The Birth of Venus (part II)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Cardi B had set in motion a new era of Renaissance-inspired dressing when she showed up to the Grammys’ red carpet encircled in a pink silken ‘shell’, swathed in inky blue velvet, and dripping in pearls, like the modern reincarnation of Botticelli’s Venus. The AW95 Couture Thierry Mugler look captures in fabric what the famous Renaissance painter captured in paint: Venus emerging, beatific, from the sea – a fitting visual metaphor for the woman who was about to make history as the first solo female artist to win best rap album.
In reality, though, the trend has been filtering through quietly for months. Slowly, The Birth of Venus (Mugler’s inspiration) has been infiltrating our IG feeds, plastered across form-fitting mesh and crop tops. Head to Depop and you’ll be confronted by an army of rosy-cheeked cherubs, or to pretty much any fast fashion website where The Creation of Adam sits nestled alongside cargo pants and plunging bodysuits.
“Head to Depop and you’ll be confronted by an army of rosy-cheeked cherubs, or to pretty much any fast fashion website where The Creation of Adam sits nestled alongside cargo pants and plunging bodysuits”
If the Renaissance’s renaissance passed some people by at first, no one could ignore the pre-Cardi watershed moment when FKA twigs was spotted at Sundance wearing a corset from Vivienne Westwood’s 1990 Portrait collection, not long after LA-based label Pechuga Vintage posted a bunch of people – including Jazelle (@uglyworldwide) and Yara Shahidi – wearing the very same piece. Fine, the artwork on the corset in question is by Francois Boucher who was a Rococo-era artist, but since when is fashion going to let a few centuries get in the way of anything? It fits the aesthetic, so fuck the technicalities. Then, were the trend not cemented already, Timothée Chalamet chose a pair of socks depicting a knitted iteration of Venus (just like Botticelli imagined), and obviously the internet went wild.
It’s not just vintage pieces and fast fashion retailers that are enamoured with the aesthetic, either. Dilara Findikoglu pre-empted the Instagram corset mania with her AW18 collection, with a series of pieces rendered in singed gold fabric and featuring rich embroidery, the most prescient of all of them emblazoned with a pencil sketch of two cherubic girls, all flushed faces and heads of curls. And at Moncler, as part of the Italian label’s Genius project, Pierpaolo Piccioli cited early Renaissance paintings as the inspiration for his collaborative pieces, with the capes, hoods, cinched bodices, and A-line silhouettes designed to evoke the image of the Madonna.
There’s no escaping it: Renaissance style is basically everywhere. Here’s why.
IT’S A HANGOVER FROM THE MET GALA
How well guests interpret Anna Wintour’s chosen Met Gala theme is usually hit and miss – see: silky, floor-length gowns as a response to ‘punk’ – but 2018’s Heavenly Bodies seemed to strike a chord. And where did much of the influence behind some of the most notable Met Gala looks come from? You guessed it: Renaissance-era artwork.
Janelle Monae, Solange, and Lana Del Rey had their very own halos, while Jared Leto graced the red carpet as the reincarnation of Christ, were he to have a pretty heavy Gucci habit (let's face it: he wouldn't be the first religious figure with a penchant for those double Gs). Rihanna, meanwhile, rocked up in a full custom Margiela look complete with pope hat (or mitre, to give it its accurate name).
The closest foreshadowing of our current obsession, though, came courtesy of Ariana Grande. Her corseted and draped Vera Wang dress took its inspiration from ‘The Last Judgement’, a fresco in the Sistine Chapel painted by High Renaissance artist Michaelangelo. Blue skies, soft clouds, winged angels, and naked flesh: the composite parts were all just waiting to be splashed across a pair of £20 leggings as far back as May.
IT’S THE ANTITHESIS OF THE TECH AESTHETIC
From headphones as accessories at Marine Serre and Matrix vibes at Prada (and everywhere else tbh), to 3D digital design and AI influencers, the fashion landscape has been dominated by tech for the last few seasons, with sci-fi influences seen on runways across all four fashion capitals and way, way beyond. But as imagined dystopian futures start to look a bit too real, we’re looking for a visual antidote: and a 700-year-old art movement is pretty much as close to that as you can get.
The overtones are romantic, ethereal, and celestial, offering us a welcome escape from the horrors of the day-to-day. As the Renaissance trend gains traction, it’s unlikely we’re going to see articulated android rings and trippy digital manipulation give way to swathes of fabric, fluffy clouds, cute cherubs, and the simplicity of brush on canvas: instead, we reckon it’s only a matter of time before the two become intertwined: a visual representation of the chaos of reality, and how we really, really wish things could be.
IT’S ALL ABOUT NOSTALGIA
...but then, when is it not right now? We might be seeing some Venus here and a bit of David there, but the defining motif of this trend is the cherub – or, more accurately, cherubic little angels. Before fashion had even thought about whether or not Jesus and his mates having dinner might make for a good t-shirt graphic, we’d been seeing them everywhere. But why? And why now?
The answer could lie with an Italian brand you might have become acquainted with recently, following its relaunch a couple of years back. After its 70s and 80s heyday (it was known as the “daytime Studio 54”), Fiorucci faded from the collective consciousness. But the insatiable appetite for nostalgia among millennials and Gen-Z can bring just about anything back into existence – just take the fact that people are ditching their iPhones in favour of flippable 00s styles and shell necklaces now seem like a viable style choice if you’re looking for examples.
Following Sophia Coppola’s ill-fated attempt to buy the brand a few years back, it was finally resurrected in 2015, and with it came its iconic angels, collaborations with adidas, and, unsurprisingly, a whole heap of knock-offs. Not to mention the fact the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Adwoa Aboah, Kendall Jenner, and the woman that launched a thousand trends – Bella Hadid, duh – have been spotted wearing the cult label since it landed back on the scene. The rest, much like the artistic movement the trend draws on in the first place, is history.