"You can grab a Picasso head in, draw over it and you've made it yours! I spend whole evenings doing this sort of shit. I just sit in front of the TV, flick through the channels, record onto videotape and sample 50 frames off it. Once you're playing it at seven frames-per-second it's almost subliminal. There's no way you can say 'that's from...'. Or maybe you will, who knows? The legal aspect is pretty serious. I'm sure it's going to cause some problems, but it's going to be the old argument. Theft is nothing new. Picasso got his style off some Cretan sculptor or something, know what I mean?" Matt Black in "Coldcut" by Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, August 1990
In yesterday's post we looked at a collection featuring details assembled from different historical costume elements. Yet it seems that the copy and paste time machine has been among the most favourite means of transport for many designers showcasing at London Fashion Week, as proved also by Mary Katrantzou's S/S 17 collection.
For this new collection the designer returned to her Greek roots and to trips she took as a child at the Knossos Palace on Crete.
Mary Katrantzou must have had firmly in mind the role of women in the Minoan religion that mainly focused on female deities. In this civilization goddesses outnumbered indeed their male counterparts and representations from those times show goddesses and protectresses, worshippers and priestesses, often in layered skirts that left the breasts exposed.
Another point she must have kept in mind were the Minoan priestesses officiating on Cretan murals represented as wearing clothes that emphasized symmetrical geometric designs.
To make the latter more modern Katrantzou allegedly filtered these ancient geometries through a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colours that - some critics argued - may have been borrowed from '60s posters and '70s album covers. Katrantzou therefore tried to develop from these points a collection for modern and empowered women, counterparts of the ancient Minoan priestesses.
So let's look at the results: the opening look integrated two black figures on a red background representing two women passing their shuttle back and forth and weaving a woolen cloth. The image was borrowed from a terracotta lekythos (oil flask) attributed to the Amasis Painter (ca. 550–530 B.C.; stored at the Met Museum in New York).
This oil flask is very symbolical because it shows women sharing very important responsibilities such as spinning wool and weaving, but some critics interpret this scene as a representation of the Moirae, the goddesses of fate – Klotho, "the Spinner," who spun the thread of life, Lakhesis, "the Apportioner of Lots", who measured it, and Atropos, who cut it short.
Further Attic black-figures and chariot racers from Greek vases and jugs were integrated in the tops, dresses and jackets: at times these figures were framed by psychedelic Op-Art motifs or engulfed in exuberant psycho refractions; at others they were matched with garments entirely covered in crazy optical prints.
Yet it wasn't all and ode to a Grecian urn, since the designer introduced variations with embroidered, printed and knitted images of the dancing girls frescoes from the Queen’s Megaron and from the procession frescos of the South Propylaeum from Knossos; a fresco of Mycenaean women bearing gifts, and a wall painting from Mycenae of the "Lady of Mycenae" or the "Goddess with Necklace".
The Greek print is not new in fashion: in 1968 Tzaims Luksus created indeed prints inspired by antique Greek art for a 1969 James Galanos collection. Originally printed by Bianchini-Ferier in Lyon and Paris on silks chosen by Galanos, the illustrations were used for dresses and scarves and were eventually copied all over the world by Haute Couture designers in Paris, Milan, London and Rome (one dress with a Caryatid from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis was particularly striking).
Some pieces were also reminiscent of Gianni Versace's passion for classic myths, and there was a hint to the '60s via dresses that evoked Paco Rabanne's designs, reinterpreted here in plastic with clattering Perspex discs and half-moons anchored with wire to form chainmail shifts (matched with long-sleeved psychedelic tops) on which the designer printed her images of Greek vases. Optic and kinetic shook hands in these cases, but the chainmail also hinted at warriors, armors and shields.
The final flowing floor-length skirts that echoed a bit the vestal designs Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have got us used to on Valentino's runways characterized by demure shapes and matched with jackets in muted colours with silhouettes of Knossos girls and tops embroidered with doves and olive branches, were instead aimed at a more mature consumer.
Fans of Katrantozou’s exuberance exulted at the return of her vibrant prints in clashing colours and embroidered cocktail dresses yet there was more than just one problem with this collection.
First of all, despite the vibrant colours and intense collages of images, Katrantzou struggles when it comes to create innovative silhouettes: there were interesting attempts such as her trick of the eyes like the trompe l'oeil effect with the amphora decorating the waist of a dress, flapper dresses that elongated the body and visually striking jackets, but take away the print and the garment is a basic one. In a way, though, this wasn't the most serious problem with this collection.
Interviewed on the designs Katrantzou only mentioned the Greek connection (though the image borrowed for the opening design was taken from a vase at the Met Museum and it may prove that actually the designer never moved from her computer…), but a deeper investigation will reveal something more interesting regarding the Op-Art prints.
Write "psycho op art" in Google and the first image you will get is one of the patterns in the same combination of colours of the first looks on Katrantzou's runway. The pattern is taken from this Pinterest board (Pinterest is now an established source for designers).
There are indeed quite a few galleries dedicated to his work and, by going through them, you will discover that one of the print employed by Katrantzou in the collection is actually borrowed from Kitaoka's 2003 "Blue Sun" image; while the densely beaded Op Art top in blue and yellow in Katrantzou's collection is based on the "Rotating snakes" image Kitaoka created in 2004 (available also in its 2005 "No motion rotating snakes" version from this link).
This image, that was also published in a gallery of pictures on The Guardian a couple of years ago, takes its name from the circular snakes embedded in the drawing that appear to rotate spontaneously.
Now on Professor Kitaoka's page there is written that the "commercial use" of his images is not free of charge and that modification of these images for commercial purpose is usually declined, while educational or research use or modification is welcome.
Besides, there are also some medical issues to take into account in the case of some of these prints replicated on clothes that Katrantzou doesn't seem to have considered. Professor Kitaoka clearly explains at the top of his page that it "contains some works of 'anomalous motion illusion', which might make sensitive observers dizzy or sick." He also adds: "Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately. Some of the pictures on this website can cause dizziness or (…) epileptic seizures. The latter happens when the brain can't handle the conflicting information from your two eyes. If you start feeling unwell when using this website, immediately cover one eye with your hand and then leave the page. Do not close your eyes because that can make the attack worse."
It seems unfair that Katrantzou has taken the merit of the Op Art prints in this collection, but the key question is, has she actually just stumbled upon a Pinterest board and borrowed some images or has she actually collaborated with Professor Kitaoka? And if she did collaborate with the latter why didn't she mention it?
Because, you see, a proper collaboration with a psychology department from a prestigious university would have been much more interesting than just spinning a story about ancient civilizations.
Somehow you feel disappointed about this discovery, as it may be the final proof that most modern designers mixing ancient civilizations with modern cultures aren't doing much apart from collaging the former with the latter and selling it without reading between the lines or understanding the meaning, point and purpose of the images they are cutting and pasting together.
Post-modernist archaeological exploration, you say? Strange, it was called pilfering and plagiarizing only a few years ago. Guess times have really really changed then.