Friday, April 6, 2012

Printed Art: From Hiëronymus Bosch To Carven

Prints in fashion are used to embellish fabrics, to convey a feeling or a message, to lend a design more detail or provide a close link with sources of inspiration. Fabric printing has been done for over 2500 years. Originally used to mimic other more expensive fabrics, paint was applied on clothing. Not much later whole designs drawn from nature were used to decorate dresses and other textiles. The flower print, still very popular, was born in this period. Some of the finest examples you can now admire during the expo 'Living Fashion' held in the Antwerp Fashion Museum.

Handpainted 'Sits' Kimono, 1730-1760, Collectie Jacoba de Jonge
 Now, hundreds of years later, prints still play an important role in contemporary fashion. Most of these prints spring from the minds of designers but some are taken from existing iconic art works. Yves Saint Laurent was a pioneer in using a famous visual reference in a fashion show. I'm talking of course about the Mondrian dress, which quickly became an icon in itself. Not only the very graphic and strong print, but also the typical sixties cut of the design, makes that this little dress will always be considered a masterpiece of 60's pop-art.  

Yves Saint Laurent, 1965

Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930

With the Mondrian dress, YSL made a reference to the immensely popular artist Andy Warhol, who took banal, everyday objects and proclaimed them art. YSL reversed this theory and used a revered painting in a decorative way.
Not much later, Warhol's art was being used in dresses. The first was a paper dress using the typical Campbell Soup iconography, but several department stores began producing remakes of this dress. A case in point that commercialism bloomed in the 60's. 

Scott Paper, Warhol Soup Dress, 1966

Andy Warhol, Campbell Soup, 1962

The last few seasons, the tendency of literally taking artwork and putting it on the fabric is making a comeback. For the Spring/Summer Collection of 2012, Rodarte found inspiration in the dramatic life and art of Van Gogh.

Rodarte, S/S 2012

Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
This season, both Carven and Akris were persuaded by an artwork. My personal favorite is the dress inspired by 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' by Hiëronymus Bosch, who was like Mondrian and Van Gogh from the Low Countries.

Carven, F/W 2012
Hiëronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510
Akris' use of Franz Klines painting is less conspicuous because of the abstract nature of his art, nonetheless it's a literal adopting of the distinct lines.

Akris, F/W 2012

Franz Kline, Painting no. 7, 1952

Countless fashion collections are inspired by an art movement, an artist or one particular artwork, but almost always the source of inspiration is researched, interpreted, transformed and only then applied to the designs.  
These literal references, like presented here, are of a different nature. They are often used to transfer the iconic or mystical power of certain images to the design. Although I think the design itself is more valuable when sources are integrated in form and image rather than in print, literal references can be very powerful tools.

Appropriation or plagiarism: you decide.

The Mere Alchemist

Exposition 'Living Fashion' @ Momu Antwerpen : till 12th of August


  1. I love that last outfit! Never heard of Akris before, thanks for sharing that :)

    1. You can check out all the Akris collections on

  2. I love the subjects of your posts, something different!

  3. One handmade Sits kimono, please....