Without being nostalgic for hippiedom, how long has it been since the Merry Pranksters piled onto a bus and set out across the United States? Probably close to fifty years. Today, the art/fashion mix is best summed up by Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami churning out an endless stream of pricey status collectibles for handbag addicts—more commerce than art.
Artists having their way with fashion is nothing new, but the results are always provocative and, sometimes, startlingly good. Maroussia Rebecq, who comes from France's Bordeaux region, although her name sounds like she popped out of a bottle, began using fashion in her performance art before she moved into her own atelier d'artiste in 2005, thanks to a grant. "After the performances, people started asking me to do clothes and Andrea Crews grew out of that," she says. Now Rebecq is becoming part of the fashion system. "I want to become stronger and understand fashion so I can subvert it," she says matter-of-factly.
Rebecq and her crew work with a ready-made stock of T-shirts, sweatshirts and other casual garments, which they appliqué, screen print and artfully tear apart before reconstructing into completely new garments. While the concept isn't new, the result is anything but predictable. This season's fried-egg dress and the They Say Summer, I Say Sorrow tunic—with the words spilling out like tears from a pair of cartoon eyes over the boobs—look more Marcel Duchamp than Christian Dior.
Andrea Crews’ recent dance performance in Transylvania
And that's where activism comes in. Originally, Rebecq wanted to make fashion as art while saving the planet. That meant having French charities deliver bails of secondhand clothes to her atelier, with the idea of making new, cool clothes out of discards, rather than polluting the environment by starting from scratch. Unfortunately the boutiques she showed the one-offs to didn't get it. "They all wanted to order ten pieces of the one-offs. So we had to go back to the drawing board," says Rebecq.
The Brooklyn-based punk-reggae chanteuse Santogold wears Crews and Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist who covers everything with polka dots and lives self-interned in an asylum, has collaborated with Rebecq. There's a YouTube video of this collaboration, in which Crews staged a children's workshop in the middle of a Kusama performance. "It was like her show became my playground," says Rebecq.
Andrea Crews, spring/summer 2009, photos by Rachel de Joode
When one strains to speculate the future of fashion in the post-meltdown economy, Andrea Crews seems like a breath of fresh air. The collective's clothes, which bear a striking resemblance to homemade Halloween costumes, are a pure exercise in style. While the New York Times spins crisis fashion scenarios—basically, men should dress in carpenter's pants from the hardware store and women should turn themselves into a "recessionista" and head to H&M—Crews shows that there is another way. Meltdown mode, if you will.
So don't worry about looking good this winter, next spring or beyond. Just get out the scissors and pull a Scarlett O'Hara à la Andrea Crews.