Gustav Klimt in fashion

The fantastical and ornate worlds of Gustav Klimt are instantly recognisable. His paintings drip with luxury, submerging his feminine muses in mosaics of jewel and gold. Their bodies are draped in gilded ornament and fabrics tumble through the paintings into iconic, geometric Art Nouveau shapes. The renowned Viennese artist possessed a unique aptitude for transforming his paint into illusions of precious metals, stones and jewels. It was during his “Golden Period” that Klimt found critical acclaim and financial success, and these paintings have become some of his most iconic.

Klimt’s works are among the most expensive in the world and replicas have found their way into many other walks of modern life, adorning everything from mugs to birthday cards. Of course, never one to be left out of a trend, fashion has found a significant influence in his work. It’s his sensuous femininity and opulent, romantic aesthetic that has perhaps continued to seduce designers today.

Klimt’s life-long friend, and supposed lover, Emilie Flöge was one of Austria’s most sought after fashion designers and dressmakers. Her eclectic designs were loose, flowing and bold, reflecting her love of folk costume and Japanese textiles. It is believed that her work was an important influence on Klimt’s art and the opulent textiles he depicted in his work. The close interplay between Klimt and the fashion world has perhaps survived a long history, and it might come as no surprise that his distinctive visual signature has appeared on many catwalks over recent years.

In 2008, Christian Dior re-introduced Klimt’s aesthetic with a daring, opulent Spring collection, as floor-length tunics graced the catwalk in bursts of vibrant reds, magenta and yellows. Sheaths of fabric were bejewelled with geometric patterns made of golden appliqué panels and gilded swirls. It was a stunning blend of mythical fantasy and high glamour that seems to stem straight from the artist’s paintbrush itself.


Hygieia (1900), Christian Dior SS 08

Aquilano Rimondi followed in 2011 with their own dazzling spring collection and a more direct nod towards to Klimt’s most famous work, The Kiss (1908)Autoportrait. Knee-length skirts, dresses and short-sleeved shirts were draped with striking prints of delicate swirls and geometric shapes; patterns that seem lifted straight from the works of his renowned “Golden Period.”

This focus on Klimt’s rectangular, geometric pattering has since been seen in Alexander McQueen’s spring 2013 collection by Sarah Burton. Her mood board overflowed with Klimt masterpieces, from Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) to the swirling tendrils of The Tree of Life (1905), and her fabulous suits for both men and women shimmered with golden geometric blocks.

The Klimt-inspired look remerged for autumn in the Hermès 2012 Fall collection. Designs moved away from the blazing allure of the “Golden Period” towards a richer, darker and more sultry feel that echoed works such as Klimt’s Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902). An array of puff-sleeved dresses, all adorned with intricate geometric patterning, radiated the luxury and romance of a true Klimt masterpiece; one hidden behind his more decadent golden works perhaps, yet a masterpiece nonetheless.

Most recently, L’wren Scott declared dramatically in 2013, “I’m having a gold moment.” This Klimt-inspired avowal towards luxury brought with it a stunning collection of extravagant jacquard, brocades and embroidered flora patterns. Details were lifted straight from Klimt’s brushstrokes, from serpentine swirls to fur collars, all bringing the 19th century paintings to life.

With such an intoxicating visual appeal, photographers have also found an affinity for Klimt’s sumptuous aesthetic. Photographer Norman Parkinson proved, in 1965, just how well suited the artist’s work was to the glossy pages of the fashion magazine. In his Vogue UK shoot for designer Pierre Cardin, Klimt’s paintings provided the backdrop to the very latest trends.

In Vogue Italia’s December 2007 issue, Steven Mesiel embraced the rich texture and ornate drama of works such as The Dancer (1916) for an editorial shoot ”Vogue Patterns.” Models were surrounded by a swirling aura of floral prints, almost engulfing them entirely. It’s arguably one of the visually busiest yet most enticing shoots around, and you’ll want to lean in to capture all the intricacies that fill the page- which was most likely Gustav Klimt’s very intention in the first place.

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