Yesterday's post featured a picture of a Hornet costume taken from the book Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls by Ardern Holt (1887).
The volume featured a series of suggestions for men and women who were looking for unique costumes to wear at masquerade balls.
The 300-page volume was indeed an interesting compendium of costumes in alphabetical order with brief descriptions accompanied by illustrations.
The book was packed with advice and creative disguises: though a few may be deemed politically and culturally incorrect in our days, some of them are still rather fascinating (see the costumes for Air, Five O'Clock Tea, Hours, the Monte Carlo Casino and a luxury Medusa in a cashmere dress trimmed with lizards, scorpions and dragons...).
The costumes were aimed at grown-ups and children as well, and there were also suggestions for sisters intending to go to the ball together and husbands and wives on the lookout for matching outfits.
Fancy dress balls were fashionable in the 19th century and the book proved so popular that it was reprinted several times between the 1880s and 1890s.
Masquerade events may not be so popular nowadays, but there is one place where fantasy reigns supreme – runways.
During Paris Fashion Week there was a bit of fancy ball event with some political undertones on Undercover's runway.
The show was a theatrical performance rather than a mere fashion presentation and was entitled "Utopie: But Beautiful III".
It revolved around a new society divided in 10 different ranks or orders - aristocracy, wardens, soldiers, young rebels, nomads, clergy, agitators, choir, new species and monarchy. Each class was defined by a key design or a unique outfit.
Accompanied by a soundtrack assembled by Thom Yorke, the runway opened with aristocratic court ladies in winged masks. Their long knitted gowns seemed eaten by moths, though, while their arms were encased in exaggeratedly grand accordion-pleated satin boleros or honeycombed ruffles supported by solid leather saddle straps.
Then came the wardens in long feathery masks and damasked jumpsuits with swirls of fabric forming roses around the shoulders.
Soldiers opted for more functional everyday garments that integrated practical outerwear such as a jacket decorated with medals.
Rebels and nomads were a bit more original: they favoured cropped tops and long skirts, puffer jackets and sweatshirts decorated with punk studs or historical embroideries and accessorised with dreamy ruffs.
One of the illustrations from Holt's book - The Hornet costume, employed as a symbol of dissent - was emblazoned on the back of sporty jackets, it was replicated on pendants, and printed on ruffled collars and cuffs.
The clergy opted for a layered look that mainly consisted of puffer jackets or long robes, matched with Medieval headdresses. The agitators favoured instead knitwear and chatelaine-like belts (a trend relaunched by Prada last year) with multiple tools hanging from them.
The characters from the choir were clad in soft and voluminous capes covered in kaleidoscopic prints; the new species went for black sculptural leather pieces while the monarchy twirled on the runway in grand honeycomb ball skirts.
The collection was therefore characterised by a fractured rhythm that was maybe a way to comment on the chaos reigning in our world.
Though the world presented was divided in classes, they were reunited by eccentricity and uniqueness. There was also another unifying element, art, and in particular Dutch works.
A cropped white top decorated with blue motifs seemed to evoke Delft pottery; the attire of the clergy with the models in veiled hennin headdresses combined the looks in Rogier Van der Weyden's "Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress", "Portrait of a Lady" and "Portrait of Isabella of Portugal".
The models in the black designs seemed instead references to paintings of gentlemen such as Maerten de Vos' "Portrait of a 33-year old man", even though they wore tights that mixed prints of Maerten de vos' "Unicorn" with sections borrowed from Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Fall of the Rebel Angels".
The composure of the models impersonating the choir order with their hands serenely clutched in front of them evoked portraiture paintings like Verspronck's "Portrait of Adriana Croes", while their bonnets were vaguely reminiscent of the lace headdress donned by the lady in Paulus Moreelse's painting.
The hairstyle of the models who closed the show in giant honeycomb gowns was instead a combination of Princess Leia meets the ladies at the baptismal font in Rogier van der Weyden's "Seven Sacraments Altarpiece".
Alexander McQueen was a fan of Dutch and Flemish paintings and maybe there was a bit of his passion for grand shows in this collection, yet you can't accuse Undercover's Jun Takahashi of copying him.
The designer indeed borrowed, sectioned, broke and remixed bits and pieces of various artworks with style and gusto coming up with his own vision.
And while not everybody will be able to immediately spot where every illustration, painting and reference came from, you don't need to be an art expert to enjoy and wear these clothes: strip the most outlandish looks and you will find desirable coats and sculptural jackets, fun ruffled collars and punkish sweatshirts.
The final message of this art infused collection? We may be living in a broken world, but there is the possibility of reconstituting a society in which everybody is equal no matter the differences in styles and tastes - from hornet girls to matrons, punks, monastic women or members of a new hybrid race that, according to Takahashi is half human half insect.
Sounds like a desirable future, but before ruling the world with his philosophical and rebellious undercoverisms, Takahashi should start addressing one key point - racial diversity on his runway. Casting multicultural models in his shows would indeed help him strengthening the messages of equality he intends to spread through his clothes.