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The catwalks for Autumn/Winter 2014 saw a wealth of fashion items designed to look like something else - trompe l'oeil objects.
Anya Hindmarch has suddenly developed a sweet tooth, finding inspiration in breakfast cereal and biscuits. There were clutches designed like mini cereal boxes, in everything from their shape to their perfectly replicated packaging. Evening bags were in the shape of shiny golden custard creams, and rolls of ginger nuts made in leather dangled from wrists.
Hindmarch’s usually classic bags were embossed with excerpts from the insignia and packaging of everyday brands - Kellogg's, Daz, Ariel, Swan Vesta. Maybe Hindmarch has taken the impetus from her hugely popular ‘crumpled crisp packet’ evening bag. Launched in Spring/Summer 2014, the item was available in four colours and made from rigid metal, designed to mimic a slightly crumpled foil crisp packet (Walker's Salt and Vinegar), except without branding. This season, she has gone one better and added the branding.
Hindmarch is not alone. Jeremy Scott's debut collection for Moschino featured a high fashion McDonald's uniform, complete with Happy Meal-inspired handbag. Scott’s evening dresses were fashioned out of fabric printed with large-scale reproductions of food packaging, nutritional information and all.
Chanel itself also went food shopping, not only transforming its show into a giant supermarket complete with Chanel branded products – ‘Coco flakes’, for example - but featuring shopping baskets with the signature Chanel chain replacing the wire and classic Chanel bags re-imagined with details from egg cartons and other packaging.
Other designers have made a career from trompe l'oeil objects. Olympia Le Tan is a good example. She has built a successful brand on the foundations of clutch bags embroidered to form replicas of vintage book jackets.
She has subsequently branched out into other designs, both trompe l'oeil and not. Her magic-themed Autumn/Winter 2014 collection featured bags shaped like fluffy rabbit ears emerging from a top hat. Delfina Delettrez's jewellery is a direct descendent of the Surrealist jewellery produced in the 1930s and ‘40s, with its motifs of lips and bones and insects.
Designers who produce trompe l'oeil objects are part of a in a rich historical tradition dating back to the early part of the 20th century, and fashion's relationship with the then-new art movements such as Dadaism and, particularly, Surrealism.
Although this relationship spanned all aspects of fashion production, it was amongst accessories that Surrealism's influence found its greatest outlet. It is therefore fitting that it is still in the accessories field that we find most trompe l'oeil objects today.
In the early twentieth century, the most well known designer to be influenced by Surrealism was Elsa Schiaparelli. The legendary couturier even worked with Dali himself, who branched out into designing Surreal, trompe l'oeil jewellery. Schiaparelli produced what could be viewed as the direct antecedents of the trompe l'oeil objects produced today: gloves with red ‘fingernails’, hats in the form of upturned shoes, an evening dress with padded sections approximating the form of a skeleton (based on a Dali sketch).
Other designers were at work too. American Charles James, soon to be the subject of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute exhibition, designed many clothes influenced by Surrealist in their print and form, such as a stunning evening jacket with wings.
Such was the interplay between the worlds of art and fashion that Surrealist artists themselves were inspired by fashion. They created artworks in the form of fashion items, and also produced wearable fashion objects (usually accessories), proving that the Surrealists could be as influenced by fashion as fashion was by Surrealism.
Dilys Blum explains that fashion was attractive to Surrealist artists, due to "its sexual symbolism and fetishistic qualities". Meret Oppenheim, a Surrealist and a contemporary of Schiaparelli, produced accessories for designers, my personal favorite being a pair of gloves with red veins and capillaries embroidered on the back.
Dali himself turned jeweller and created stunning pieces, many of them trompe l'oeil - telephone receiver-shaped earrings; a brooch in the form of a mouth, with ruby lips and pearl teeth; a clock face eye with a teardrop swelling in the corner (titled ‘The Eye Of Time’), all dripping in gold and precious jewels. In turn, Schiaparelli's designs - clothing or accessories - were featured in Surrealist artworks, both paintings and photographs, adding another layer to the complex relationship between the two media.
A sense of subversion and fetishism can be found behind the Surrealist-inspired creation of trompe l'oeil objects, but also a sense of humour. These same two impulses can be said to be true for the trompe l'oeil objects produced today. Scott's work this season for Moschino on the McDonald’s uniform is, in fact, a masterful combination of Chanel and McDonalds. The form and colour of a McDonald's uniform is mixed with the tailoring and spirit of a Chanel suit and the ‘happy meal’ bag recalls Chanel's classic quilted chain handle bags.
The trompe l'oeil effect therefore allows Scott to produce a collection rich with layers of meaning. Is he highlighting the natural incompatibility of fast food like McDonald’s and the usually thinner ladies for whom Chanel's designs are destined? Is he comparing Chanel to McDonald’s in terms of globalisation and mass marketing? Perhaps we will never know the answer, but the trompe l'oeil nature of the objects allows us this speculation.
For that is the power of trompe l'oeil objects - they invite a conversation - in the case of the telephone motif, literally. The wearer is not content to just look ‘nice’, ‘chic’, or even ‘fashionable’. The wearer wants his or her clothes to communicate something deeper to their audience. Perhaps this is some specific symbolism in the object they are wearing. Perhaps they just want you to know that they have a sense of humour and fun. Whatever it is, they want you to know something.
by # NOT JUST A LABEL
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