Roundup: How to wear art prints

If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts or thumbed through my Instagram feed, you probably already know this: I love art. That’s partially because I grew up fully immersed in the works of the old masters (but that’s another topic for another post), but also because art — if you don’t let it intimidate you — is like a understanding language you don’t really have to learn or even speak. Don’t let the snobby, nose-in-the-air connoisseurs tell you any different. The only thing that matters about art is your reaction to it. Everything else that you spend time, energy or even money learning is just to help you articulate that response and perhaps deepen it. 

I feel much the same way about fashion, and I love it for those same exact reasons. So, when fashion and art come together, for me, it’s a triumph. I’m not talking about when fashion becomes art. I’m referring to two independently creative spheres binding to one another. One of the most relevant examples that comes to mind is artist Jeff Koon’s collection that brought the works of art giants the likes of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Rubens and Titian to the covetable handbags of Louis Vuitton. But of course, this is hardly the only example. (Check out this wonderful article that breaks down some of the most iconic marriages of fashion and art in the 20th century).

Renaissance prints had a major moment in fashion over the last few years years ago. Most notably, Vivienne Westwood’s 1990’s-era richly embroidered corsets began showing up in celebrity closets, and of course, the Met Gala’s 2018’s Heavenly Bodies theme further amped up the trend. And let’s not forget the 2019 Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda show, which sent neoclassical paintings of Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust on silk gowns down the runway. Since then, prints of rosy-cheeked cherubs and Rococo-esque paintings have infiltrated even fast-fashion retailers. Instagram followed suit. So, with all this rinse and repeat, you might be thinking that art in fashion is getting a little old and a little tired.

I’d beg to differ! Though we might soon retire the “Renaissance-y” vibes, art scenes as prints are — in my opinion — here to stay. Through the rise and fall of the aesthetic, we’ve learned that paintings make for unique prints. And if you do it right, you might even build a cult around a one-of-a-kind, custom painting. Ottolinger’s collaboration with Vietnamese-American artist Julien Nguyen springs to mind, which you’ll see me wearing in this post’s photos. But of course, there are so many others. So, if you’re ready to jump in on the trend(ish), here are a few options — plus some styling tips.

* New posts go up every Thursday, so come back next week for another day of exploration, or a roundup of my favorite spots and fashion trends! And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for daily(ish) fashion updates.

Ottolinger – Mesh Pants Julien Print

Style note: I wanted to create even more asymmetry in my outfit, so this knitted top from Source Unknown fit the bill. Aside from playing with geometry, I kept the colors fairly muted. It’s fun to create interesting compositions, but going overboard by using every trick in the book can often result in visual overload. Fair warning: though this specific pair of pants is out of stock, I provided an equally cute alternative above!

Ottolinger – Julien Nguyen-print shirt

Style note: When you already have a piece that’s heavy on print, make sure that it remains the focal point of your outfit. That said, you can still experiment with color, like this fashionista did with her version of Ottolinger’s Julien print top. Notice how she didn’t weigh down the outfit with additional patterns or prints, but still kept it playful with vibrantly colored shoes and purse. (That pop of yellow is genius!)

Elliss – Blush mini dress

Style note: I love the gentle, body hugging garments London-based brand Elliss has been dreaming up. (I would also be remiss not to praise Elliss for being environmentally friendly and body inclusive). And this dress is no exception. Though the bandana feels like an extension of the dress, this little number shines even without it. 

Acne Studios – Blue landscape painting dress

Style note: This print is definitely a lot more subdued than the rest. Acne Studio’s SS20 collection drew from the works of Swedish writer and painter August Strindberg, and the result, in my opinion, was just brilliant. This dress is still available in certain sizes, and I’ve seen a few remaining pieces from the collection flutter in and out of stock, so keep an eye out!

Zimmermann – Botanica Petal-Detailed Printed Linen-Silk Midi Dress

Style note: I’ll be honest with you, this Zimmermann dress is far out of my reach in regards to budget (like, far out), but it’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of work, and I had to include it here — if only purely to gaze at it. According to Moda Operandi, Nicky Zimmermann “partnered with the National Library of Australia to bring the whimsical botanicals of Ellis Rowan (a trailblazing artist and explorer from the turn of the last century) to life.” The whole collection is stunning, but this dress just really hogged my attention.

MSGM – Painting print sweatshirt

Style note: From MSGM to Off-White, brands have been slapping visually appealing paintings on casualwear like t-shirts and hoodies for that something extra. I loved the way this sweatshirt is styled here (giving Farfetch a pat on the back for this one). The ol’ trick of pairing laidback tees and hoodies with playful skirts and chunky sneaks is still alive and well.

Kenzo – Ama printed T-shirt dress

Style note: I love this t-shirt dress for many reason, but the backstory is really what makes it stand out. I encourage you to hit that link and check out the finer details of the painting, which tells the story of the “Ama” or “women of the sea” — a Japanese group of elite female free divers who earn their living by braving the cold waters to fish for pearls and seafood, often with no equipment at all.

Henrik Vibskov – Beat jersey dress

Style note: Visual artist, musician, and designer Henrik Vibskov certainly knows how to toy around with some pretty stunning color combinations. Because Vibskov’s heroic use of patterns and hues are enough to carry the outfit on their own, I would pair this look with simple black heels.

Staud – Scenic tapestry Ilaria Dress

Style note: What a gorgeous summer dress. I can imagine just traipsing around Europe in this one day. Staud has always been known for dreaming up incredibly beautiful and breezy pieces that feel effortless and easy to wear. This is definitely no exception.

As an Los Angeles-based journalist and fashion writer, Mari Alexander highlights local and global talents through runway reviews, designer interviews, and trend reports.

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