Not sure whether to laugh or cry? With the news cycle continuing to rollercoaster, it’s a common dilemma, and with the number of references to clowns and circuses in the fall ready-to-wear and couture collections, it seems designers are feeling the same way as the rest of us.

This represents a shift toward something visceral, and away from the Surrealism we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. The Surrealist art movement, which flourished between the World Wars, was focused on manifesting the subconscious in real life, and its practitioners often tried to achieve this through strange, and usually symbolic, juxtapositions of words or images that reframed accepted perceptions of the world. Famous examples include Elsa Schiaparelli’s shoe hat and the trompe l’oeil Tear dress she made in collaboration with Salvador Dalí.

The escapism that Surrealism provided at the beginning of the pandemic was strange in a pleasing and nostalgic way. The mood has changed, there’s an impatience to get on with things, but we remain in an in between state, looking towards a future that remains very much a work in progress. No one knows yet what the effects of the Delta variant will be or what hybrid work will be like. There are lots of emotions on the surface, and as people start socializing again, there’s a larger audience to hide, or share, those feelings with.

Rather than run away with the circus, many people would like to run from it. At the couture shows, designers responded with more options for day, which was refreshing and in tune with a larger desire to get back to our routines. But in more fanciful looks, they also acknowledged that there’s still a circus-mirror aspect to life in 2021. In that case, it seems only natural to send in the clowns. The same dichotomy was active in the ready-to-wear collections, many of which featured collars, which seem optimized for the horizontal existence that is life on Zoom. Talk about a circus….