Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was a Ukrainian-born artist who is mostly known for her use of colour and instigation of the Simultanism art movement (based on colour, shapes and rhythm) with her husband, Robert Delaunay. In fact, Delaunay also linked the worlds of fashion and art through experimentation that tremendously changed their relationship. She was inspired by the Fauves and was fascinated with colours, placing shapes and hues next to each other and exploring the dynamism of colours with fabrics.
In 1911, Delaunay made a blanket for her newborn son, Charles. Made from around 70 pieces of cloth, the blanket was inspired by peasant blankets she had seen in Russia as a child. The irregular grid of colours and fabrics in the quilt was reminiscent of the peasant crafts that artists such as Gaugain appropriated and appreciated, but the blanket also changed the course of her life and the history of early abstract art. In 1913, Delaunay created a patchwork dress that she wore for the Bal Bullier, eventuating in a visual vocabulary that spanned over the language of art and tipped into design.
In 1917, Delaunay opened her first boutique, Casa Sonia, in Madrid. Following the end of WWI, costume design and garments became her main source of income. By the mid-20s, she had a studio in Paris dedicated to making garments and patterns, and these ended up being published across fashion and art publications. Both Vogue and the galleries loved it; they not only saw it as cubism adapted into fashion but as a catalyst for a growing relationship between the worlds. The artist-designer showed the world how avant-garde art could kickstart a new style of 20th-century fashion and that fashion could be just as expressive as a medium of art.
Arcs and circles dominated her canvases. Meanwhile, silk, velvet, and taffeta became a collaged palette of hues and fabrics. The modern wardrobe, with its hats, tunics and dresses, soon spread across zig-zags, rectangles and rhombi. Delaunay shaped a new attitude that symbolised modernity with the sharpness of a well-steamed trench and the poignancy of pure pigment.
Painting became just as wearable as a Kusama can be fashion. The fashion world realised that artists were pretty damn useful, and it’s clear nowadays how that trend is still going. Cecil Beaton wrote about it in the December issue of Vogue Paris (1936), and it is still true today that people with taste can truly inspire each other, and fashion ‘thrives on that exchange.’ Whether it is Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons using immense shapes and lumps, deliberately distorting the body, or collaborations like MISBHV and Basquiat paying homage to great artists through thought-provoking design, fashion can help us see art, and art can help us see fashion.
Although intense, vibrant shapes and colours may not be streaming through the catwalk currently, they’ll be back. Whether in bursts of geometrical oranges or waved linear patterns, they’ll be back.
By Billy De Luca