On a recent trip to Toronto I paid a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario and saw Surreal Things, a travelling exhibiton from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The show explores the complex and codependent relationship between the Surrealist avant-garde and artists working in the fields of design, advertising, film, and theatre. Fashion in particular was strongly influenced by the Surrealist aesthetic, and this exhibition has some amazing gowns, jewelry, textiles, theatrical costumes, and photography. A must see for fans of the sartorial arts, and design in general.
Here are some of my personal favorites from Surreal Things...
This Charles James jacket from 1937 is phenomenal both in its complex, thoughtful construction, and its strange organic silhouette. I love seeing Charles James' work on exhibit; he was a truly great couturier, on the same technical and artistic level as Dior or Balenciaga. What's amazing about this jacket it how modern it is; it has a timeless quality, and could still be considered fashionable today.
Elsa Schiaparelli's silk crepe Skeleton Dress from 1938 was based on sketches of Salvador Dali's. Schiaparelli collaborated many times with Dali, but she was friends with the Surrealists, and worked with artists like Jean Cocteau and Marcel Vertes as well. This gown is ominous and eerie with its dimensional bone motifs, yet it manages to be supremely elegant at the same time.
The Tear Dress (1938) was another Schiaparelli/Dali collaboration. The silk fabric of this slinky bias cut gown is printed with a torn flesh trompe l'oeil pattern. Like the Skeleton Dress, this couture gown is humorous, sinister, and utterly chic.
There is an excellent companion catlogue to this exhibiton published by the V&A. It is filled with beautiful photography, and excellent essays. Be sure to check out Schiaparelli expert Dilys Blum's section on Surrealist fashion.
Ghislaine Wood, Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design. London: V&A Publications, 2007.
The exhibiton Surreal Things is at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada until August 30, 2009.