

Perhaps it means we are finally done with the lethargic, casual, comfy clothing that emerged during the pandemic and has been holding on for dear life ever since. Black and white fashion says tailored, sophisticated, and simple, even serious. Maybe it’s a way to emerge from ultra-casual styles, dust off the old, move on, polish up and shift towards a more tailored aesthetic. Black and white show solid footing and commitment, allowing other parts of one’s personality to shine through in different ways. Possibly the monochromatic fashion approach is the starting base, and the “stand out” will be communicated with unusual accessories, intricate jewelry, or even daring makeup choices.

Whatever the case may be, the good news is black and white fashion is timeless, almost like a sophisticated uniform. It can be dressed up or down, modern and fresh, capturing a sense of modernity while retaining an aura of old-world charm. Like black and white artwork, it can transition and blend with many other color palettes and designs, making it a reliable and stylish choice for any wardrobe.


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