Although art and fashion have long gone hand in hand, during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June, American brand Kid Super combined the two in a way that felt both like a satire on the world of art and a love letter to painting.
Designer Colm Dillane’s brightly colored oil-on-canvas works were sold, while models carrying items referencing the artwork walked through the center aisle, many carrying brushes and palettes. Some of Dillane’s paintings have been reworked into prints; others, including a black leather jacket with three blue figures on the chest (later worn by American rapper Jack Harlow), were painted directly by Dillane and his team.
Guests with paddles emblazoned with “Superby’s” placed bids between looks, with one painting selling for $210,000. For the finale, two artists placed an oil painting on stage as a model stuck her painted face through a cutout and crossed the frame to wear the artwork like a poncho.
Kid Super’s maximalist combination of disciplines and materials could be the apotheosis of a fashion trend that has been brewing for years. From Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí, with their custom-painted lobster dress for the Duchess of Windsor, to the elaborately painted leather jackets of Keith Haring, fashion has long sought to tap into the cachet of famous painters to create one-of-a-kind pieces. .
Marni and hot young brands such as Sterling Ruby’s SR Studio, Eckhaus Latta and Bode have made hand-painted embellishments a key part of their design language, and a search for “painted” on Ssense yields hundreds of products.
Other luxury designers have used paint to undo traces of preciousness, degrading garments that would otherwise be too perfect or neat. Stylist and creative director Nico Amarca has always been drawn to designers who use paint as a counter-cultural gesture. “For me, it’s reminiscent of the DIY ethos of punk and post-punk subcultures; the idea of bespoke originality and sullying your clothes through customization,” he says. “There’s an exclusivity attached to it, and the chances of someone else owning or wearing the same creation are slim.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, trendsetters embraced this power: Martin Margiela, who quit fashion to become a painter, coated leather Tabi boots in cheap white gesso paint as if they had just come out of a studio, while Alexander McQueen used robotic arms to spray a dress as the centerpiece of his spring 1999 collection.
Graffiti and street art have long been part of the streetwear aesthetic, which in recent years has been introduced to the catwalks. Hiring street artists and bootlegger GucciGhost to spray “Real” on its Fall/Winter 2016 handbags, Gucci used the destructive power of paint as the ultimate shrug of indifference.
Today, thousands of other independent designers offer their hand-painted wares, including Small Talk Studio, Serena Nickson and Juliet Johnstone, with styles ranging from Jackson Pollock-style drops to vintage cartoons and photorealistic renderings. .
Tony Shirtmakers make beautiful linen shirts with hand-painted stripes and drips – the slightly wavy lines combined with the visible brushstrokes create an effect that looks artisanal, but will still look great with baggy chinos or faded jeans ( $755, tonyshirtmakers.com). Meanwhile, The Slum Studio, a Ghanaian brand that paints on second-hand clothes to create unique colorful abstractions, makes wearers look like a walking Basquiat – in the best possible way.
As with art collecting, forgeries and unlimited editions are out of the question. “It’s like filling your house with things made to look antique,” says Turner Allen, a New York-based personal men’s stylist. “It may look nice, but on closer inspection it will look cheap and contrived.” Poorly vectored brush strokes and overpriced fake splatters should be avoided.
Allen also thinks it’s better to work with smaller brands rather than big names, because “you’re often collaborating directly with the designers” who do the painting themselves. “Whereas with the big brands, you’ll likely customize a garment with a selection of pre-designed design templates and the help of a sales rep.” Much like getting a tattoo, a good painter/designer should be able to take you away from your worst impulses and help you create an item of clothing that feels like a unique expression of everything you love. And if your interest fades, let’s say. . . Super Mario, remember that a shirt is not permanent.
Some intrepid readers might be tempted to pick up the brush themselves. Having attempted to paint emerald stripes on an old white shirt a few months ago, I can say from experience that it’s more work than it looks, but also more fun. I used fabric paint from the hardware store and a bit of painters tape to line up the scratches. Washing wasn’t an issue, but I didn’t throw it in with light colors to prevent my wardrobe from taking on the color of the Hulk.
The most important thing is to choose an item that you don’t mind spoiling. If your hand is shaking, put that newspaper down to keep paint from dripping onto anything of value. Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can just give your baby a Birkin, like Kim Kardashian did, and hope for the best.
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