Fashion used as escapism is certainly not novel. From vampiric goth fantasies to collections dedicated to Mars, designers have long positioned their clothing as a means to transcend into a world of their making. Spring 2022, however, seems to have ramped up fashion’s escapist potential, taking the industry to a newfound fantastical frontier. On Paco Rabanne’s runway, pieces done in optical illusion prints — namely polka-dots — contorted models’ bodies into curvy, retrofuturistic silhouettes. Consider the showings from Thom Browne and Puppets & Puppets, too, both of which featured clothes boasting life-like illustrations of the human form that left you scratching your head, wondering: “Wait, was the garment sheer or was that a print?” For this coming season, patterns aren’t as straightforward as your classic plaid or checkerboard, and reality, as the mind-bending styles of today argue, is overrated.
“The use of optical/surreal prints coincides with the Y2K fashion trend going on now,” explains Allison Aberizk, co-founder of the New York City-based vintage fashion and concept store Aberizk. “The 2000’s really focused on moving forward into the millennium and digital world, and these graphic types of prints feel very mind-bending and futuristic,” she tells TZR over email. Aberizk postures that, as a result of the epoch’s modern comeback, “thermal imaging, glitched/blurred prints, and computer-generated effects,” which reference the era, have experienced a major boom in popularity.
Aberizk links today’s illusion trend to the work of Jean Paul Gaultier in the ‘90s, particularly the designer’s 1995 Cyber Collection. “The collection became known for the ‘cyber dot’ print, which used dots in various sizes, placements, and hues to emphasize and highlight the female form,” says Aberizk. “It had a dark/futuristic feeling to it — think The Matrix and Mad Max,” the co-founder describes.
As for why cyber-centric and trippy prints resurged in 2022, Kraggy, WGSN’s mononymous prints and graphics strategist, says it’s due to fashion’s ongoing fascination with all things risqué. “This rise of illusion prints ties back to a design movement reclaiming and celebrating all body forms and types through a digital lens,” he says, particularly citing body-scan patterns like the ones seen on gowns by the Instagram-beloved Syndical Chamber. “Heat-maps and printed scans of bodies capture the energy of club lights illuminating the wearer, so [body-revealing prints] are a way of being the center of the party without the literal spotlight on you,” Kraggy says. “They give the customer a sense of proudly baring all (without really having to).”
Ahead, find other ways illusion prints are manifesting this spring and discover an edit to shop for experimental, reality-shirking pieces.
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“Designers are increasingly looking to varying geometric patterns and controlled blurs to accentuate the wearers’ physique and mood,” WSGN’s Kraggy explains over email. “The influence of digital worlds and their accompanying attention-grabbing aesthetics are carried over to real products with printed chromatic shines and neon gradients acting as optical illusions,” he says.
As for shopping for a perception-shifting piece, Aberizk invites you to pay homage to the champion of optical distortion, Jean Paul Gaultier. “[Aberizk] has a few pieces from the 1996 Tribal CyberBaba Collection” — like the multicolored trousers, below — “which had a tribal print with very graphic line work and shading throughout, giving a 3-D illusion,” says the co-founder. “These pieces definitely make a statement so, in terms of styling, I would say match with a piece that’s a solid color found in the print to make it feel cohesive,” advises Aberizk.
Sinead Gorey, the founder of the eponymous Gen-Z-adored label known for offering a new type of ‘naked’ dress, builds on Kraggy’s aforementioned point, saying body-scan prints are a means of partaking in playful fantasy. “Prints which mimic the female form allow the wearer to slip into another figure, placing a silhouette over their own,” Gorey explains to TZR. “Even though the body is completely covered it’s still quite sultry, as it creates an illusion of what the body looks like underneath the garment,” the designer says.
Gorey, who teamed up with a graphic designer to create her brand’s curve-enhancing patterns, takes great care that her pieces honor the body’s natural form. “I [want] to make sure anyone of any size can wear these prints and they’ll do the same for every body type; enhance and snatch at the right places,” she illustrates.
Elliss Solomon, founder of the eponymous ELLISS, creates sartorial illusions through surrealist prints made of collages of human features and objects, a medium she describes as “sensual and emotive.” Solomon elaborates: “Using figurative collage on the body creates a feeling of being enveloped by the form, which I think is empowering. I work with the curves of the body to manipulate the shapes to both flatter and distort,” she describes. Find a few pieces made of abstract figurative prints, below.
WSGN’s Youth and Womenswear Strategist Sofia Martellini shouts out the “cyber raver” aesthetic, a digital and party-centric trend she describes as the convergence of “two of today's main drivers for youth fashion: nostalgia and the collision of virtual and physical worlds through the popularization of the metaverse and digital fashion.”
She elaborates: “The hedonism typically associated with the ‘90s and ‘00s is making its way back, and it’s being translated through party-ready designs and bold statement looks that are made to create IRL and URL impact,” describes Martellini. She invites you to consider the Instagram-friendly sheer meshes and glitchy prints, sartorial elements in sync with today’s online-heavy world, for representing the trend.
Reality-Bending Trompe L'oeil
Kraggy spotlights another classic print intended to subvert reality: trompe l’oeil, an art technique typically used to make paintings visually project outside of their gilded frames. The print strategist links fashion’s recent adoption of the forced-perspective design to a cultural shift into a new technological frontier with the advent of the metaverse. “This is about preparing for the upcoming extended reality innovation, which will see otherworldly textures, virtual-first products, and digital realms overlay into the real world,” he explains.
“Right now, there is a lot of emphasis on how these worlds will interact and what is considered ‘real.’ [Distoritive prints] represent consumers and designers taking a first step toward integrating our digital and real-world lives,” says Kraggy.
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