Artist James Jean’s surreal illustrations on Prada Spring Summer 2008 (left) and Resort 2018 (right).
Now here’s a crash course on Trembled Blossoms for those who aren’t familiar with it: It’s not a film or an art work, or a sensorial, site-specific display, because it’s actually all three – as well as one of the most memorable catwalk collections from the 2000s.
The year was 2007 and the design studio 2X4 – a close, longtime collaborator of Prada – roped in Taiwanese-American artist James Jean to work on not only the label’s Spring Summer 2008 runway set and collection, but also wallpaper for its Epicentre store in Soho, New York. Then best known within the comics industry for his lush, twistedly surreal cover illustrations, Jean dreamt up a phantasmagorical art nouveau-style print – sinister fairies and all – that lent an unexpected, rebellious edge to gossamer, ’50s-inspired silk dresses, tunic tops and pants. The accompanying mural, “Florid”, was a watercolour-like panorama of wild blooms and nymphs that swept all 60m of one side of the boutique’s interior.
Originally a wallpaper mural, Jean’s first tie-up with the brand ended up anchoring the latter’s S/S ’08 show, collection and campaign.
Exclusive looks for China with Jean’s prints in pop hues, debuted at a historical mansion Prada restored and revealed last year.
In the following year, the brand would reveal a hauntingly charming animated series, bringing to life Jean’s Avatar-like heroines (mind you, the James Cameron film had yet to be released), still available for viewing on the brand’s website. To celebrate its launch, parties were thrown at Prada’s Epicentres in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo with the same art work now flanking windows, pillars and – in the case of Japan – the building.
That was how big a deal Trembled Blossoms was. Before it, illustration-meets-fashion collaborations were a novelty; its scale no doubt helping to set into motion a trend that, for all its ubiquity today, remains much hyped about. It was also one of the earliest fashion projects to involve animation – yet another creative concept that’s become the norm in the digital age.
This Resort 2018, Jean reunites with the Italian luxury house, and the tie-up is a simpler affair. No mural, no short film (or at least not at press time). Instead, it’s centred squarely on creating prints to complement the art deco-inspired collection of wispy, feather-and-sequinned trimmed dresses and schoolgirl separates zinged up with a sporty splash of nylon.
Describing what he’s drawn as a “tangle of floral elements occasionally populated and overrun by rabbits”, Jean’s work runs down coquettish sheaths, off-shoulder windbreakers, and matching tops and pants strikingly reminiscent of the ones circa Trembled Blossoms. When Prada brought the collection to Shanghai last October as part of the unveiling of Rong Zhai, a 20th century mansion it had restored, exclusive new looks were added. This time the print came in vivid hues of red, yellow and blue, bringing an artsy, psychedelic bent to pretty cheongsam-esque ensembles.
In recent years, Jean (right) has become the go-to artist among cult filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky, who hired him for the posters for his latest flick, Mother!
These days, Jean’s an even bigger name, as recognised in the world of fine arts and movies as he is among graphic novel geeks. His otherworldly acrylic paintings have been exhibited all across the US and Japan. Darren Aronofsky got him to create the posters for his hotly anticipated psychological horror flick Mother! Ditto Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049.
On Instagram (@jamesjeanart), he has 688K followers, while his Frank Gehry home in LA was featured in Wallpaper the middle of last year. Here, the poetic artist shares a few tips and quips on creativity and collaborations in the social media age.
On social media’s influence on an artist
“I’ve always taken pictures, but social media has forced me to become a more prolific photographer. There’s pressure to produce content, to reach more people, to shape the audience’s perception of my work. It’s satisfying to receive a lot of engagement on a post, but it’s also dangerous when something is too popular. I don’t want to cater to an audience, but too many likes, comments and re-tweets can corrupt the creative process. Like many others, I suffer from the unrelenting assault of content, but I use it to get a survey of the collective unconscious and react against the dominant trends of the day.”
Jean’s whimsical prints for Prada Resort 2018 are arranged to look as if they’re growing and wrapping around the bags and clothes.
On the difference between working with fashion and film
“Frequently, I start out with one idea, but once it becomes more concrete in the form of a drawing, it branches off into various unexpected and surprising tangents. For Mother!, I worked closely with Darren Aronofsky and we started out with one idea that rapidly evolved into something else entirely. I was aiming for a final, polished image. However, with Miuccia Prada, we started from a few reference points selected from my Instagram. [And essentially] I was providing material that will be altered – sometimes dramatically – for the clothing and runway.”
On what makes a successful art/fashion tie-up
“When you smash together the DNA of two distinct entities, and you end up with a mutation that feels new, exciting and transformative. The artist brings with him or her all sorts of connotations and associations, and hopefully, his or her story complements and continues the history of the brand.”
On what to buy from Prada Resort 2018
“[Of everything that my work appears on in the collection], I would recommend [my fans] a bag, because it most recalls a sculptural object that can be admired on its own without requiring a body to fill it out.”
This story first appeared in Female's January 2018 issue.