Birth of Surreal Fashion

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The surrealist movement is considered to be one of the most influential avant-garde movements in the 20th century. Its birth has initiated a whole new perspective and ways of expression in the world of visual arts drawing the attention to the subconscious and the mystical. As one of the numerous mediums Surrealism exposes itself through is fashion. The hybrid nature of fashion being “real” by clothing the body and being “surreal” in its elasticity of applications and forms along with its wide exposure in the world played as a major part for Surrealists to express their ideas. ‘Fashion became Surrealism’s most compelling friction between the ordinary and extraordinary’ (Martin, 1988). One of the most notable relationships between Surrealism and fashion is epitomized through the joint venture of Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli. Other collaborations between artists and designers were present through many examples although some can be regarded as a second-generation influence as oppose to the original ideas of the founders of the movement. Objects as symbolism, the human body and the disfigurations of its parts, and displacements were some of the Surrealists fascinations to portray their thoughts. Primary and secondary tools are used to illustrate the link between the worlds of Surrealism and fashion along with analytical methodology.

After Sigmund Freud illuminated the “Royal road to the unconscious”, Surrealists emerged on the literary scene using writing as a first instrument of communication to voice their esoteric ideas and mystical vision of the mind’s capacity to perform through pure automatism; a technique to negate the rational and surface the true thought originating in the subconscious. Yves Tanguy, the French Surrealist painter explains, ‘ “The painting grows before my eyes, revealing its surprises even as it grows. That is what provides me with that feeling of total freedom and for that reason I am incapable of making a plan or carrying out a sketch before hand” ‘ (Tanguy, Stern 2004). The submergence into the mind ushered the group to unveil the previously veiled nature of their imagination. As Baudlaire puts into words ‘ ”>” ‘ (Stern, 2004). After translating The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud in the early 20’s to French, the ideas of Surrealists expanded through to the attention of dreams, sexuality and symbolism. Symbolism and metaphors and the use of juxtaposed objects play a profound role in the Surrealists style. The art historian, Richard Martin, identifies the text ‘ “A chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table” ‘ (Lautréamont, Martin 1988) as being vital to the birth of the Surrealist movement along with its relation to fashion. In its early days the Surrealists were fascinated by the sewing machine in many ways, symbolically it represents the female or feminine insomuch as that it was predominantly a female tool, they were also fascinated with its ability to create, not just clothing but the idea that it could produce an entire woman as can be seen in Joseph Cornell’s untitled collage for Harper’s Bazaar in February 1937, and in Oscar Dominguez’s Electrosexual sewing machine, 1934. The romance between fashion and the Surrealist movement began in the early 20’s when the movement broke away from the written word to embrace objects. The appeal of Surrealism to the fashion industry is instantly prevalent in their use of ordinary everyday objects and aberrant landscapes that transferred easily to fabric printing, jewellery, and hats, allowing designers the freedom to create “art pieces”, and this fascination worked both ways as what covered the body had always been important to the Surrealist philosophy, in the way that it allowed the imagination to wonder what lay underneath. Furthermore, Surrealists realized the power and influence of fashion on culture, which the Surrealists can employ as yet another tool to voice their...
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