“It is our nature and our custom to keep renovating the world. But right from the start you threw yourself on people and on blood, whereas I’m generally satisfied with beards, hair, clothes, furnishing, buildings, and the like.”
This is how Fashion tries to convince Death in Giacomo Leopardi’s "Dialogo della Moda a e della Morte" (Dialogue between Fashion and Death, 1824) that they’re sisters, born out of transience and decay.
At the very end of the dialogue, Fashion suggests Death they should stick together, consulting each other upon what to do on different matters.
Death realises Fashion is right and accepts the proposal and, from what we saw at recent catwalk shows, this unlikely partnership is still lasting.
The late Alexander McQueen turned skulls into his own trademark, using bone architectures as mesmerising prints in his last menswear collection.
But, in the last few years, skulls and bones have turned into major inspirations for many fashion and jewellery designers.
Often employed as provocations or as a way to exorcise fear and death, skulls regularly appear in their most cartoonish “incarnations” even on baby and children’s wear (and usually, in these cases, they do not even seem to have any connection to or reference adventurous pirates…)
Skulls also haunted the recent Spring/Summer 2011 menswear shows: Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons Homme collection, entitled “The Skull of Life”, included shorts and dropped-crotch trousers with intricate prints of skulls and flowers or of skulls wearing
blue framed sunglasses.
Decontextualised empty orbits appeared on the back of shirts and even accessories weren’t spared: cut out motifs on white shoes worn with black socks underneath imitated the orbital cavities and nasal bone structure.
Yet, despite this obsession with skulls, the mood of the collection was almost joyous and uplifting especially when deathly prints were matched with two-tone chequered prints or when cartoon-like skulls appeared on full skirts.
Designs based or inspired by the structure of the human bones are definitely not new in fashion.
Schiaparelli was a skeleton dress pioneer and many others followed in her steps, recreating skeleton prints or using appliquéd bones in padded fabric, crystals, beads and sequins.
The latest obnoxious examples of this annoying trend innocently started by surreal Schiap are E.vil’s crystal skeleton satin top and Dsquared rather unsettling spine and finger bone heel sandals and boots (and even cuissard boots).
Riccardo Tisci is in a way just the latest in a long series of designers who went down the bone collector and anatomical route.
Tisci presented for Givenchy's
Autumn/Winter 2010 collection 10 looks – a perfectly understandable choice in times of crisis and in terms of exclusivity – explaining he was inspired in his designs by Frida Kahlo, religion, anatomy and the Mexican Day of the Death.
We should maybe add to the list of inspirations the ghostly atmospheres of Juan Rulfo’s novel Pedro Páramo and different Parisian exhibitions organised in the last few months revolving around the “memento mori” and “vanitas” themes.
Tisci must have definitely visited a few times the exhibition “C’est la vie! Vanités de Caravage à Damien Hirst” (“That’s Life! Vanities: From Caravaggio to Damien Hirst”) at Musée Maillol.
The title of this exhibition moved from the famous quote from the Ecclesiastes - “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” - to explore the life and death dichotomy through different artworks, from contemporary pieces such as Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, to Cindy Sherman, the Chapman Brothers and Marina Abramovic’s (Tisci is a fan of the latter) works.
The event also featured Pompeian mosaics, medieval engravings, Francisco de Zurbarán’s "St Francis in Meditation" and Giovanni Martinelli’s "Memento Mori" (Death Comes to the Dinner Table, 1635).
The latter is probably one of the
most perfect representation of the fashion and death dichotomy.
Martinelli created a contrast between the joyful young men and women and the macabre and dark skeleton also through the brightly coloured clothes the former wear compared to the scary look of the dark vision that frightens them.
In the same way, Tisci played with contrasts, mixing the beauty of Haute Couture with the horror of death.
A silk tulle bodysuit was covered in pearls, crystals and beads reproducing the outlines of the skeleton; embroideries imitated bones, while human hair-like silk fringes (or feathers) decorated evening gowns, forming hip bone-like shapes.
The fragility of porcelain-like bones was evoked by long gowns in pure white decorated with porcelain beads covered in silk tulle and lace dipped in porcelain and in the white cropped or long jackets that incorporated little porcelain skulls.
Two long gold dresses entirely covered in beads and sequins and worn with a matching jacket encrusted with stones and embroideries reproducing a cross, evoked instead the rich atmospheres of decadently Baroque liturgies (while reminding a little bit of Gianni Versace's mid-90s Byzantium-inspired collections).
Bones were used also for jewellery and accessories: the collection included vertebrae-shaped rings and clutch fastenings and white bone-shaped bracelets, while metal bones were used to decorate zips.
Craftsmanship was definitely the key behind the entire collection: it took thousands of hours to create the intricate hand-embroidery and beading of these designs dedicated to strong and confident women.
I'm sure that if Death ever visited these women like in Martinelli’s
"Memento Mori", it would probably be jealous of their attires.
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