The World’s Gone Mad. Designers Are Sending in the Clowns

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Harlequin, by Paul Cezanne, 1880-1890. Oil. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCPhoto: Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Matty Bovan, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Matty Bovan Studio

Casablanca, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Yannis Meynadier / Courtesy of Casablanca

Arthur Arbesser, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Henrik Blomqvist / Courtesy of Arthur Arbesser

Not sure whether to laugh or cry? With the news cycle continuing to rollercoaster, it’s a common dilemma, and with the number of references to clowns and circuses in the fall ready-to-wear and couture collections, it seems designers are feeling the same way as the rest of us.

This represents a shift toward something visceral, and away from the Surrealism we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. The Surrealist art movement, which flourished between the World Wars, was focused on manifesting the subconscious in real life, and its practitioners often tried to achieve this through strange, and usually symbolic, juxtapositions of words or images that reframed accepted perceptions of the world. Famous examples include Elsa Schiaparelli’s shoe hat and the trompe l’oeil Tear dress she made in collaboration with Salvador Dalí.

The escapism that Surrealism provided at the beginning of the pandemic was strange in a pleasing and nostalgic way. The mood has changed, there’s an impatience to get on with things, but we remain in an in between state, looking towards a future that remains very much a work in progress. No one knows yet what the effects of the Delta variant will be or what hybrid work will be like. There are lots of emotions on the surface, and as people start socializing again, there’s a larger audience to hide, or share, those feelings with.

Katharine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett, 1936.Photo: Snap / ShutterstockGolden Globe winner Emma Corrin, in Miu Miu, 2021. Photo: Handout / HFPA via Getty Images

Rather than run away with the circus, many people would like to run from it. At the couture shows, designers responded with more options for day, which was refreshing and in tune with a larger desire to get back to our routines. But in more fanciful looks, they also acknowledged that there’s still a circus-mirror aspect to life in 2021. In that case, it seems only natural to send in the clowns. The same dichotomy was active in the ready-to-wear collections, many of which featured collars, which seem optimized for the horizontal existence that is life on Zoom. Talk about a circus….

Undercover, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Undercover

Christian Dior, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Dior

Rick Owens, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Carlo Scarpato / Gorunway.com

Richard Quinn, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Richard Quinn

Valentino, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Salvatore Dragone / Gorunway.com

Nanushka, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Nanushka

Daniel W. Fletcher, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Daniel W. FletcherVivienne Westwood, 1989.Photo: Clive Dix / ShutterstockGOOMHEOPhoto: Courtesy of Fashion EastFreddie Mercury, 1977.Photo: Ian Dickson / RedfernsSarah Bernhardt as Pierrot, 1883, photographed by Nadar.Photo: Apic / Getty Images

Comme des Garçons, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Comme des Garçons

Valentino, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com

Undercover, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Undercover

Noir Kei Ninoyima, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Noir Kei Ninomiya

Armani Privé, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com

Giambattista Valli, fall 2021 couture

Photo: NIEMEYER / Espace Niemeyer / Courtesy of Giambattista ValliGilles as Pierrot, by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris.Photo: Photo 12 / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chanel, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.comToto, the clown of the Greenwich Village Follies, photographed for Vanity Fair, 1925. Photo: Edward Steichen / Condé Nast / Shutterstock

Schiaparelli, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Daniel Roseberry / Courtesy of SchiaparelliA clown in blue, 1889.Photo: Historia / Shutterstock

Patou, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of PatouHead Over Heels.Photo: Historia / Shutterstock

Red Valentino, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Red ValentinoTwiggy in The Boy Friend, 1971.Photo: EMI / MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock

Christian Dior, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com

Rahul Mishra, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Courtesy of Rahul MishraA star of the Casino de Paris in harlequin costume, 1931.Photo: Talbot / ullstein bild via Getty Images

Iris van Herpen, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Courtesy of Iris Van Herpen

Giambattista Valli, fall 2021 couture

Photo: NIEMEYER / Espace Niemeyer / Courtesy of Giambattista Valli

Giorgio Armani, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Courtesy of Giorgio Armani

Tomo Koizumi, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Courtesy of Tomo Koizumi

Tod’s, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Tod's

Valentino, fall 2021 couture

Photo: Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com

Wed Studios, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Jenny Brough / Courtesy of Wed Studios

Sea

Photo: Courtesy of SeaSelf-Portrait as Pierrot, by Amadeo Modigliani, 1915. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.Photo: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

Rentrayage

Photo: Kate Sears / Courtesy of Rentrayage

Ports 1961

Photo: Courtesy of Ports 1961

Lanvin, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Lanvin

Peter Do, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Yiru Wang / Courtesy of Peter Do

Marc Jacobs, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

HRH at Fashion East, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Fashion East Aubrey Beardsley illustration for The Pierrot of the Minute: A Dramatic Phantasy in One Act, circa 1870.Photo: Culture Club / Getty Images

Judy Turner, fall 2021 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Judy TurnerChristian Dior, left, as Pierrot at the Beistegui costume ball, 1951.  Photo: DALMAS / SIPA / Shutterstock
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