Fashion + Jewelry: Surrealism

“Cover the cup in fur!” declared JCK‘s engaging assistant art director, Bacilio Mendez, one day.

“Huh?” those of us in earshot reflexed.

Bacilio produced a photo of surrealist Meret Oppenheim’s (1914–1985) iconic fur-covered teacup, saucer, and spoon (1936). Brownish blond, bristly, provocative, luxurious, and impractical. “Cover the cup in fur,” attributed to one of Bacilio’s former teachers, essentially charges us to dispense with preconceptions and conventions, and to think freely, freshly. As with Bacilio, the quote stuck with me.

Déjeuner en fourrure, Meret Oppenheim
© 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pro Litteris, Zurich

Fast-forward to Monica Khemsurov’s “Surreality Check” article in the New York Times, reviewing the exhibit Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design at London’s Victoria & Albert museum. Here I learn that Oppenheim created, of all things, jewelry for one Ms. Elsa Schiaparelli (fashion arbiter, 1890–1973). Khemsurov says that it’s from this jewelry design that the teacup “evolved.”

Hard not to think, then, about the influences of art on jewelry and fashion, and the subsequent realization of jewelry and fashion as art. Riding the crest of our Warhol revisiting, I’ve been wondering which next school we’ll rediscover collectively. If the V&A is on point, it’s surrealism.

Now’s as good a time as any to get surreal, in my book. I’ve been tapping into it (unwittingly) in my Trend Spotting series here in Style 360 since its inception, picking out pieces that play on the perverse—odd pairings of elements or materials, pieces with a distinct sense of humor and a distinct sense of style. I’m drawn to beauty and craftsmanship, but also to curiosity, and novelty … conversation-starters that appeal to the intellect and the funny bone. Witness collections by Dada’s Diamonds, David & Martin, Made Her Think, and Thea Grant.

I don’t think I’m alone in my gravitation. Maybe it’s a sign of our time … the era of the individual. Speaking for jewelry consumers, we don’t want to wear pieces we’ve seen too many times, or on too many people. There’s a fine line between “classic” or “timeless” and “old” or “tired.” Part of that line is due to materials and workmanship, sure, but the other part is execution and design (insert fresh interpretations here).

… Which reminds me of something JCK‘s infinitely talented art director, Todd Gast, says: “inspiration, not imitation” (meaning, be inspired by your surroundings, but don’t copy them!). Nothing stinks like a fake.

Ruby Lips Brooch, Salvador Dalí
© Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, DACS, London 2007

I, for one, would love to be inspired by the 300 Surreal Things at the V&A, if only they weren’t east of the pond. Besides Oppenheim’s bronze and wood Table With Bird’s Legs (1939), not to be missed, jewelers and jewelry fans, are Salvador Dalí’s (1904–1989) Ruby Lips Brooch (1949) and other gemmy creations. For those of us west of the pond, we can satisfy our appetite with Oppenheim’s Déjeuner en fourrure (The lunch in fur) stateside at the MOMA. Wherever you are, I invite you to revisit the legacy of the surrealists and take inspiration. “Cover the cup in fur.”

Table With Bird’s Legs, Meret Oppenheim
© DACS, London 2007

Check out the last Fashion + Jewelry: Fashion Week Veterans