In 2015, writer Charlie Porter was visiting an Agnes Martin retrospective at London’s Tate Modern when he stopped in front of a photograph of the artist herself. In the image, Martin stands halfway up a ladder, in front of a canvas covered in lightly faded stripes – the first step in making one of his signature grid paintings – and with a spirit level under the arm.
In fact, it was Martin’s quilted work jacket and pants that caught Porter’s eye. That same year, London menswear maestro Craig Green had just presented his very first stand-alone collection, evolving the quilted lines of work jackets into the vertical stripes that would become one of his brand’s staples. “It just seemed to fall apart for me,” Porter says. “It made me think Why she wore these clothes. I realized that considering an artist’s clothes can make you think about how to work and be someone in a way that I might not have done if I had just read a biography or see the painting.
Seven years later, and Porter’s eureka moment has unfolded to fill an entire book, titled What artists wear. Loosely adopting John Berger’s timeless art text format ways of seeing, the book vividly illustrates Porter’s journey through the sartorial mores of some of the 20th century’s most influential designers, from Louise Bourgeois to Yayoi Kusama, to some of the most exciting new voices of the 21st century, from Martine Syms to Paul Mpagi Sepuya. The carefully considered outfits presented to the world by modernist titans are overlooked – Picasso’s High Bretons deliberately take just one sentence – and instead the spotlight is turned to a more eclectic range, most of which take a more playful. to clothes that fit with their broader practice.
“It’s not a book about best-dressed performers — I don’t care about that at all,” Porter says. “And to be honest, I’m actually more interested in performers who dress sloppy or messy. Like any human being, I find that much more interesting to watch. True to form, when we talk about Zoom, Porter wears a delightfully Frankensteinian knit held together by safety pins, made by young London designer Jawara Alleyne.More importantly, though, it’s a nod to the politically subversive undercurrent that runs through the book when you dig a little deeper.”It’s more like an invitation to start thinking about clothes in a different way and realizing that you can eventually escape from its power structures,” Porter notes. to read What artists wear it’s a more radical idea than you might initially think.
vogue: How did this photograph by Agnès Martin launch you into this project?