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The dream-like robes and gowns in Michael Cheval’s work carry illusion within their folds. Inspired by what Cheval describes as a “game of imagination,” his art portrays fashion as a vessel for fantasy. A lady’s tangerine ball gown blossoms into a pumpkin in Cheval’s painting Time To Be A Queen, while Love Hunter and Magic of Trivial Illusions depict women’s medieval, pearly frocks seamlessly fusing with packs of alabaster rabbits that seem to be made from the material of the gowns themselves. The clothes that Cheval portrays, though labeled absurdist, are becoming increasingly normal in the fashion industry today, especially as technology expands the horizons for the types of garments that designers can bring to life.

A projected trend for SS21 is altered reality, where clothes boast unique cuts, materials, pigmentation, and methods of production to achieve a surreal look and feel. The trend mirrors a growth in augmented reality technology, a system that is expected to dominate the tech industry in the coming years. The outlandish clothes in this category surely bring cheer and iridescence to a time of uncertainty but are far from frivolous and juvenile.

Designers of these surreal clothes combine utopian visions of fantasy with worldly pressures to produce clothing that has begun to represent the evolution of our world and the challenges we face as a society. The trend exists as a way to break barriers and transition to a new era of self-expression, all while responding to the need to adapt to environmental and technological changes. It could not be more timely, as humanity grapples with a rapidly-shifting world.

A prominent, young designer whose clothes represent altered reality well is Charlotte Rose Kirkham, creator of RUA CARLOTA. Highly motivated by sustainability, Kirkham forges patches of reclaimed material into mosaics in the form of dresses, tops, and skirts. The goal of RUA CARLOTA is to challenge waste culture, and through Kirkham’s artful, one-of-a-kind pieces the brand has managed to achieve just that. RUA CARLOTA’s juxtaposition of art, fashion, and environmental consciousness makes for a promising trend that may well transcend the label of dernier cri and continue long after the upcoming season.

Paolina Russo is another young designer who embraces imaginative styles. Russo cites childhood sports and nostalgia as inspiration for her trippy designs. She stitches together excellently placed fragments of craft materials along with second-hand jerseys and soccer cleats into striking corsets, headwear, and jumpsuits, using her fond memories of arts-and-crafts to take her projects to the next level. When asked about her ideas, Russo reports that as a child, her imagination ran wild– a feeling that she strives to capture in her whimsical designs. Russo’s collaboration with Adidas is not only a manifestation of how otherworldly fashion is becoming widely acknowledged in the fashion industry, but also how women’s sportswear is being reimagined to become innovative and elevated.

Sensen Lii is an inventive designer that plays with the concepts of femininity and masculinity, especially in terms of sportswear. His label, WINDOWSEN, features fantastical, theatrical pieces that fuse women’s association with exaggerated costumes and men’s association with practical activewear. Lii’s designs draw influence from his vision of a utopian society where people are original and do not hesitate to dress according to their personality. He also prizes the imagination that stemmed from old video games, where the pixelated and ambiguous nature of characters allowed the mind to run wild with possibilities. WINDOWSEN’s designs, ambiguous in their own way, leave plenty of room for interpretation and imagination– accomplishing Lii’s goal to use fashion as a vehicle of visualization. His double-take-inducing work, is a magnification of a possible trajectory for today’s world, where self-expression and breaking gender norms are becoming much more appreciated through various media and contemporary society.


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