Picture the scene. A gentle river runs through green plains and hills. On the horizon, an orange sun rises behind fluffy clouds. But this is not a painting. Nor is it a photograph or a romantic movie moment. It's a two-piece felt suit, worn with patent leather boots and a simple black headband.
Central Saint Martins graduate Conner Ives' Americana-influenced AW21 collection opening look (also part of his womenswear prom collection) tells an intriguing story. Inspired by discovering her mother's collection of American folk art in her attic—"it was like discovering a lost city," Ives tells Vogue—this creation is part garment, part canvas. Both the suit and the accompanying bag were created in collaboration with textile artist Mati Hays. The effect is vivid, evoking a longing for a landscape at once strange and familiar.
Ives isn't the only designer to dabble in landscaping. Rural landscapes have become an increasingly popular motif of late, with designs ranging from Jacquemus's earthy vistas and Ashish's psychedelic mountains and mushrooms to House of Sunny's green jumpers. Moschino's AW21 collection also took a country twist in the form of prints featuring bright blue skies and daisy-strewn meadows filled with cows. For Moschino Creative Director Jeremy Scott, the cloud print is a familiar place to perch: a Moschino classic. However, this particular set of designs also pays homage to 1930s MGM designer Gilbert Adrian, the man behind the costumes for The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Scott's theatrical presentation (on video), with revolving scenery and sections devoted to business, country lounging, evening wear, etc., was directly inspired by the 1939 film The Women, which includes a five-minute long color fashion show featuring Adrian's outfits. Several years later, the designer also produced a silk crepe "patio" dress (so named because it was suitable for outdoor entertaining) inspired by his San Fernando Valley home in Los Angeles. With softly padded shoulders and a full skirt, Adrian's dress depicts lambs running happily through a lush field.
By Milagro Urquieta
Lately, a multitude of mountains, fields and seascapes have also found their way into all manner of knitwear, cardigans and jersey vests. Lirika Matoshi, creator of the infamous bright strawberry dress that dominated summer 2020, is also producing cloud-filled knitwear. Brands such as Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and JW Anderson have released fabrics featuring riverbanks and vegetation. Recently, Gabriela Hearst's Resort 2022 collection included several jumpers with images of landscapes from famous places in North and South America, such as Yellowstone National Park and Machu Picchu in Peru.
At the more luxurious end of the scale, these designs do two things simultaneously. They call attention to the intricacy of their construction, especially when the weavings have been done by hand, while suggesting a deliberate note of kitsch. Some of these clothes look like children's drawings - a house, a hill, a perfectly round sun - or the kind of scenes you see on jumpers sold in tourist destinations. Others evoke the current 1980s fervor for homespun knits (see also the renewed fandom for Diana, Princess of Wales jumpers this past year, thanks in part to The Crown's fourth season), reveling in their own vulgarity.
Of course, placing a landscape on a garment is nothing new. In 1611, Johann Georg I of Saxony received an extraordinary "landscape cloak" from his mother as a Christmas present. This cloak is decorated with detailed views of Dresden, Germany and the Elbe River sewn onto a blue velvet background. It may be on the more ornate end of the scale, but ornamental stitching has a long and varied history. Over hundreds of years, waves, clouds, mountains, rainbows and forests have been painstakingly embroidered on garments and accessories ranging from nightcaps to purses. Kimonos are also especially rich in details drawn from the natural world: many textile designs feature stunning printed or embroidered landscapes that evoke different seasons, places, and stories.
It's no wonder so many designers turn to the wide embrace of the countryside. The last 16 months have included periods of disorientation where people have felt trapped and fantasized about travel, nature and the lure of the unknown. Think of this as the more literal end point of cottagecore. Why dress like you want to stroll through a meadow of wildflowers when you could wear the meadow instead? It's a dash of escapism in textile form, eliciting the same sense of calm and delight that we might feel when looking at a Van Gogh or David Hockney.