Jenny McFarlane examines the art movement that inspired a thousand dresses
Who wouldn’t want to look like a piece of Art Nouveau? Characterised by highly stylised, flowing, curvilinear designs, teamed with distinctive floral and plant-based motifs, the global design phenomenon with the chic French name has become a by-line for elegance. Art Nouveau shapes and prints have fed into fashion for over a century, and this season is no exception.
L’Wren Scott AW13
The movement has a gorgeous creative freedom embedded at its heart. After the elaborate historical revivalist experiments in the nineteenth century, architects of the early 1900s returned to nature, harmonising their designs with the wild environment around them and inspiring artists of all descriptions to follow suit. According to the Jugendstil philosophy, art needed to come out from behind glass cabinets and become a way of life, with the division between fine arts and applied arts dissolved.
The chair that you sit on, the wallpaper in your home, the lamp that you use to read by and the clothing on your back; according to leading proponents of the movement such as Eugene Gaillard, Josef Hoffman, Gustav Klimt and Margaret MacDonald, all such everyday items should be infused with beautiful, naturalistic style. It is no wonder that, in a world where even our lemon squeezers are designed to look like sculptures, the influence of the Art Nouveau movement can still be seen in everything from our interiors to our jewellery.
And fashion, of course; always fashion, that bastion of wearable art. For AW13 designers including Suno, Tory Burch, L’Wren Scott and Emilio Pucci incorporated Art Nouveau motifs and silhouettes with gorgeous results.
Suno mixed and matched heavily adorned prints on simple, modern pieces, with perfectly positioned and classy cut outs. Burch featured insects, illustrated in elegant Art Nouveau panels, on her romantic silk blouses, and aped Klimt’s gilded artwork with lacy appliqués and sprinkled rhinestones. Luxury upon luxury, she accessorised with exquisite pendants that looked authentically antique.
Tory Burch AW13
Scott also heavily referenced Klimt, sending models down the runway in flowing gowns adorned with writhing serpents and gilded florals, and the free-flowing gold latticework incorporated into her accessories redefined ornate. In contrast, Emilio Pucci teamed full-leg brown suede boots with fur-collared capelets, flowing blouses and soft sweaters in subtle colours, creating a modern, wistful take on the Art Nouveau look.
Emilio Pucci AW13
What should you look for when you’re out shopping? Flowing shapes, sumptuous fabrics and nature-inspired prints, worn with some sharp leather to keep things away from the dressing-up box. Colour-wise, go big on gold, and embrace jewel tones, like amethyst, sapphire, peridot and ruby. And incorporating some open latticework over a bare shoulder, or a graphic patterns on a bag or heel, are just two ways to keep Nouveau looking new.
This is special occasion dressing, perfect for the winter months; here’s our pick of the best Art Nouveau inspired pieces money can buy right now.
£375 – farfetch.com
£35 – johnlewis.com
£525 – jades24.com
£525 – coggles.com
£305 – toryburch.com
£170 – georgjensen.com
£740 – alexisbittar.com
£98 – shopbop.com
£165 – liberty.co.uk