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FASHION : Artful Apparel : Do clothing and jewelry take on a different meaning when they're one-of-a-kind creations?

December 06, 1990|AURORA MACKEY ARMSTRONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Idon't know about you, but whenever I hear the word art , I think of paintings, sculptures, music or dance. I don't think about jewelry, and I certainly don't think about clothes.

Perhaps my fashion horizons need expanding. Then again, maybe I actually slept through something important in my college "Introduction to Art" class. What other explanations could there be for all the Ventura County stores now claiming to sell "art to wear?"

"Of course clothes can be art," Helga Cordes, co-owner of Helga and Hellmut Wearable Artin Ojai, said as she pointed to the hand-painted silk ensembles on a rack behind her. "These are all one-of-a-kind pieces that were made by a local artist. Each one is like wearing a canvas with unique coloring."

Cordes, whose local artist-designer also happens to be her husband, isn't the only one who says that clothing and jewelry can be art.

Anne Knight, originally from England and now living in Malibu, held up an ornate, brass patina belt in Cordes' store. "This is hand-sculpted and just look at the colors," she said. "This is art to me. I mean, have you ever seen anything like this?"

In all honesty, it looked like a belt to me. A very nice belt but still not something I could see hanging in a gallery. But this view, I'll admit, might show a lack of visual sophistication on my part: I still think Andy Warhol's acclaimed box of Brillo pads belongs under a kitchen sink.

Anne Gottweld, visiting from Germany, wasn't convinced of the wearable art concept, either. "It's nonsense," she said. "In Germany, you would never call this art. It may be beautiful, but clothing has nothing to do with art."

Still not satisfied, I walked a few doors down to Ojai's Primavera Gallery. Gallery owner Khaled Al-Awar moved past the paintings and sculptures on display to show me some one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. One was a "treasure necklace" that combined small artifacts, including African trade beads, Peruvian coral carvings, Chinese coins and Indian ivory walruses.

What, I asked him, was the difference between ordinary jewelry and art? If there was no other piece like it, did that automatically make it art?

"Just like music, the colors have a certain harmony," Al-Awar said, holding up the treasure necklace. "Real artists create that harmony in their work. And a part of us longs for that."

Unfortunately, with a price tag of $1,350, I had to take my longing elsewhere. So I headed over to the Bluestone Gallery in Ventura, where owner Karen Stone had promised a two-day-only exhibit of jewelry by the famed French artist Erte.

Erte, you may recall, is recognizable for his art deco drawings and sculptures. He joined such contemporaries as Picasso, Mondrian, Klee and Dali when he branched out into jewelry design. In fact, Erte actually trademarked the term "Art to Wear."

The gallery, as it turns out, had only a handful of Erte pieces, which were displayed next to a glass case full of watches with the faces of the Mona Lisa and other well-known paintings. The Erte art deco cameos, in which gold and gems were used like colors of the artist's palette, made me reevaluate the whole idea of wearable art.

One last stop at the Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks and then perhaps I would understand the whole concept. A small kiosk displayed "Wearable Art by Masti Ozlati." There were jean jackets with a rhinestone rendition of the city of Los Angeles, T-shirts with hand-painted fish, furry sweaters with rhinestone flowers and even a long-line bra studded with, you guessed it, rhinestones.

Suddenly, I understood. Wearable art, like any other medium, is art if the artist says it is.

I got into my car and drove home with a fresh, new perspective. This, I thought, must have been what my housekeeper was trying to achieve when she put my favorite cashmere sweater in the washing machine with my son's baseball jersey.

THE PREMISE

Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off-the-rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion, if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.

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