An increase in disorganized, perplexing prints that appear to be intended to mislead the eye has been witnessed in fashion during the past year. This fashion trend has ushered in a time of what might be dubbed “magic-eye attire,” evoking the psychedelic patterns of the 1960s and the Magic Eye Op-art craze that became popular in the 1990s. And we are currently experiencing a period of turmoil and uncertainty, exactly like in the 1960s. Could it be that the current craze for surreal prints echoes the turmoil and disarray we feel inside? The joys of a still-hypothetical end to the pandemic may also be expressed as an escape from reality and a burst of hedonistic energy.
One of today’s most foresighted designers is Marine Serre. Although she had been making face masks for some years, the face masks that made their way down her autumn/winter 2020 catwalk in Paris in February, just as the scope of the coronavirus danger was beginning to emerge in the world, felt like sartorial prophecy.
Models wore many iterations of houndstooth and other geometric prints from the same collection that were mashed and thrown together to make a patchwork of matching-mismatching prints that was disorganized and perplexing. Bodycon dresses and bodysuits had similar surreal designs in Serre’s subsequent collection. The topsy-turvy look, like much of the French designer’s work, felt prescient; it served as a metaphor for our complex and perplexing times.
In terms of how we are dressing, it is a sign of an emerging hedonism and careless mentality.
Serre is not the only artist responding to this time with visually disorienting prints. Through the spring/summer 2021 collections of Christopher John Rogers, Ashish, and Collina Strada, many of which included mash-ups of wonky geometrics and dizzying swirls, they have been enjoying a specific moment throughout the previous year. For autumn/winter, both established brands like Dolce & Gabbana and up-and-comers like Maximilian from Fashion East embraced glitchy, confusing designs reminiscent of the magic-eye craze of the 1990s.
These patterns appear to be intended to confuse the observer, whose eyes start to look for reason and order in the chaos. Amanda Briggs-Goode, chair of the fashion, textiles, and knitwear design department at Nottingham Trent University, asserts that when we examine prints, “we seek for pattern, we search for structure, and we want to be able to make sense of anything.” These prints contradict that, which feels appropriate at this time.
In some circumstances, this lack of common sense is a sign of an emerging hedonism and loose spirit in the way we dress. According to Dennis Nothdruft, director of displays at the London Fashion and Textile Museum:”There appears to be a shift toward a much more liberated, less conventional approach.” He cites the tie-dye trend as one example, which has made many of us look more like Californian surfers who are familiar with point breaks during the past year. These psychedelic patterns are a reaction to the lockdown constraints, which were characterized by loose loungewear and elasticized waists. They appeal to “our collective need for excitement and our yearning to venture beyond the boundaries of day-to-day living,” according to fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell.
With talk of a “roaring 20s” where every excursion outside the house is a reason to dress to the nines, even more, sartorial freedom is forecast now that an end to present lockdowns is on the horizon in some areas of the world. Fashion historian Tony Glenville observes optimism as well as resistance in these prints. “They are associated with fresh starts and disobeying rules of the dress… There is a lot of cutting, slicing, and rearrangement happening as if tradition needs to be changed.”
Turn on, tune in, then turn off
They also say a lot about the turbulent times we live in by harkening back to the past with wistful allusions to the hippy styles of the 1960s and early 1970s. Psychedelic prints in the 1960s could be seen as an extension of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” ethos of the times, a reaction to the status quo, and I believe a response to the optimism of the early 1960s, according to Nothdruft, who is currently curating an exhibition called Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture, which will explore many psychedelic designs.
These inspirations are made clear in collections like the spring/summer 2021 line from Raf Simons. The rippling designs were a part of the Teenage Dreams collection, which featured cloaks adorned with whirlpools of garish pink and purple as well as T-shirts with the slogan “Children of the Revolution.”
According to Dennis Nothdruft, there appears to be a connection between the usage of unconventional prints and patterns and periods of transition and turmoil.
According to Caroline Stevenson, head of cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion, “psychedelic fashion inspires nostalgic notions of freedom, community, involvement, recollections of long summers, festivals, and being close to the people we love.” She claims that it’s “no wonder that designers would attempt to reawaken these emotions, memories, and aspirations given the gravity of the past year, the solitude, and the boredom. We yearn for real-time social interactions and sensory experiences after spending the entire year glued to our screens at home. We’ve missed having a sense of involvement in our surroundings and sensing the physical and visual presence of others.
Wearing loose, flowing garments with vibrant colors and patterns was a means to visually dissolve social barriers and increase community involvement.
The exhibition Beautiful People at the Fashion and Textile Museum will examine the colorful counterculture of the 1960s.
Psychedelic substances were popular both then and now. The UK’s first high-street clinic offering psychedelic-assisted therapy will open shortly, and they are being introduced into the wellness arena, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, whereas they were largely considered an anti-establishment pastime back then.
Additionally, just like it is now, the political and social situation was turbulent. According to Nothdruft, there is a connection between the usage of unconventional designs and patterns and periods of upheaval and change. The setting of 1960s youth culture, according to Stevenson, was characterized by “radical lifestyles, political protest, and creative and cultural transformation.” Unrest has occurred over the past year as a result of the epidemic, protests around the globe, the dramatic US election, and its tragic fallout.
Darker prints convey an energy reminiscent of Mad Max for the coronavirus generation.
Beyond expressing a desire for fun and carefree, it is this dynamic moment that has possibly also contributed to the other end of the magic-eye dressing spectrum. Linking textile design to the current political and cultural climate may seem over the top, but Briggs-Goode claims that designers are “You wouldn’t look at Lucienne Day’s designs and say, “That looks like the scientific DNA image,” but they were visually related to and inspired by that. She refers to Day’s fabric design from the 1950s, which was motivated by the discovery of DNA. [Print designers] are observing and borrowing from the culture in their environment “.
She cites the chaotic prints that are least organized and gives up on order as being particularly representative of the present disarray and the darker facets of our times. “You have that very enjoyable portion of it and that very fluid “I’m going to a festival” line, and recently, many summer festivals have been announced. Then there is the Barbarella-type things. I believe it to be on a spectrum.”
These darker designs are frequently worn head to toe on bodycon clothing that seems like a second skin and is frequently accessorized with masks, gloves, or eye shields, as seen in the work of artists like Maximilian and Serre. There is a definite allusion to protection for Briggs-Goode. It’s almost like a picture of our chaotic times. The coronavirus generation’s equivalent of Mad Max conveys post-apocalyptic energy.
There is also a more practical explanation for these prints, especially now that so much of our lives, including fashion shows, take place online. While the eye hunts for patterns and repeated patterns of print, designers cunningly entice you to keep looking by denying any such aesthetic catharsis. People stop looking as soon as they spot a pattern, according to Briggs-Goode, since their brains can no longer process anything else. According to Forbes-Bell, who is in agreement, designers may be using these excessively intricate styles to draw attention to their products. Numerous studies have revealed that humans typically find a lot of visual complexity to be quite enjoyable and stimulating. While perusing Instagram or the vast digital collections, these prints will make viewers stop and take a moment.
The complexity bias can explain why customers are so fascinated in visually dynamic prints, but they also affect how we feel, according to Forbes-Bell: “They are aesthetically provocative and can generate a much-needed dose of excitement during this relatively monotonous period in our lives.” Whether hedonistic and carefree or packed with deeper political relevance and wild energy, these magic-eye prints are giving a rush of espresso in our uncertain times.