When considering the interchange between art and fashion, the cerebral and equivocal pictorial vocabulary of Belgian surrealist René Magritte is a continual reference point for designers. Classic fashion surrealists Commes des Garçons, Viktor & Rolf and Moschino embrace the artist’s visual imagery, referencing his quotidian images of bowler hats, apples, birdcages, baguettes, pipes and trompe l’oeil paintings in their tailoring, knits, and bold patterns. Magritte’s exploration into the non sequitur and juxtaposition of distant elements enables designers to create powerful visual images, liberating the fashion imagination and the wearer’s unconscious mind. As well as making his way into seasonal fashion collections, the artist is currently the focus of a new exhibition at Tate Liverpool which addresses a previously unseen body of work from the incredibly influential Surrealist artist.
Avant-garde Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf infuse Magritte’s visual alphabet throughout their design aesthetic, juxtaposing fabrics, textures and shapes to create clothes that are dreamy, as well as modern and complete. Their menswear collections for A/W09 and A/W11 paired opposing fabrics and patterns (corduroy trousers and cable jumpers) together to create split suits, and appropriated Magritte’s obscure imagery, placing bowler hats on models, padding ties to resemble clouds and shirts with pipes. For women's S/S10, the designers sliced and chopped shapes from exquisite tulle cut-out ball gowns, creating conceptually stunning pieces influenced by Magritte’s paintings. Alluding to Magritte’s visual elements, Moschino places the artist's trompe l’oeil details on photo-print shirts, even infusing the artist’s dream-like sensibility into the rooms at their Maison Moschino Hotel. Mary Katrantzou's S/S11 collection entitled 'Ceci n'est pas une chambre' referenced Magritte's visual scenes, posing a paradoxical question of whether her structured dresses with trompe l'oeil images of architectural interiors were in fact dresses at all. Known for their utilitarian surrealism, fashion house Maison Martin Margiela often covers models' faces and substitutes bags with boxes or jewels. Numerous references can be found in Rei Kawakubo's Commes des Garçons collections, notably the A/W09 women's 'foot shoes' (flats with childlike feet outlines). And S/S11’s obsession with luscious table fruit prints and patterns – surely a nod to a Magrittian pomme vert.
Rene Magritte: The Pleasure Principal is at Tate Liverpool, and runs until October 16, 2011.
Text by Zoe Alexander
Zoe Alexander is a freelance art, fashion and lifestyle writer based in London.