In honor of April 1st, April Fools’ Day, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite techniques, trompe l’oeil, which literally translates to “fool the eye”. Of course, that’s just only one of the many ways designers fool us – wink, wink- but enough said!
The art of creating the illusion of a 3rd dimension originated as a painting technique in Greece and Rome and has been used decoratively in home furnishings throughout the ages. This Teste Antiche umbrella stand, circa 1950-1959, by Piero Fornasetti, is a wonderful example, $3900. More info/purchase
Elsa Schiaparelli was the first designer to utilize trompe l’oeil in her designs in the 20’s and 30’s, but Roberta di Camerino popularized this style in the 60’s with her clothing, handbags, men’s ties, and umbrellas. Giuliana Coen Camerino who founded the Venetian based house, passed away at the age of 89 in 2010. She created the name for her fashion house from the 1935 film “Roberta’’ starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and her husband’s family name. Di Camerino won a Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1956 in recognition of the success and influence of her handbags in cut velvet which often featured trompe l’oeil buckles and flaps and were carried by such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly.
Her designs were widely copied and although this upset her, Coco Chanel reassured her, telling her not to cry about being copied, but to ‘cry the day they don’t copy you’, Her talents were recognized by the Whitney Museum of American Art with an exhibit in 1980. Another exhibition of her work was held at the Museum at FIT in late 1999. In 2011, the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice honored her work with an exhibition, “The Color Revolution”.
Her museum-worthy pieces remain as covetable collector’s items. They are timeless and quite frankly, get better with age. Among the exemplary examples currently available on 1st dibs is this red white and blue striped dress that mimics a jacket, skirt, wide belt, and white shirt, $750. More info/purchase
There were the ubiquitous trompe l’oeil t-shirts from the 70’s (remember the ones with the tuxedo designs?), Lagerfeld’s infamous ‘shower head’ dress, a number of outstanding versions from the late trick master Franco Moschino in the 80’s, and then in the 90’s, Christian Francis Roth made a name for himself with his whimsical trompe l’oeil suits and dresses. Jean Paul Gaultier has also dabbled in this art.
This vintage Jean Paul Gaultier gray jersey maxi dress with detachable sleeves featuring a black and white x-ray screen print trompe l’œil jean jacket and jeans on the front and back is currently available on 1st dibs $1,385.11 More info/purchase
Nowadays, Thom Browne is the indisputable master of trompe l’oeil and it’s a recurring theme in his collections. He’s mastered the art and raised it to the level of couture with his mind boggling and luxurious handwork and fabric mixes that routinely include combinations of basket weave linen, bonded cotton, basket woven coated oxford, cotton oxford patchwork, double gazar, Duchesse silk, Aran cable artwork, silk hand loomed tweed, over dyed sheared mink, astrakhan, and various forms of embroidery, beadwork, and applique. They truly need to be seen up close to best appreciate them.
Amy Fine Collins, who is a customer and a muse, often wears Thom’s designs and I’ve seen her in several of his trompe l’oeil dresses. One memorable example was the beaded number she wore to the 2017 Met Gala. It could not have been more perfect for the avant-garde theme, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,”
Approximately 25% of Thom’s fall 2019 collection, homage to his love of uniforms, was trompe l’oeil, and on the runway, these dresses were alternated with the fully layered ensembles they mirrored. Brilliant!
It was clever and highly effective and it drove the point home. Given how strapped for time we are, how modern is it to be able to get dressed in layers with one quick gesture!