Surrealist Art and its Influence on the Fashion World

How fashion designers continue to be inspired by Surrealist art in the creation of their collections

Elsa Schiaparelli Lobster dress 1937

Back in 1995, Madonna released a music video called ‘Bedtime Stories’ which paid homage to the work of several female surrealists. One of them was British born surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington. The video includes a scene where Madonna opens her robe to release a flock of birds, much like the central figure in Carrington’s The Giantess (ca. 1947).

Thierry Mugler

Surrealism continues to inspire contemporary designers such as Thierry Mugler. His spring 1997 haute couture collection featured one of surrealism’s beloved symbols — insects — with the most fascinating look being a gown whose back unfurled into a set of colorful wings that was absolutely the stuff of dreams.

Hussein Chalayan

For Chalayan’s fall 2000 collection, a model stepped into the middle of a coffee table, lifted its center, and formed a skirt from its tiers of wood. The table skirt immediately brings to mind the iconic “desk suit,” created in 1936 by designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who was in turn inspired by Dalí’s painting, The Anthropomorphic Cabinet, in which a woman’s torso becomes a cascade of open drawers.

Jean Paul Gaultier

Gaultier’s version of Schiaparelli’s skeleton dress featured in his fall 2006 collection, which he titled “Les Surréalistes.” The model wears a hat that appears to be made from her own hair!

Leonora Carrington

In 2013, W Magazine published a Surrealist-themed fashion editorial photographed at the historical estate Las Pozas in Mexico. Actress Tilda Swinton is featured wearing costumes inspired by figures and motifs from Carrington’s surrealist art.

Surrealism and female sexuality

Carrington focused on magical realism and alchemy and used autobiographical detail and symbolism as the subjects of her paintings. She was interested in presenting female sexuality as she experienced it, rather than as that of male surrealists’ characterization of female sexuality. [Chadwick, Whitney (2012). Women, Art, and Society (5 ed.). New York: Thames & Hudson].

In addition to paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, Carrington created costume designs, stage designs, and playful, esoteric items such as decorative masks over her long career. She died age 94 in May 2011 in Mexico. Surely she would have enjoyed knowing that her work is still a source of inspiration for designers and artists of all kinds!

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