Surrealism depicts the illogical to allow for the expression of the unconscious mind. In other words, it steps in to create an alternate universe of beauty and absurdity when the reality is so far from feeling safe. Is it so shocking then, that in the aftermath of a global pandemic, the most divisive political landscape in modern history, inflation, and widespread social unrest we’ve collectively returned—nearly a century later—to a place where it feels like the best way forward is through escapism? No, it doesn’t phase us in the slightest that the avant-garde surrealism trend is back, and we’re here for it.
From Fashion to Home Décor, Surrealism Is Back!
Words by Kerry Pieri.
The concept of Surrealism was founded by the poet André Breton in Paris in 1924 after the end of World War I. Its far-reaching implications were found within the art, literary, and fashion worlds. Some artists explored the ideas through pure documentation—Henri Cartier Bresson called himself a photojournalist but in truth, he captured the unnerving scenes of everyday life through his camera lens. Man Ray manipulated photographs to create surreal scenes, while artists like Salvador Dali painted melting clocks in fully realized alternative worlds.
“We are finally emerging from years of experiencing harsh realities we could never have fathomed. Our entire world shut down, we’ve seen some very ugly sides of humanity and when reality becomes too real, that’s when we need to escape to fantasy,” artist Carmen Ellis, who creates surreal art, tells Eyeswoon.com. “Surrealism is breaking free from rules and structures, breaking free from the logical world. After years of rules and confinement, we are craving the escape that is surrealism.”
“Surrealism is breaking free from rules and structures, breaking free from the logical world. After years of rules and confinement, we are craving that escape.”
— Carmen Ellis, Artist
The leader in surrealism in fashion was undoubtedly Elsa Schiaparelli. A contemporary of Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Vertes, Van Dongen, and Horst, she became well-known for her whimsical designs including the famed lobster dress and an evening coat embroidered with line drawings that read simultaneously as a vase and two confronting faces by Jean Cocteau. Utilizing body parts separated from the human form was a recurring theme in Elsa’s work and one that the current house of Schiaparelli designer, Daniel Roseberry also embraces. His dresses feature exaggerated breasts, gilded body plates, and long fingernail gloves.
Similarly, Jonathan Anderson has been exploring surrealist themes in his designs for the Spanish house, Loewe. Recent runway dresses featured deflated balloons and hands that seem to hug the model’s body as she walked. More recently, Roseberry designed bridal for Schiaparelli, beginning with a dress for his own sister paired with shoes that had gilded hyper-realistic looking toes. And therein lies the trick—surrealism is beauty and humor all mixed up, even in the face of unimaginable sadness or hardship. Because isn’t that life, too?
Riccardo Lorenzo Fornoni is an architect and designer who creates living dreamscapes that make you feel like you’re walking into a Dali painting. “I’m inspired by the dreamlike landscapes and scenarios of surrealism, in this case, the process is guided by finding a middle point between what’s real and what can be in my thoughts only, something untouchable, and represent it through a photorealistic image,” he outlines. Created for Living Corriere Magazine and realized in collaboration with Studio Salaris, the design pictured above somehow melds futurism and surrealism with an underwater ocean scene. “It’s imagined to be in a different world, where huge corals and a crazy colored vegetation dominates the territory,” he adds.
“The process is guided by finding a middle point between what’s real and what can be in my thoughts only, something untouchable, and represent it through a photorealistic image.”
— Riccardo Lorenzo Fornoni, Architect and Designer
Utilizing surrealism in design takes the concept found in fashion or even art one step further, by literally creating your own world—the one you fully live in, dream in, eat in, sleep in. It begs the question: Is any of it actually real? And what is reality anyway? As Ellis reveals, maybe the beauty is in the mystery. “As a child, my imagination developed as a way to pretend my world was more magical than the life I lived,” Ellis continues. “Now that I look back, I can see so clearly how I found refuge in stories and films that made the mundane feel more magical. I often reference Alice in Wonderland. Here is a place full of seemingly ordinary things—animals, flowers, insects, playing cards, and so on—that are alive in ways you didn’t anticipate.”
As we hang surrealist art in our homes, display surreal sculptures, or wear handbags fashioned to look like a man’s torso, we can see it as a way to admonish the world as it is. Or… we can see it as a way of creating our own reality—less about rejection and more about becoming the creator of our own world. “Even after almost 100 years of changing times, surrealism at its core remains the same,” Ellis says, “It still seeks to reawaken the imagination, to inspire, to shake us out of our everyday world and ways of confined thinking.
“Surrealism helps us to shift perspectives, teaches us to revel in the unknown and to find wonder in the strange, it expands our realm of possibility beyond all limitations.”
And down the rabbit hole, we go.