Sneakerheads are no strangers to a viral launch, but rarely do these exclusive drops also catch the eyes of decorative arts enthusiasts. Last December, however, a historic collaboration between two German icons—Meissen and Adidas—birthed a pair of shoes of which any collector would be in awe. Hand-painted and topped with actual porcelain, the Meissen x Adidas Originals ZX8000 Porcelain may not be the most practical accessory, but it certainly makes the case for fashion as art.
“Combining historical shapes with contemporary and modern designs has refreshed and rejuvenated the brand,” Meissen CEO Tillmann Blaschke tells AD. Coinciding with the one-of-a-kind sneaker—which was recently sold at Sotheby’s for $126,000—Meissen and Adidas released a more widely available shoe and coordinating mugs. The year prior, Meissen collaborated with Supreme on a porcelain Cupid figurine sporting the cult-favorite skate company’s Box Logo tee.
Though Chinese porcelain production can be traced back thousands of years, Meissen became the first European maker of this high-fired “white gold” when Augustus II the Strong founded the company’s manufactory in 1710. Three centuries after the monarch declared he possessed maladie de porcelaine, it seems fashion designers too have come down with a case of “porcelain fever.”
In many instances, fashion designers are avid collectors. Such is the case for Tory Burch, whose decorative-arts passion projects include reissuing Dodie Thayer’s famed lettuceware (in a pastel pink shade, no less) in 2019. Eight years after first acquiring a sculpture by the painter and ceramicist Francesca DiMattio, Burch collaborated with the New York–based artist for her fall-winter 2020 collection. “Aesthetics associated with domesticity and womanhood have been dismissed as decorative, sweet, and pretty,” DiMattio said in an interview posted on Tory Burch’s blog. “I try to imbue the decorative with strength and power.” Models clad in candy-colored, abstracted motifs (gleaned from DiMattio and Burch’s shared love of Turkish, English, and French porcelain) walked a Burch runway where 11 of the artist’s imposing sculptures set the scene.
Paco Rabanne’s fall 2020 ready-to-wear collection also featured porcelain, as well as a slew of historical gender-bending references. Joan of Arc chain-mail garments met fanciful floral frocks, some of which were paired with the fashion house’s Iconic 1969 bag in a floral porcelain variety. In the loungewear realm, Karen Mabon’s recently launched ceramics collection is a love letter to the category’s diversity. Josiah Wedgwood, Pablo Picasso, Mary Fedden, and Grayson Perry are among the artists who inspired the whimsically illustrated robes, scarves, and pajamas. “I wanted to capture the feeling of staring into the V&A’s glass cabinets—all the different styles nestled together, bursting with color,” Mabon, who began collecting ceramics after visiting Leach Pottery in St. Ives, tells AD. “In lockdown, serving meals on colorful, decorative plates has brought me so much joy, and I have appreciated my collection on a new level.”
During lockdown, British designers Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton have also found renewed inspiration in their mismatched vintage china collection, assembled over years working near Portobello Road’s markets—as have their daughters. For a homeschooling project about making art from found objects, they transformed a broken plate into jewelry. Their creations reminded the designers of kintsugi, the Japanese practice of mending broken pottery with a golden lacquer to honor its unique history. During this time, Thornton also discovered Dutch artist Bouke de Vries’ powerful work In Pieces but Holding It Together, in which a glass jar contains broken pieces of blue and white china.
Apt metaphors for navigating the pandemic’s myriad challenges with resilience, kintsugi and De Vries's sculpture formed the basis of Preen by Thornton Bregazzi’s spring 2021 ready-to-wear collection, whose patchwork garments were comprised exclusively of leftover fabrics. The designers also tapped luxury costume jeweler Vicki Sarge, who was coincidentally also a kintsugi admirer and friend of de Vries. Combining Bregazzi’s broken china with gold enamel paint, Sarge refined the children’s samples into one-of-a-kind wearable brooches, necklaces, earrings, and more.
Sarge believes that handcraft, personalization, and sustainability are vital for the collective future of fashion and jewelry. The same can be said for cleverly integrating historical art forms into the contemporary wardrobe, as Preen by Thornton Bregazzi has done masterfully. “We love the idea of reinventing something that has lived another life and been loved,” Thornton tells AD. “If something is already incredibly beautiful, it’s just about putting it into the modern world.”