February 19 2010
Lucia van der Post
Scarves are never truly out of fashion, but sometimes they’re having more of a moment than others. Right now, take it from me, scarves are hot. The right one can add zing to a boring outfit, enhance the faces of real beauties (think Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn) and lend glamour to their plainer sisters.
All manner of designers and artists are keen to turn this familiar accessory into something special and personal. One can see why: the flat surface is almost like a canvas and the glowing colours of silk allow for all sorts of painterly experiments. Plenty of scarf manufacturers have appropriated images from well-known artists to come up with their own ranges – Fashion Scarves & Shawls has a series with images taken from artists such as Klimt, Monet and Renoir ($33.95) – and today all sorts of artists are displaying their talents on little squares of silk.
Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry, for instance, has done a particularly enchanting version for Tate Modern (second picture; 90cm x 90cm in pure silk, £64.99). Inspired by the printed silk maps given to second world war pilots to help them escape if shot down over enemy territory, Perry has come up with a scarf that he describes as “a social and cultural map to help aspiring artists navigate the hostile territory on their way to being accepted by the establishment”.
At Liberty, one of the ground-floor rooms is dedicated entirely to the matter of scarves. Besides managing to persuade many a chic woman about town that instead of a new dress she should think about what a fantastic scarf could do for her, it has also collaborated with a range of artists. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood has produced some extraordinarily fresh and vivid painterly scarves (and he looks pretty good in them himself) featuring guitars, wild colours and orchids (in silk, £235; wool, £290; and cashmere, £395). Mike McInnerney, a curator of popular print culture, has created Purple Busy Bouquet, a deliciously subversive design, which at first sight is demure and ladylike, but look more closely and you’ll see that the flowers are also faces (third picture; £110); while new discovery Michael Birch has some charmers at £135 a time (first picture).
Meanwhile, Hermès (the master of the art of scarf) will launch its second collection of special limited-edition scarves by artists later this year. Its last collection consisted of six faithful reproductions of the historic abstract series Homage to the Square by Josef Albers, the Bauhaus artist who died in 1976. The square, after all, is part of what the house calls the “Hermès alphabet”. The 90cm silk squares (fourth picture) come in black, white, yellow, green, orange and blue, and only 200 of each was produced.
Numbered and endorsed by the Albers Foundation, each comes with a device to hang it on a wall (when it’s not embellishing the person) as well as with a book about the artist, which goes some way to explaining the price of £1,820. (If it’s any consolation, his paintings sell for hundreds of thousands.) Less expensive, but still gorgeous, is Hermès’ Lilanga scarf based on a painting by African artist Georges Lilanga, which sells for £250.