Let’s Fool Around…

All photos courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

When you go to the highly anticipated exhibition, “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations”  www.metmuseum.org/ , you will find that it is divided into seven thematic galleries:

“Waist Up/Waist Down”, exhibits Schiaparelli’s use of decorative detailing as a response to restaurant dressing in the heyday of 1930s café society, while showing Prada’s below-the-waist focus as a symbolic expression of modernity and femininity. An accessories subsection of this gallery called “Neck Up/Knees Down” will showcase Schiaparelli’s hats and Prada’s footwear.

“Ugly Chic” will reveal how both women subvert ideals of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.

“Hard Chic” will explore the influence of uniforms and menswear to promote a minimal aesthetic that is intended to both deny and enhance femininity.

“Naïf Chic” will focus on Schiaparelli and Prada’s adoption of a girlish sensibility to subvert expectations of age-appropriate dressing.

“The Classical Body,” which also incorporates “The Pagan Body,” explores the designers’ engagement with antiquity through the gaze of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

“The Exotic Body” will explore the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics, such as lamé, and silhouettes, such as saris and sarongs.

“The Surreal Body” in the final gallery will illustrate how both women affect contemporary images of the female body through Surrealistic practices such as displacement, playing with scale, and blurring the boundaries between reality and illusion, as well as the natural and the artificial. This last category is of particular interest to me as I studied art and have always appreciated the playful, surrealist side of fashion. It also explains why I have a fondness for the art of trompe l’oeil, which literally translates to ‘fool the eye’.

Tear Dress by Elsa Schiapareilli

Elsa Schiaparelli was well known for her iconic and highly influential trompe l’oeil designs. It has been said that she was “not merely mimicking surrealism’s visual play nor was she trying to be trendy, she was exposing the surreal aspect of her own medium: Fashion”. In fact, the group of sporty and graphic trompe l’oeil sweaters she created in the 1920’s including the Bowknot sweater, which is considered to be the most popular woman’s sweater of all time, launched her career. There was also the Tear Dress, from her celebrated 1938 Circus Collection. The trompe l’oeil  Tears print was specially designed by Schiaparelli’s friend, the artist Salvador Dali, and savage rips and tears cover the slender evening gown and head-veil.

Micuccia Prada Fall 2011 Collection

Her creative counterpart in this exhibition, Miuccia Prada, has made effective use of this technique as well.  For her decidedly mod inspired fall winter 2011 collection, she accesorized with calf length trompe l’oeil boots made of leather or contrasting animal skins, which cleverly mimicked Mary Janes worn with long socks. (What is IT about Italians and trompe l’oeil anyway?) Venetian born, Roberta di Camerino, (1920- 2010), who opened her fashion house in 1945, was not only known for her fabulous plush velvet handbags, but her employment of interesting trompe l’oeil effects that not only appeared as pleats, buttons, buckles, saddle stitching, pockets, and other details, but were printed on the textiles of accessories and cloth. In my opinion, hers are some of the best and most cleverly done incarnations.

Roberta di Camerino dress made to look like
a belted cardigan, shirt, and patterned skirt

Among her most signature pieces from the 1970’s are the short and long dresses, some of which appear to be three piece ensembles (a belted cardigan or blazer, white shirt, and skirt), while others are printed to look like pleated, wrapped and draped silk jersey evening gowns. Brilliant and oh so clever, not to mention, highly functional. Just think: you can have a cardigan that will never get lost or misplaced, and a belt that will never fall off! If you are lucky, you can periodically find these rarities at vintage shops, on vintage websites, at the numerous vintage shows around town, and at auction.

 1960’s Fabiani surrealist dress

Speaking of which, in November, 2002, I had my eye on a 1960’s Fabiani surrealist dress which was being auctioned at Doyle New York and graced the cover of their catalogue. It featured a trompe l’oeil design of two attenuated hands, one adorned with a large teardrop emerald glass stone ring with rhinestone baguettes and was estimated at pulling in somewhere between $1,000 to $1,500. It eventually found a home at $3,250. Sadly, not mine!

Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons

Other world class designers who have been similarly inspired by this theme through the years, include Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, who layered trompe l’oeil chains at the waist of a sleeveless black wool dress (1985), and Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons. Rei Kawakubo not only featured trompe l’oeil ready-to-wear for fall/winter 2009, she extended the theme to the coordinating footwear as well.

Most recently, Michael Kors employed a trompe l’oeil design on his sturdy cotton canvas Hamilton tote, $80 (http://www.netaporter.com/ ). FYI, speaking of all things surrealistic, the Red Carpet for the Costume Institute Ball on Monday evening will be even more over-the-top than usual. With a first ever live streaming of the event and given the honorees and their unique ground breaking designs, I suspect the attendees will be similarly inspired to rise to the occasion with their own outfits and accessories. Or at least, I hope they will?

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.