are art people more stylish than fashion people?

As New York is invaded by international galleristas for Frieze, Cleo Le-Tan investigates the very specific nature of art fashion in the latest edition of Cleo's Closet Case.

by Cleo Le-Tan
16 May 2015, 12:40am

Photography courtesy Frieze Art Fair

It's Frieze right now in New York. The art fair was born twelve years ago in the heart of London's Regent's Park, nestling into gigantic claustrophobic tents and hosting a couple hundred of the best contemporary art galleries.

Here in New York, one of the main attractions of the fair is definitely the ferry that one catches from East 35th Street to Randall's Island. A scenic and pleasant 20-minute ride from midtown will show you a rare view of Manhattan's east coast, not to mention a preview of the peacocking to come at the fair itself. Frieze Art Fair has become so famous that anybody remotely interested in anything finagles an invite or buys a pass. Yes, the art is great, but the experience has become just as much about strolling through the airy white corridors of galleries that almost feel like a succession of fashion week parties. Only with delicious foodie stands (like Dimes and Roberta's) instead of free champagne. As befits such a scene, the people watching is world-class.

Women who work in the contemporary art industry are easier to spot than a pimply high school blogger at a couture show. They are beyond chic, yet discrete and still fashionable. In fact, they are able to wear fashion and luxury items with more style and grace than typical "fashion people," concentrating on neutral colors and classic styles. The message is: 'I know who Christopher Kane is, but I'm here to work!' As you walk around the fair you start to notice consistencies in the Art Lady Fashions: these women respect a formula.

To peruse fairs like Frieze, Basel or the FIAC, one should adorn a feminine but sober silhouette: a pair of tight, slightly cropped trousers—can be tight jeans, pale red capri pants or minuscule hound's-tooth print stretchy ones, paired with an elegant men's shirt or a sleeveless Issey Miyake blouse, hidden by either a nice and fancy denim jacket or a black blazer of some sort (preferably by a standard-type trendy designer who cuts clothes well or Comme Des Garçons for the edgier ones). The shoes to match it all are most often the classic beige and black Chanel ballet flats, or a similarly flat shoe (Céline espadrilles or Manolo sandals work well in the summer months). For the younger and more adventurous gallerista, any form of adidas sneaker will do, such as a unicolor all-white Superstar or a classic white and green Stan Smith.

Re: handbags: v. important. The more established gallerista is never without her classic Hermès bag, to be worn on the inside crease of the elbow, with the forearm slightly inclined upwards (difficult to explain, but completely comprehensible when seen). It is "worn in" to perfection, and its condition is a step removed from mint. The color of it is usually a timeless one (burgundy, grey, classic combo of beige leather and canvas, black for the winter…). In some of the most recent art seasons, alternatives for younger women have included the Celine "Trio" handbag as well as the Issey Miyake geometric "Bao Bao." And gallery assistants and -gasp!- actual artists can be seen with simple cotton totes, the more nerdy the better.

To attend a gallery or exhibition opening (in the evening), the uniform is a tad fancier and just as appealing, if not more. The room is never dotted with less than a couple dozen Alaia dresses. Some of them are vintage, but many are from recent collections. Also burgundy or black, they are worn with elegance and nonchalance. Often paired with very high studded heels of the same brand and a little evening cropped jacket, the icing on the cake is an interesting and fun clutch of some sort made by the most en vogue designer. Some Olympia Le-Tan book clutches have been spotted, most definitely letting literary alter egos speak out! Speaking of literature and alter egos, many of the arty chic also wear spectacles, red lipstick and a high perky bun—great signs of not only intellect but also artistic knowledge. It's official; women in the art world dress better than those in fashion. Sorry!

Read more Cleo's Closet Case!


Text Cleo Le-Tan
Photography Marco Scozzaro, courtesy Marco Scozzaro/Frieze via Flickr

cleo le-tan
Comme des Garçons
Issey Miyake
Frieze Art Fair