(image by Man Ray via source)
A striking painting from 1937 depicts a bleak landscape with a deserted, postapocalyptic feel, in which two anthropomorphic figures appear to be sparring. The Barbarians (right) by German painter Max Ernst visually summed up the themes of annihilation and violence that characterize Surrealistic art.
Surrealism started as a literary movement which was attempting to use automatic writing - written words originating with the subconscious or perhaps a spiritual or supernatural source, ie. not consciously created - as a way to release the subconscious and allow the imagination unbridled expression. (image)
While surrealism began to emerge around 1910, it wasn't officially "consecrated" and recognized as an international intellectual and political movement until 1924, when the French poet and critic André Breton (1896–1966) published the Manifesto of Surrealism. Breton was also a trained psychiatrist and endorsed the dream studies and psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. Using Freudian techniques of free association, Breton and fellow French surrealist poets Louis Aragon (1897–1982), Paul Éluard (1895–1952) and Philippe Soupault (1897–1990) tried to circumvent the barriers of reason and societal limitations in order to access the private world of the mind. Their resulting literary imagery was unexpected, surprising, cerebral and irrational - and completely compelling.
(dress by Elsa Schiaparelli & Salvador Dali)
Interestingly, the Surrealist poets believed that visual arts like drawing, painting and sculpting were so laborious as to inhibit spontaneous expression, and were therefore slow to welcome visual artists into the Surrealist fam. However, they eventually recognized the provocative, erotic and bizarrely imaginative the works of artists including:
- Max Ernst (1891–1976)
- Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978)
- Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
- Francis Picabia (1879–1953)
- Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968)
- René Magritte (Belgium; 1898–1967)
- André Masson (1896–1987)
- Joan Miró (Spain; 1893–1983)
- Man Ray (US; 1890–1976)
- Paul Delvaux (Belgium; 1897–1994)
- Yves Tanguy (1900–1955)
- Salvador Dalí (Spain; 1904–1989)
Placing everyday objects into unexpected contexts, surrealists attempted to construct a world that was beyond realism. "Many surrealists were fascinated with disguise and costume dress, and some were directly involved in the creation of fashionable clothes and imagery," explains the author of Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style, noting that both Vogue and Harper's Bazaar published extensive imagery created by Man Ray. "Startling juxtapositions and the use of motifs from other contexts could be found in the work of several couturiers in the late e1930s and early 1940s, and surrealism continues to influence fashion today."
Just ask Dame Zaha Hadid, the trailblazing, convention-ignoring architect who herself favors unconventional designers, including Issey Miyake (right), and recently found herself rewatching the 1939 classic George Cukor movie, The Women. "It's all in black-and-white, except for when the women put on a fashion show and then it's in color." The film's ensembles were designed by Adrian, who often used textiles designed by Dali and found inspiration in the work of the Italian-born Elsa Schiaparelli, who collaborated on clothing and accessories with surrealist artists including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. "Joan Crawford wears a beautiful open gold-lamé dress," continues Hadid. "Rosalind Russell wears a surrealist outfit with eyes on it—they look contemporary. It was really an incredible moment in fashion."
Particularly noteworthy: along with Russell's seeing-eye blouse, the tres Schiaparelli dangling-hand and rose closure on a cape designed to go over a swimsuit (!).
And still relevant after all these years, which is why Hadid made sure to include a 1920s beaded ‘flapper’ dress and 1930s clothes and accessories owned by Elsa Schiaparelli in the exhibition she recently curated an exhibition for the Design Museum.
WOMEN FASHION POWER showcases 25 influential women in politics, business and culture and how they defined and enhanced their position on the world stage using fashion. The exhibition's immersive visual-timeline spans 150 years, starting with the restrictive boned corsets of the nineteenth century and walking into the present in a pair of statement heels by Louboutin. Alongside archive photography and film footage, pieces on display include:
- a 1941 handbag designed for carrying your gas mask in style;
- a Le Smoking suit designed by Yves Saint Laurent (1966);
- a punk wedding dress from Zandra Rhodes's Conceptual Chic collection (1977);
- a pair of bubblegum-pink 1980s Reebok Hi Tops and the Jacques Azagury dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on the occasion of her 36th birthday.
WOMEN FASHION POWER is on display at the Design Museum from October 29, 2014 - April 26, 2015. Info & tix at DesignMuseum.org.
- Lesley Scott
NOTE: Honoring the past to help us pave the way forward fashionwise is a signature of the Folkspun fashion tribe. For more of my posts & podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.