Comedy On The Runway

October 15, 2007 | By Bridget Burns | Entertainment

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A familiar character paid a visit to the spring/summer 2008 runways at Paris Fashion Week, earlier in October. Harlequin was back. It is said that the length of hemlines predicts the markets rise or fall but what does a nod to comedy reflect if not simply an embrace of geometry? Harlequin and his counterpart Pierrot are characters from commedia dell’arte, a theatrical tradition with origins in 15th century Italy. The two characters are clowns with contrasting natures. Pierrot is naive and melancholy, while Harlequin is a nimble trickster.

Viktor & Rolf amplified the aesthetics of both Pierrot and Harlequin in their Paris Fashion Week show. Pierrot’s collar ruffles were monumentalized to cartoonish extremes and Harlequins music making was celebrated with f-hole adornments and violin constructions worn as accessories. The characters signature diamond pattern took on various textures and proportions throughout the collection.

Miu Miu’s reference to Harlequin was less transformative and more figurative, as dresses were emblazoned with illustrations by the Swedish artist Liselotte Watkins, depicting distinctly harlequin personas. Handbags and footwear echoed the bold, telltale diamond designs we see in Harlequins costume. One wonders if the motif was inspired by the recent passing of Marcel Marceau. Liselotte Watkins last minute call to decorate the Miu Miu collection might indicate that Miuccia Prada adopted the theme late in the game. In the case of Viktor & Rolf, the show was planned as an homage to Marceau long before his death.

Harlequin tinged fashion pops up every now and again, most recognizably in the mod 1960s, but the 1980s hosted its share of appearances by the merrymaker. Two decades ago, both Vivienne Westwood and Gianfranco Ferre for Christian Dior (below left) incorporated harlequin-ism into their collections. What do these icons of comedy say about us this time around?



Nicolas Lancret/Bridgeman Archives/Getty Images, Gerard Julian/AFP/Getty Images

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