Spring 2010 couture is all about the surface design of the fabric. I’m not talking your run of the mill prints—no, this is in a whole new direction. This year, fabrics mimic paintings. Evoked through flowing watercolor-inspired chiffon and the layering of colors, this new style creates the appearance of brushstrokes. This trend appears in the Spring 2010 couture collections of Elie Saab, Anne Valerie Hash, Jean Paul Gaultier and Valentino. Coincidentally, the New Britain Museum of American Art is hosting the exhibition The Great American Watercolor opening April 24 and running until July 3rd. The ethos of this current trend can be seen readily throughout the breadth of style and technique in many of the pieces that will be on display.
Left to Right: Elie Saab, Spring 2010 Couture. Detail (Credit: Style.com). John Singer Sargent, Tarragona, c. 1908, watercolor, 19.5 x 13.875”, New Britain Museum of American Art, Grace Judd Landers Fund, 1944.02
Elie Saab took a simple construct for a gown and paired it with a subdued watercolor print. The sheerness of the print allows it to be illuminated, offering more a more varied range in tones and shades. This technique is also utlizied by artists working with watercolor on paper. The dress is layered and ruched, adding a brush-like quality as each color in the print is gently defined by the shadow of the folds. The colors of the collection are reminiscent of John Singer Sargent’s Tarragona (1908) with gold and blue tones, varying in opacity.
Left to Right: Anne Valerie Hash, Spring 2010 Couture, detail (Credit: Style.com). Sol LeWitt, Horizontal Brushstrokes, 2003, Gouache on paper, 60.5 x 60.5″, New Britian Museum of American Art, Gift of the Artist, 2003.14
Anne Valerie Hash’s approach is slightly different, though still painterly. She opted for a fabric with a sheen that creates intense light and dark valuesas the model walks. The way the colors are separated, paired with the shine of the fabric, creates an optical illusion much the way Sol LeWitt did in his Horizontal Brushstrokes series (2003). Unlike Hash’s vertical stripes, these run horizontally, each in varying width and linearity. This, coupled with LeWitt’s striking contrast of colors, creates a sense of flowing movement in the painting. Hash nearly duplicates this effect in her skirt and blouse combination. From afar, the stripes appear to be moving horizontally butupon closer inspection, the eye notices the vertical stripes and the conflict is born, simulating motion.
Left to Right : Gaultier Spring 2010 Couture, Valentino Spring 2010 Couture (Credit: Style.com)
Valentino and Gaultier however, took it one step further. Rather than using painterly fabrics, or fabrics that already had the appearance reminiscent of paintings, both chose to literally recreate brushstrokes by manipulating the fabric. Gaultier created a bodice of neatly pleated fabrics that from afar allow the colors to blend together. Upon further inspection, however, each meticulous fold becomes apparent, giving both a light and a dark value to every detail that the eye balances as it moves further away. The depth created by the folds is not unlike that of impasto brushwork.
Left to Right : Gaultier Spring 2010 Couture, Detail. Valentino Spring 2010 Couture, Detail. (Credit: Style.com)
Valentino however, really excelled at this concept in his Spring couture collection. In an otherwise sheer strapless mini, there are what appear to be fabric lilacs strewn across the front. They are, abstracted from distance, blotches of color like the rendering of flowers in watercolor. In Willard LeRoy Metcalf’s Mountain Laurel (1905), there is a similar portrayal of flowers. The flowers are abstracted impressions of their counterparts in reality. In Valentino’s dress however, we are able to see the varying sizes and shapes of the flowers that even up-close appear to be differentiated only through color.