Trend spot: Surrealism in Fashion

As one of the 20th century’s most influential art movements, Surrealism was quick to make its mark on 1930s fashion and design.

Drawing on visuals from dreams and the unconscious, Surrealists brought something entirely new to the decorative arts.

Strong, symbolic, iconic motifs, often recurring – just as they do in the dream world.




In the context of Surrealist design, these motifs take on new meanings, however abstract. Consider Salvador Dali’s famous melting pocket watches in The Persistence of Memory (1931).

Undoubtedly the most widely recognised Surrealist artist, Dali frequently collaborated with fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.

This marriage of Surrealism and fashion was immortalised in 1937 when Wallis Simpson, the newly married Duchess of Windsor, shocked in a Schiaparelli-Dali lobster-print gown in Vogue.

By the 1980s, Italian fashion designer Franco Moschino paid homage to Surrealist artist Rene Magritte with Moschino collections featuring witty and irreverent slogans inspired by famous works such as The Treachery of Images, better known by its translated caption: “This is Not A Pipe”.

In his seminal autumn/winter 2000 show, Hussein Chalayan caused a buzz with a living-room setting that transformed into wearable art in front of a transfixed fashion show audience. (If you’ve never seen it, watch this clip, starting at about 4:19, to see the extraordinary transformation in real time.)

Chalayan’s ‘table skirt’ is the epitome of wearable art, not only a showpiece of craftsmanship and design, but of storytelling. Like the Surrealists before him, Chalayan was telling a story through symbolism, this time of the way war forces people to flee with their worldly possessions on their backs.

And just like Surrealism in fashion, NAJO’s new collection, La Isla SS18, uses graphic motifs and repeated geometric shapes to tell a story.

La Isla through a Surrealist’s lens

Seen through a Surrealist perspective, the window-like design of the Midi Earring and matching Midi Ring serve to frame the wearer’s skin like a living artwork.

The tear-shaped pendant of the Daria Silver Necklace might evoke rain or tears of joy, depending on the wearer’s story, while the name of the Halo Necklace offers its own loaded symbolism, perfectly matched to the shape of the Rhoda Ring and the Rally Bracelet.

In the Reba Earring, with its tentatively balancing Amazonite stone, we are reminded of Rene Magritte’s cloudy blue skies. The organic ripples of the Dimple Necklace recall Dali’s melting pocket watches.

And perhaps the most ‘Surrealist’ design in the entire La Isla collection is the Paperclip Earring, a humble office staple elevated to a precious jewel thanks to a new perspective, material and fine craftsmanship. ‘This is not a paperclip’ indeed!