How the Mondriaan dress made art cool

Mondriaan dress 1966

Red block, horizontal lines, and vertical ones: unmistakably ‘Mondriaan’. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (The Hague) has some of his well-known paintings hanging on the walls. And since last week the museum has a very specific version added to that inventory: a dress! Who does not know that iconic sixties design? This dress made its designer Yves Saint Laurent instantly immortal and put ART on the agenda of society change.

Yes, what makes this dress a classic, is change. Not only in fashion, where loose designs like the Mondriaan dress freed female fashion. Change came in multiple ways: Art fi-nal-ly made its way to us, regular mortals. Of course, Laurent’s dress was not affordable for you and me without a serious bankruptcy. But it was still cheaper than buying Mondriaan’s paintings on canvas. Or else we’d buy an issue of Vogue magazine for 75 dollar cents and impress with our impeccable knowledge of fashion and art.

And so it happened that the world of art made its way to the masses. Perhaps not literally, and not instantly, though it drip fed our mindsets until our veins were renewed with fashion and art sense. Had art been exclusively for the rich and royal until the sixties, thanks to artists like Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, art became seriously cool and somehow available to all of us. I have to add, though, that art and high fashion had indirectly influenced society before. Mondriaan’s art and that of his friends, for example, had already defined ‘cool’ in the interior design of Dutch houses: colorful minimalism that our dentist practices are still so fond of.

What makes the Mondriaan dress one inch bigger than it already is, is the fact that it put Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944) on the (mind)map. Our Dutch heritage was instantly known by the masses; a sudden competitor to Vincent Van Gogh! They both lived in France, by the way, which is where Mondriaan erased one ‘a’ from his name, becoming Mondrian. But because of my proud Dutch heritage I cannot bring myself to spell his name this way.

Anyway, the dress fits the museum like a glove. Its exhibition De Stijl, the artistic group that Mondriaan was part of, shows very clearly how Mondriaan evolved as an artist. Did you know, for example, that he made totally figurative paintings for the longest time, before plunging into abstract painting? The dress of Yves Saint Laurent is a welcome addition to complete the story of that revolutionary artist. Mondriaan contributed to the popularization of art. If only he would have lived to see it.

  1. How cool is this. I (had) a 2 piece outfit so similar to the dress on the right. I had no idea this design was “historical” and significant. I bought it with tags on it from a thrift store . . . it was bright orange with black panels, so I figured it challenged other people’s complexion, but merged perfectly with my own. Super Super post; thanks.

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