Fashion collector and designer Tracy Bellaries discusses how the work of the Pre-Raphaelites influences her own craft.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom
So said William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and perhaps this is the very marriage Rossetti is depicting. The harmony of contradictions which make life interesting and culture vital.
I work with vintage fashion so I witness, and use, these contradictions on a regular basis. It’s part of what I do to observe how innovation begins with reinterpreting the past, how good taste is about inspired selection, and all of this is readily apparent in Rossetti’s work.
The subject of the painting is the Song of Songs, an ancient biblical poem concerning love, devotion and the rules of attraction. Rossetti, like many artists, focuses on beauty as the central metaphor for those eternal intangibles, love, lust, pleasure, morality. The language may vary but, as Rossetti fans Led Zeppelin put it, the song remains the same.
Rossetti had the entire world at his disposal when he painted The Beloved. Asia, Africa, South America. And all of history. From the time of Solomon, to the vision of the early Renaissance, to medieval values and integrity. Compositionally too, the painting doesn’t stay still, like the Song of Songs it maintains its position through constant motion. The bride’s beauty is constructed from, and is in harmony and contrast with, her surroundings. It fascinates me that Rossetti’s initial visual inspiration was a Japanese kimono as it reminds me that my own interest in Japonisme, and medieval costume, can be traced back to the PRB and the aesthetic movement via 60s and 70s fashion and music.
So when Florence Welch wore one of my kimonos it made sense to interpret her look as Pre-Raphaelite. Not because of her red hair and a passing resemblance to Elizabeth Siddal. Not because of my design’s, vibrant colours, beading and embroidery. But because she can take on any element and it immediately becomes part of her identity.
Like the Beloved, we’re all an excess of contradictions and we can all define our own beauty using the chaos which surrounds us. We just need the right outfit.
Tracy Bellaries of BunnysVintage is a vintage fashion collector and designer. You can see Tracy at Late at Tate Britain on Friday 7 December.