Beautifully edgy yet playfully whimsical. A myriad of popping colors paired with the more intense, muted hues. Divine leg candy. Paradoxically sexy dresses covered in pure Bosch. This is how I would describe the clothing of BlackMilk, an online retailer based in Australia. This “grunge chic” store is one of many that have surfaced online in the past couple of years—it is similar to RAD clothing and Nasty Gal. I discovered this Australian gem after searching through the “#PradoMuseum” posts sprinkled throughout Instagram. A particularly striking image caught my eye: one of a dark haired girl sporting a dress with Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch printed on it. It was fantastic! I traced the dress to BlackMilk clothing, an online sight that is known for their hand sewn dresses, swimsuits, and most importantly, leggings. Their art history designs are so popular that many of the leggings are completely out of stock for the time being. The price range is around 85 AUD plus shipping, but the initially steep price seems reasonable considering everything is handmade. BlackMilk was started by James Lillis, an Aussie who randomly took up sewing and transformed his passion into an ultrachic hub of fashion and art history. Along with prints based off Bosch works, the works of Alphonse Mucha (a stunning art nouveau artist) and stained glass from a cathedral in Switzerland (in the Gothic style) are represented as well.
My affair with Garden of Earthly Delights escalated to an intense peak in the summer of 2013 when I visited the posh Prado Museum in Madrid. Seeing the disturbing imagery, grotesque creatures, and weirdly sexual landscape was definitely an eye-opener, but I loved it nonetheless. The bizarre nature entranced me, and I was a groveling groupie to Bosch’s work ever since. Garden of Earthly Delights was painted from 1505 to 1515 and displays the Northern Renaissance style. The main subject is human sin (evidenced in the multitude of pasty couples engaging in….interesting sex) and the damning consequences of it. The painting is a triptych, meaning it is split into three separate panels (which was common for Renaissance paintings at the time). The first painting (left) is a lovely rendition of Adam and Eve…at least on the surface. Behind the angelic Jesus and Eve in some strange half-up, half-down position, frolicking composite creatures and a sinister pink owl in a watering hole dot the fantastical landscape. However, this imagery is utterly normal compared to the sexual chaos that ensnares the senses in the middle panel. This scene is supposed to be the earthly “Garden,” the one in which humans fulfill their primal desires with no inhibitions (which apparently includes bird sex and carrying giant scaly fish). Because this is a Northern Renaissance painting, everything, from the fruit to the eggs, is a symbol for something. For example, the strawberries, cherries, grapes, and pomegranates are symbols of fertility; this further ties in to the theme of the seductive ‘femme fatale’ and man being an obsequious slave to his own lust. Really though, the orgy of white bodies sucking on a giant, suggestively shaped strawberry in the background is a bit much. Finally, the right panel looks like the zombie apocalypse blundered right through the quaint Netherlands (where Bosch was from) in the 1500s. This is supposed to represent hell, and the dark tones, disembodied faces floating around the carnage, and the heinous images certainly proclaim that. This isn’t the hell where Jesus wags his finger and the devil turns up the thermometer by five degrees. This the kind of hell where you are pinned to a dinner table with knives, become the human feces of some mouse overlord, are crucified on a hurdy-gurdy, and get crushed to death by a pair of floating ears held together by a blade (see if you can find all the images!). Seriously, it’s strange. Find an expandable image of this last unsettling vision of fallen humanity here. Basically, the Garden of Earthly Delights is a warning about the perils of living frivolously and without morals; there are some theories about salvation and alchemy (just like alchemy turns substances to gold, Jesus turns human errors into spiritual gold), but personally, I like to think of Bosch as some crazy maniac tooting on about humans’ erroneous ways.
I also want to mention the Mucha inspired clothing that BlackMilk manufactures. Alphonse Mucha (1860 to 1939) was a Czech artist known for his sinuous women with ethereal tendrils floating out of their skulls in the art nouveau style. He was a commercial artist that designed graphic posters and advertisements (i.e. the one below for cigarettes). He worked in Paris but was eventually arrested by the Gestapo in Czechoslovakia. I find his work so mesmerizing because it has a classical vibe infused with modernity and sensuality. The figures are not stick thin, but overflowing on every possible level. They are brimming with vitality and an otherworldly feeling, as if they only exist in the unreal realm of paper and ink. Dainty yet forceful. Graceful yet likely to shatter into a million tiny shards if tapped lightly. Such dichotomies—I absolutely them.
Finally, BlackMilk also has amazing leggings that look like dismembered shards of stained glass. This is how they describe their holy leg ware:
“This print is from the Notre-Dame cathedral in Switzerland. The two central figures are the angel Gabriel, and Mary. The flowers are symbolic of the birth of Christ. The city in the background is Jerusalem, and it is in shadow, prefiguring the death of the as yet unborn child. So cool.”
Pretty neat, right?
All in all, I love companies that fuse art history with high fashion, historical culture with trendy style. Better yet, all the pieces are handmade and come in a variety of sizes (thank goodness ‘one size fits all’ was banished!) In the mood for modeling some awkward Bosch on your body? Check out the dresses here. Thanks to BlackMilk clothing for letting me use your images!!
Here is a list of art history inspired pieces that are no longer being made (bring them back please!!) Find more on their museum page (past styles that are now retired).