Recently on Lifetime’s “Project Runway,” the elegant host Heidi Klum gave a simple task to the remaining five contestants, vying for a spot to show off their designs at Bryant Park during New York’s Fashion Week. Their task was to create a design that was inspired from famous artwork-paintings, furniture, sculptures, or anything found in a museum with artistic value. Perhaps this is a new trend in fashion, with fashion icons such as Klum making it clear that art and fashion go hand in hand. Inspiration from art doesn’t have to be limited to being drawn from Monet’s distinct brushstrokes or the more contemporary Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book style paintings. Anything from magazine collages to flower gardens can draw artistic inspiration for a look that wasn’t necessarily found in Vogue.
Lately, however, art history’s most famous time periods have given excitement to the fashion world, providing artwork and artistic techniques to influence a string of fashion collections, magazine spreads and runway outfits. The Surrealist time period has become significantly apparent. The Surrealist period began in the early 20th century, and its affiliates emphasized the break from tradition and the use of imagination to depict everyday circumstances. Surrealist artists expressed dreamlike pictures, events and images, often startling and surprising viewers.
Perhaps one of the most renowned Surrealist painters is Salvador Dali. His painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” has been an recognizable symbol of the Surrealist period, featuring melting clocks amidst a desert-like background. Such artistic effects have resounded in today’s fashion trends, particularly when it comes to accessories.
According to Elle magazine, Surrealist-inspired accessories give flair to your wardrobe, adding “illusion” to your outfit. Picture warped shapes, chunky block colors, bold embellishments, and abstract prints. The most stand-out pieces this season include a diamond-encrusted Cartier wristwatch, with its shape mimicking the melting clock Dali painted decades ago, and the Roman numerals twisting around the backdrop of the watch to create an illusion. Sportmax offers a bold pair of suede and leather grey gloves with silver plates on the fingertips to represent fingernails. Accessories such as these represent the ideals and attitudes of Surrealist artists from the 20th century, showing that their contributions to the artistic world are still important.
Some designers have created pieces that may seem a little out there, but they have graced the runways nonetheless. Isaac Mizrahi created an outfit utilizing almost every color of the rainbow, matched with a green hat that was strikingly similar to a handbag. Alexander McQueen’s Surrealist Paris Show, featured last spring, not only turned heads but challenged any traditional art critic everywhere. Sticking to deep hues of red, paired with black and white, McQueen tampered with the common gown, trench coat and even the everyday umbrella. For his purposes, umbrellas were made to be worn as hats, seen in this particular show. One model sported a print dress featuring red, black and white snakes. The rest of her body and even her face was covered in small metal squares, creating the look of a modernized English knight-in a red dress, of course.
Models sported a white head wrap made out of cans, a layered dress with printed black birds flying around the hem, and a tulle-infused creation resembling a circus tent with black and red stripes. The models were complete with clown-like lipstick drawn on their mouths, painted in red or black to give one lasting, dramatic effect. McQueen’s show dabbled in Surrealism, but the outlandish nature of his designs could have garnered him an artistic category of his own.
It’s obvious that the historical Surrealist time period has had its effects on other art forms such as fashion; however, I have to consider how far some of these trends can go to actually make fashion history. Although a watch with an interesting new shape might make the cut, I don’t see any one sporting a hat made out of an umbrella, even if it is pouring rain outside. These fashions are decadent, challenging, and beautifully made, but I can’t help but think they’ll just end up in a museum right next to the Surrealist paintings of last century. Whatever lasting impact these new fashions have, the challenge will be to use art as inspiration once in a while to create new fashion statements that will be most striking, even if they do end up in a closet and not on your back.