I have an obsession with swans. I think they are beautiful creatures and they play a big role in my imaginary.
One of my favourite things is tracking down swans in fashion. Of course, the first example that comes to mind is the infamous Bjork dress.
But many fashion designers have used swans in their designs. The latest example comes from Giles spring/summer 2012 runway.
and even red swans
But Giles Deacon wasn’t the only one drawing inspiration from swans. Here it is Miu Miu spring/summer 2011 swan dress
and Givenchy haute couture spring/summer 2011
And Marc Jacobs
For a more casual look Emily Temple cute recently came out with swan dresses and jewels
Swans have a big role in art, too. One of the most common themes is Leda and the swan, telling the tale of Leda’s rape by Zeus, who used to disguise himself in various forms to commit his acts of adultery/violence, and took the form of a swan to violate her.
William Butler Yeats retold the story in the poem “Leda and the swan” and he didn’t shy away from the violent and disturbing connotations of the myth as many artists did when choosing how to portray the story.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
As many other popular themes of classical and Renaissance art, Leda and the swan was reinvented in the 19th and 20th century. I am particularly fond of Louis Icart’s Leda and the swan, which shows a Leda completely in control, a sensual woman, a tempress, and a black swan rather than a white one. There is humour, and this painting looks more like a consensual act of passion rather than rape/a woman submitting herself to the mighty God who wishes to take pleasure with her.
A modern take of the myth was issued in Love and titillates us with its ambiguity. Is she a victim? Is she dead?
My favourite costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, who sadly passed away in January, realised this swan gown for Mirror, mirror.
And an honorable mention goes to Black swan, who made Swan lake popular with the masses.
Swan lake is one of my favourite ballets and if you haven’t seen Svetlana Zakharova telling the heartbreaking story of Odette you definitely should check youtube, they have the whole ballet up.
My favourite photographer, Tim Walker, often uses swan imaginary in his photo shoots, and I made a little photo set of the best examples of his work concerning swans.
The swan maiden tale is very popular in folklore: a girl who is able to transform herself into a swan, thanks to her swan skin or a magical vest, is taken captive by a human man who hides her magic robe, forcing her to give up her powers and swan-form and to marry him. After many years and after having born children to her husband, the swan maiden finds her garment again and flies away. It is again a tale of violence and coercion. A creature that doesn’t belong to the mundane life of common human beings is forced to give up her freedom, her homeland and her family by a man too smitten with her to ask for her opinion. She submits but never stops longing for her lost powers and when given the chance abandons the world she doesn’t belong to without remorse (and why shouldn’t she? she has been raped and forced into marriage by a complete stranger).
The wild swans by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a beautiful princess who sacrifices a lot to be able to rescue her eleven brothers from the curse that transformed them into swans. A story about sacrifice, siblings’ devotion and a virginal heroine who defies all odds.
The other famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale involving a swan is The ugly duckling, which is not the story of how any humble duck can become a beautiful swan, but how your fate is set the day of your birth. You can only become what you already were at birth, no matter if it may take some time to reach your full potential.
After this journey in Swan land it seems like these graceful animals are often associated with the most gruesome aspects of life, social injustice, rape, violence, death. Is is only a volative impression? Are our tales concerning other animals more forgiving? Probably not. In the end, our tales tell something about who we are, more than being appropriate reflections of animal behavior.
Better end on a humorous note with these crazy swan shoes by Kobi Levi