Truly, madly, Dali: How fashion got surreal

From eye-studded earlobes to Magritte-inspired prints, art is heavily influencing fashion for Autumn/Winter 2013. And it's more than a passing fad

Come February 2014, an unusual Salvador Dali piece will be offered for auction at Christie’s London. Which in itself is an unusual thing to read on the fashion pages. But the Dali painting in question, estimated to fetch £1-1.5m, takes fashion as its central theme. In fact, it was commissioned for Vogue’s October 1943 issue, in which the master surrealist immortalised a selection of high fashion accoutrements – a bejewelled brooch, an empty glove – in a typical Dalinian landscape.

“The idea of disguising oneself was only the consequence of the traumatic experience of birth,” mused Dali, a highfalutin justification for his amalgamations of haute couture and high art. That even included installations in the windows of American department store Bonwit Teller, in 1939. Dali ended up falling through a window, clutching a bathtub, in a fit of indignation when an artistically naked mannequin was dressed by the store in a neat tweed suit.

One doubts intellectual musing on the traumatic experience of birth were part of the thought processes of fashion’s leading lights this season – but nevertheless, distinctly surreal styles were a mainstay of the autumn/winter catwalks. Mary Katrantzou’s prints silhouetted bowler-hatted figures straight out of a Magritte. The artist’s signature blue skies also formed a catwalk backdrop for Raf Simons’ Dior’s show, inspired in part by Monsieur Dior’s aborted career as a gallerist for artists including Dali. Hence the Jean Cocteau-ish embroidered hands and eyelashes scampering across georgette gowns, and the Luis Buñuel-inspired eyes peering out from otherwise-innocuous floral prints. Those eyes cropped up at Kenzo, too, as the new logo on the label’s signature sweatshirts as well as motifs studding everything from knee-length coats and thigh-high boots to the models fingers and ear lobes.

Those bijoux are the work of Delfina Delettrez, who has taken those surreally displaced peepers as her design leitmotif. They stare out in enamel, diamonds or pearls from her eponymous jewellery collection, as well as the gems she designs for houses including Kenzo and Fendi – where, for spring, they’re in silver with crystal eyelashes. “I love the destabilising effect,” Delettrez says of the eyes she dangles from ear lobes or pins to lapels. “I love everything that destabilises, disorientates you. These are eyes, but they’re also earrings... I guess it was as Schiaparelli did with the shoe hat – it’s all about the contestualizzare [context].”

Elsa Schiaparelli was, of course, the ultimate fashion surrealist. Coco Chanel dismissed her as “that Italian artist who makes dresses”, but in fact she didn’t need to be an artist. She enlisted everyone from Marcel Vertes to Jean Cocteau to design embroideries and fabric prints, but her most fruitful collaboration was with Dali himself, inspiring Schiap (as she was known  to her friends) to stud a jacket with  lip-shaped buttons reminiscent of his Mae West sofa – the same actress’s naked torso formed the bottle for her perfume, titled “Shocking”.

To shock was a key aim of both Schiaparelli and the surrealists. But she had, perhaps, a better grasp of the commercial realities of haute couture: although she collaborated with Dali in 1937 to decorate an evening dress adorned with a larger-than-life lobster – an homage to Dali’s Aphrodisiac Telephone, created a year before – Schiap scuppered the artist’s plan to plaster the frock with real mayonnaise.

 

Schiaparelli is possibly the fuse for this explosion of stylish surrealism. Her work was the subject of a major retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer, while this July saw the revival of the label bearing her name.

The label’s owner, Diego Della Valle, tapped Christian Lacroix to create the first Schiaparelli collection since 1954, shown during Paris haute couture week. It was typically Schiap, packed with house signatures: jewelled pins shaped like insects perched on peplums, and crustaceans balanced on heads. The former designer of Rochas, Marco Zanini, has taken up the reigns, showing his first collection in January.

Surrealism is a seasonal flirtation for many designers – at the moment, it’s a trend, which by its very nature is transitory. However, as Dali so obliquely implied, there’s more than a passing relationship between the spheres of surrealism and style. Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld’s 1970s work was heavily inspired by surrealism.

Lagerfeld‘s first Chanel collection featured a dress adorned with a trompe l’oeil embroidery of jewellery that would have had arch-rivals Coco and Elsa spinning in their respective graves. More recently, Lagerfeld reinvented the Chanel paper carrier in luxury leather as a four-figure tote bag for spring 2009. It’s as perfect a surreal object as Dali’s crabby phone.

Maybe the undeniable and continual parallels result from the simple fact that surrealism, as an artistic movement, became a fashion. By the mid-Thirties, a decade after the publication of André Breton’s first surrealist manifesto, everything from advertising design to interior décor had been influenced by the movement. And with their obsessions with sexuality, gender, and dream vs reality, surrealist artists found fashion an ideal bedfellow. Hence the fact that, alongside Schiaparelli’s collaborations, surreal artists dabbled in fashion off their own bats: there are mannequins by Joan Miro and André Masson, ballet costumes by Giorgio de Chirico, while Meret Oppenheim’s oeuvre is populated with fashion-infused objets, such as her fur-smothered tea-cup, or high-heel shoes trussed and dressed like a turkey. Man Ray’s photographs could adorn a gallery, or an issue of Vogue, as could Dali’s obscure landscapes.

In all honesty, it’s difficult to dress surreal for real life. Most of us don’t want to perch a lobster or a shoe on our head, however stylish. But a quirky button or a witty graphic on the front of a shirt is a nod to the artistic bent of designers this season.

As in Schiaparelli’s time, however, fashion’s current flirtation with surrealism is best served with accessories: Dior’s Cocteauean graphics scroll across silk scarves and embroidered slippers and boots, while a Delettrez earring or brooch fashioned to resemble eyes, lips or even a bejewelled bug is a conversation-starter rather than a loud attention-grabber.

“I call it ice-breaker pieces, like conversation pieces,” says Delettrez herself.

I’d just advise steering well clear of Dali’s  Hellmann’s-as-haute-couture approach to dressing for dinner.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

    Recruitment Genius: Buyer

    £36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen