It is probably not going to seize the fashion world by its illusory lapels this season or any other — but the trend for trompe l’oeil is definitely having a moment. Last season, Dolce & Gabanna, Alexander McQueen, Antonio Berardi and Vivienne Westwood used trompe l’oeil in their collections.This spring it is popping up at all points on the fashion spectrum, from the high street to Chanel, whose ludicrously priced stick-on tattoos reinforce the trend.
Meaning, literally, “trick the eye”, trompe l’oeil was introduced to the fashion world by Elsa Schiaparelli, the Paris couturier who, in 1934, was decreed the most influential woman in fashion by Time magazine.
Unlike her contemporary Coco Chanel, she is now largely unheard of outside the fashion industry, but the Italian-born Schiaparelli was a true revolutionary. She was the first couturier to blend art and fashion and to bring an element of playfulness into an arena that was then — and, let’s face it, still is now — endowed with far more seriousness than it deserves.
Schiaparelli was an innovator. Apart from trompe l’oeil, she introduced shoulder pads, culottes, coloured zips, decorative buttons, the wedge shoe and the runway fashion show, complete with music and boyish models.
She was also a friend of artists Man Ray, Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali, and created clothes that featured both trompe l’oeil and Surrealism. In 1937 she developed a knitting technique that allowed her to create her iconic trompe l’oeil sweaters — one of which appeared to be trimmed with collar, cuffs and a big bow (above), and another with a sailor collar and red ribbon tie.
If Schiaparelli was the creator of trompe l’oeil, Sonia Rykiel, the Jewish designer who last year celebrated four decades of creativity, is its godmother.
She has added touches of trompe l’oeil to her collections for most of those 40 years, adorning sweaters, cardigans, T-shirts and dresses with bows, collars, ties, flowers, necklaces, beads, buttons, lace trims and other effects which were always two-dimensional rather than the three they appeared to be.
Ironically, just as the rest of the fashion world is playing with trompe l’oeil — Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and Gilles Dufour have all done knits for spring/summer featuring the trickery (available at www.brownsfashion.com) — Rykiel has scaled back on it. She could not resist, however, adding a playful touch of trompe l’oeil as a sailor collar on a blue and cream stripey knit in her Sonia by Sonia Rykiel diffusion collection (£169 at Fenwick, W1).
Alexander McQueen’s flirtation with trompe l’oeil continued with a “paint” decorated T-shirt and “paint” print leggings, both at Browns (www.brownsfashion.com).
Paul Smith has used it too, in his diffusion line, Paul by Paul Smith, which features a pair of T-shirts — one with a “tie” and one with a “lace camisole” over the top. Both are £76 at Fenwick W1.
James Woolfin and Yvette White, the design duo behind Inside Out (www. projectshowroomno5.com), have used trompe l’oeil for a T-shirt seemingly adorned with rows of pearls, and for an oversized tee which appears to have a waistcoat thrown over it.
Another young, London-based designer using trompe l’oeil is Rebecca Zehr (www.zehr.co.uk), who added a pretty raffia effect around the hem of a simple silk shift and of a knee-length white tulip skirt.
Meanwhile, on the high street, Oasis has really channelled the trend with a dazzling collection of pieces designed by London College of Fashion graduate Rosalind Keep.
The clever Keep has used trompe l’oeil to stunning effect for a shirt-dress tricked out to resemble a trench coat, a “corset” prom dress and for tops including a “Chanel” jacket and a tuxedo jacket.
The Oasis main collection, too, has several pieces, including a sweater with a pearl-and-chain “necklace” apparently slung around the neck, and a stripey sweater with “pockets” and “collar”.
Hobbs has used trompe l’oeil to add interest to a navy-and-white stripe knit by slinging a red “belt” tied with a “bow” around the hip, while Next has a pretty and rather clever half-sleeve knit dress in black with coral and white stripes and a coral “bow”.
But if you truly want a look-at-me effect, you have to buy on the internet (or in Tel Aviv, New York or Moscow) from Israeli label Frau Blau (www.fraublau.com and a webshop with English help notes at http://shop.fraublau.com). It was created by artists-cum-designers Helena Blaunstein and Philip Blau who truly channel the spirit of Schiaparelli.
Their S/S 2010 collection includes a top that appears to be a stripey, button-down shirt worn under a dog-tooth check “waistcoat” with pink “buttons”, and a half-sleeve shift adorned with what seem to be six vast rows of pearls and beads.