It’s not what you think: a rundown of trompe l’oeil fashion

It’s not what you think: a rundown of trompe l’oeil fashion

by Juliette Eleuterio
5 min

You would be mistaken if you thought those FW22 Bottega Veneta jeans were just that, jeans, but that’s the whole point. They’re actually made out of nubuck leather with a finish that resembles denim, creating a trippy effect, also known as trompe l’oeil that had everyone fooled.

Matthieu Blazy is actually a master of trompe l’oeil, using unexpected materials for a result that has us all mouth-wide-open shocked. He did this for Bottega Veneta’s SS23 collection where he created an array of deceptive clothing in leather, from flannel shirts to tank tops, and again when he created the costumes for choreographer Xie Xin’s performance at the Biennale Danza, with denim-passing silk pieces.

Bottega Veneta©

Trompe l’oeil is a French term that translates to “trick the eye”, and in a fashion context refers to the optical illusion style created with garments through their silhouette and/or print. Here’s a bit of an art history blast for you: the technique’s origins go way back to Ancient Greek art, specifically in a painting of grapes done by Zeuxis. The grapes were so realistic that birds would fly down to peck at the painting. Not sure we can explain to the birds what was going on there.

The style grew in popularity during the Renaissance period, when painters started to play with the idea of perspectives. Impossible buildings and infinite spaces, the more realistic the painting was, the better was the trompe l’oeil, with paintings made by the likes of late-quattrocento Italian artists, such as Andrea Mantegna and Melozzo da Forli. The term was only coined in the 1800s though, by French painter Louis-Léopold Boilly, who was also a master at deceiving art.

Bottega Veneta©

Anyway, back to fashion. The trompe l’oeil trend eventually transpired into the world of fashion, specifically with Elsa Schiaparelli during the 1920s and 30s. In 1927, she went against the sleek and functional direction fashion was at the time focused on, by creating a sweater with Armenian refugee and knitwear designer Aroosiag Mikaëlian in which the image of a bow was knitted into. All it took was for Schiaparelli to wear her design at a dinner party, and everyone became obsessed with it.

Schiaparelli went on to create an array of trompe l’oeil pieces, including a shirt that featured a collar on its back. The bow sweater has been referenced time and time again, which isn’t surprising considering its revolutionary nature. We saw it on Azzedine Alaïa’s FW92 in the form of a dress while John Galliano paid homage to Schiaparelli and her use of the trompe l’oeil technique through a backward suit jacket for Dior’s SS99 Couture collection. Even Daniel Roseberry, the current creative director at Schiaparelli, recreated the piece for his FW22 collection.

The thing with trompe l’oeil is that there isn’t a single way to do it, with our brains so easily tricked. In Louis Vuitton’s case, its new plastic-looking Freezer bags (which, don’t worry, are made out of a luxurious leather) create a material illusion, similar to how Bottega Veneta does it.

Louis Vuitton©

Trompe l’oeil also allows the wearer to have a new, or at least an exaggerated form. Jean Paul Gaultier did this with his  “naked body” op-art inspired pieces which he debuted during his FW95 collection, and have been reworked countless times over the years. With Martin Margiela, the trompe l’oeil technique was used in his very first collection with the tattoo t-shirt. The Belgian designer continued to deceive us with his screen-printed pieces, making a garment, like a simple tee, appear to be another, like a blazer. 

With so many different ways to achieve the trompe l’oeil look – whether through wacky prints or using unconventional materials or superimposing images – designers have been playing fashion’s edition of ‘is this cake?’ by creating mind-f*ck designs that have us a little confused, but in total admiration.

More on Culted

See: Louis Vuitton said “no more plastic” with its plastic freezer bag

See: Matthieu Blazy designs Bottega Veneta’s costumes for Biennale Danza

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