It is no coincidence that just as New York fashion week ends and London fashion week begins the Courtauld Gallery will unveil a show celebrating the work of Piet Mondrian, the early 20th-century Dutch abstract artist best known for his rectangular grids, pulsating black lines and bold blocks of red, yellow, white and blue. After all, Mondrian has continually inspired designers – from Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian collection (displayed next month at a major retrospective at the Denver Art Museum) to Christian Louboutin today.
According to Stacey Bendet, designer for the New York label Alice + Olivia, “It’s that whole graphic feel and primary colour palette. Mondrian’s colours lend themselves to clothing.”
Take the recent pictures of Victoria Beckham leaving New York’s trendy Balthazar restaurant, in which she wears a colour-block pink and black bubble-hem dress from her new Victoria line; or actress Emma Stone in stretch silk Lanvin with nude, black and rose bands at W magazine’s pre-Golden Globes bash, also in January; and Twilight’s Ashley Greene, who squeezed into a red and black Prada bodysuit for Vanity Fair’s February issue. Also, look at any number of spring/summer collections flooding into stores, including Moschino Cheap & Chic’s jaunty jackets and dresses, Sally Vickers’ elegant hats, and Nike’s street-style trainers.
Christian Louboutin, whose Mondriana wedges will be on show next month in a retrospective at London’s Design Museum, says: “I made a shoe that had, in itself, a very graphic feel in silhouette but I thought it needed the addition of strong colour and bold lines to make it exciting. I took inspiration from Mondrian’s famous compositions and created inlays of colour made more vivid by the patent leather.”
He’s not the only one. Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière brought a futurist look to Mondrian’s geometric shapes in his spring/summer 2012 collection via spongy jackets and silk dresses in luminous metallic hues such as space age granite, maroon and shimmering gold. “They are statement pieces that are not naturally feminine, yet are sophisticated,” says Laura Larbalestier, women’s wear buying manager at Selfridges.
Mondrian’s dominant colour – white – featured heavily at Chanel, where designer Karl Lagerfeld updated the artist’s aesthetic with simple boxy silhouettes, zinging black lines that outlined graphic squares, and delicate black lace that framed sleeves, necklines and hems. “It speaks to the modern, minimalist look that’s going on at the moment,” says Larbalestier. “People don’t feel flashy now and don’t want to look as obvious as possible. Even opulence is presented in a more intriguing way.”
Case in point: Derek Lam’s cut-out beaded lattice intricately embroidered on chiffon gowns, which provide a new, glamorous take on the classic Mondrian grid. “The grillwork creates a shadowing effect, where you get the feeling you can see the layers of the body, yet can’t,” says Lam. Glossy high-tech black tape also frames his pieces, exposing the seam rather than hiding it. As for Bendet, she has mixed blocks of sharp lemons and sweet sherbets with monochrome vertical stripes. “It’s a pop art meets Palm Beach moment,” she says, before adding: “Everyone’s business is online these days, which demands bold, eye-catching designs, so we are attracted to things that are powerfully graphic.”
This is certainly true for the purveyors of this season’s sporty looks, which depend heavily on geometric colour blocking, whether it be Christopher Raeburn’s stylish multicoloured parka or Alexander Wang’s wetsuit-inspired scuba dresses. As Ruth Runberg, buying director at Browns, says, “No woman aims to appear as if she’s just stepped out of the athletic field, so the sport details from the spring runways are softened by geometric patterning.”
After she designed a Mondrian patchwork mini-dress a few years ago, Diane Von Furstenberg reworked the artist’s geometric style in her recent cruise and pre-autumn collections so that the “architectural lines contrasted with soft silhouettes, fluid fabrics and inserting draping,” says the label’s creative director, Yvan Mispelaere.
Still, whether the base is athletic or futuristic or elaborate, in the end, says Mark Fast, whose silk knits have played on Mondrian’s primary palette since his first spring collection in 2009, “It’s the simplicity and nostalgia of those colours and shapes together that makes them work so well.”
‘Mondrian/Nicholson: In Parallel’ runs at the Courtauld Gallery from February 16 until May 20