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Vogue’s December Tim Walker shoot, glazed with kaleidoscopic infusions of colour, set the bar for 2013’s pop culture revival. The dreamy haze of unrealistic saturated colour literally popped from the page in a way that romanticised popular culture.
From 1952-5, the movement investigated mass and consumer culture in order to re-evaluate modernism. Art, technology, product design and popular culture became mutually important in the coming of the Second Machine Age: a contemporary era of high technology that directly encouraged the rise of mass-market advertising and consumerism. The boom in manufacturing inevitably increased distribution; fashion accelerated the process of replacement so that the ‘I want, I want’ attitude was maintained. People bought disposable goods, fashion was short lasting, and there was focus on the constant spending of money on consumer goods.
Culture was fixated with, and arguably dependent upon immediacy – aligned with consumerism and immediate satisfaction. Pop art reflected this idea of utility and functionality. Warhol’s quickly re-produced images harkened back to factory machinery, as he famously stated: ‘The reason I’m painting this way is because I want to be a machine.’ His works were not unique, or ranging, but mass-produced and iconic, which represented the notion that everybody bought the same goods, wore the same fashion and celebrated the same music. Warhol’s soup can depicts the graphic codes of an image as would appear on an advertisement, thus epitomising consumer culture.
Warhol’s iconic imagery translated to literally disposable fashion in his “souper dress” – a piece of fashion made entirely from paper. The dresses created were throwaways, satirizing the accelerative and short-lived utility of consumer goods, constantly replaced by something better.
Richard Hamilton’s pop art collages pasted together the gimmicky, glamorous, sexy and provocative. Pointing a ‘pop’ penis and women’s breasts at one another across a domestic technologically saturated space within ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ (Collage on paper, 1956) alluded to the pleasure associated with consumerism. Fashion also became provocative, not because it was revealing, but because the bright neons and fluorescents associated with success and wealth were loud, visually challenging and ‘out-there.’
Why the revival of this consumerist celebration, particularly in a climate of economic downturn? Invading fashion and art, which had previously been elite, pop art was dangerous, inescapable and entirely new. Karl Lagerfeld has described it as ‘the only art and fashion movement that is not too intellectual.’ Art and fashion did not need a justification: for once, their only purpose was to celebrate consumerism. Perhaps this was the beginning of non-elite artwork, leading eventually to the likes of Damian Hurst and Tracy Emin (lets save opinions on this pair for another article). Modernization within the art world is arguably something to be celebrated – there is a freedom of expression and liberalism that increases daily. The roaring return to pop art fashion may simply be a celebration of the movement’s success in pushing artistic liberalism forward and flushing away the artistic rulebook.
Either that, or pop art’s return is fashionable due to it’s vintage-quality, in the same way that people are wearing embellished collars in order to harken back to romanticism and Gothicism. We cannot necessarily deem pop art romantic, but it’s unfailing popularity and pertinence may simply be because it is cool, colourful, fun and sexy. It makes people think of pastel ice-cream shades, bright pink and red lipstick, back-combed hair, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book prints splashed like tabloids over clothes, the Sex Pistols, Twiggy, Marilyn, Coca-Cola and 60s mod. The era seems, to our generation, to be crazy, fun, kaleidoscopic and extremely desirable. Perhaps Britain is in love with the 50s and 60s – pop art’s culmination.
Every so often, fashion seems to return to this era: to the affordability, simplicity and brightness of pop. Bright colours are paired with neutral tin-foil silvers – such as spacey jackets and bags. Colour is used as a means of self-expression and celebration, so decide what shades suit you. Within Tim Walker’s ‘Like Dreams Do’ photo-shoot, outfits have a random quality that does not look planned, but effortless and quirky.
Topshop have created a selection of slogan prints shouting out the words that splashed over Hamilton’s collages and Lichtenstein’s comic strips. For acidic neons and fluorescents, see River Island’s coloured jeans, now reduced to only £15. If you do not feel brave enough to dress head to toe in colour, then either tone it down with pop art’s more conservative icy-pastel shades, or combine colour with leather. This makes the two trends more wearable – toning down leather’s provocative quality with warmth of colour. Dare to wear, and become a popular culture icon.