The Eyes have It

Thumbing through the New York Times Style Magazine yesterday, two features caught my eye: one on the beautiful botanical compositions of the French artist Carmen Almon, and another on eye motifs in current clothing and accessories collections. Everything comes around again in fashion, and there is certainly nothing new about the decorative use of the anatomical eye. I was immediately reminded of one of the most spectacular portraits of Elizabeth I, the “rainbow” portrait by Isaac Oliver, in which all-seeing and all-hearing eyes and ears adorn the seemingly-eternal Queen’s gilded gown.


Eyeful Elizabeth

Isaac Oliver, The “Rainbow Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth I, c. 1600, Hatfield House.

I was also reminded of the Georgian and Regency custom of wearing somewhat secretive “lover’s eyes”, miniature paintings of one of your beloved’s eyes, on a chain or as a brooch or ring, supposedly initiated in England by the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) as an expression of his devotion to his unmarriageable mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. Eye miniatures seem to have had an earlier, French, political purpose, and then of course the “all-seeing” eye of providence became an important Masonic symbol that somehow found its way onto our own dollar bill, but the hundreds of decorative objects that have survived seem to be predominately love tokens. Two early nineteenth-century brooches from the Victoria & Albert museum are below, and you can see many more examples here and here.

Eye brooch 1800 V and A

eye miniature V and A

Two early nineteenth-century unsigned watercolor eye miniatures, Victorian & Albert Museum, London (Note the diamond tear in the lower one!)

The Times “This and That” item, Eyes Everywhere, features eye-embellished flats and a gorgeous organza dress from Christian Dior, as well as the amazing “blue-eyed” ring by Colette and a Kenzo sweatshirt, both below. To complete the ensemble, I scouted out an optical skirt and another blue-eyed accessory–this time a clutch. It would take a daring woman indeed to wear all these items together, transforming herself into a veritable eyeful.

Eye Ring Colette at Fragments

Eye top Kenzo

Eye Skirt by Illustrated People


Skirt by Illustrated People; Lulu Guiness clutch.

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