For some fashionistas, September means one thing: Vogue’s whopping fall fashion issue, packed with ads, articles, and influences for the year ahead. Each year, there’s speculation about which luminaries will appear in the magazine’s pages—and in the 1930s, writes Hannah Crawforth, Salvador Dalí shocked the modern art world by appearing in its pages as a designer, author, and illustrator.
Though the move to fashion was unexpected for some, explains Crawforth, it felt like a duty to Dalí, who thought he was obligated to push boundaries and contexts with his Surrealism. In the 1930s and 1940s, Crawforth notes, Dalí published “a surprising number of articles, illustrations, and cover designs” in Vogue. Crawforth contends that Dalí’s foray into fashion wasn’t a departure from Surrealism—in fact, it “perfectly encapsulates” the conflicts of the movement and the fashion magazines themselves.
According to Crawford, the fashion magazine itself is a Surrealist act. After all, it predicts the future even as it documents the past, even as it renders “its contents necessarily out of date the moment they come into existence in print.” Surrealists in Vogue and other fashion magazines toyed with this metaphor, which Crawforth calls “prophetic nostalgia”—the collision of Surrealist themes and art with a medium already obsessed with self-reflection.
These contradictions are also embodied, writes Crawforth, in fashion magazines’ supposed embrace of elite trends—even as they make those trends accessible to a mass audience. By sketching things like swimsuits in high Surrealist style, Dalí captured those tensions while raising his own popularity and profile. The pictures’ captions are as chaotic as the artist himself, translating fashion itself into Surrealist art. The result, writes Crawforth, was something wonderful indeed—a kaleidoscope of imitation, metaphor, and tongue-in-cheek message that made its way to the masses.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated to correct a typographical error.