Elsa Schiaparelli sketch from the 1940's as seen in WWD

- May 31, 2002

When Fashion 'Fools Around'

Trompe l'oeil is French for 'fool the eye', the art of creating the illusion of a 3rd dimension. Though it originated as a painting technique in Greece and Rome, and has been used decoratively in home furnishings throughout the ages, it has also been applied to clothing and accessories, something I have always loved because it is playful, fun, and whimsical.

Elsa Schiaparelli was the first designer to utilize trompe l'oeil in her designs in the 20's and 30's, and then Roberta di Camerino popularized this style in the 60's with her clothing, bags, men's ties, and umbrellas. Then there were the ubiquitous trompe l'oeil t-shirts from the 70's (remember the ones with the tuxedo designs?), Lagerfeld's infamous 'shower head' dress, and a variety of versions from the late trick master Franco Moschino in the 80's, and then in the 90's, Christian Francis Roth made a name for himself with his whimsical trompe l'oeil suits and dresses.

 Umbrella image courtesy of Enokiworld
Roberta di Camerino Umbrella of the 1960's (image courtesy enokiworld.com)

More recently, Anna Sui, a self-confessed vintage (and Roberta di Camerino) devotee, who is known for scouring flea markets, thrift shops and vintage stores, did an homage to the Italian legend with a well priced group of black and white tops, bags, and dresses for spring/summer 2001, and followed up the idea the following season.

And for last fall/winter, the team of Clements Ribeiro, who had just signed on to design for the house of Cacharel in Paris, did an entire collection that was based around the concept of trompe l'oeil, one of the best items from that line, and a favorite of mine, was the very Chanel-like $88 black cotton t-shirt emblazoned with a multi strands of pearls.

Roberta di Camerino dress

Currently, Sonia Rykiel (849 Madison Avenue, 212 346-3060) is selling a black and white 'tuxedo' cotton sweater (complete with bow tie) for $380, and Barneys New York has an Emanuel Ungaro black chiffon gown with a trompe l'oeil diamante belt encircling the waist ($6550). And if you search out vintage stores (like Cherry who has several large canvas Roberta di Camerino trompe l'oeil tote bags, Foley & Corinna, Resurrection, etc.), vintage websites (Enokiworld.com), and even Ebay, you can often find the real vintage versions if you're lucky.

And by the way, this trend shows no signs of letting up for next season. Roberto Cavalli showed a few trompe l'oeil pieces in Milan for fall/winter 2002, my favorite is a white satin blouson shirt with a trompe l'oeil multi strand necklace emblazoned on the front.

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