For many, fashion is a game of self-expression and of power – power over ourselves, power over others’ perceptions, and power over social norms. Recently, tarot and playing cards have acted as both aesthetic and conceptual inspiration for designers who wish to draw on their associations with power dynamics and with a more modern interpretation of femininity, witchcraft, and political agency.
Just like fashion, card games are all about power shifts. Their language is deeply ingrained in our idioms; keeping your cards close to your chest, putting your cards on the table, or, like the Dolce & Gabbana Spring 2018 runway, being a queen of hearts. Their recent Queen of Hearts collection was a show all about love and feminine power. It was a way of paying homage to the brand’s aesthetic and cultural history while celebrating the classic, dynamic D&G girl; she is strong, sensual, and, most importantly, in control. As it was for Dolce & Gabbana, the use of tarot imagery in Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior Resort 2018 collection was a choice rooted in history and in the creator’s own beliefs. The collection, shown in the mystic Santa Monica mountains, is both a nod to his fascination with tarot and a statement on the future of the brand. A recent Vogue article by Nicole Phelps explains how the designer used specific tarot imagery to communicate the significance of the project; the death card, associated with renewal and transformation, and the Tower card, indicative of change, were reflective of a new beginning since the end of Chiuri’s three decade long collaboration with Pierpaolo Piccioli.
The imagery on the Dior runway belonged to the Motherpeace Tarot, designed in the late ‘70s to introduce more inclusive tarot representations, and was used in collaboration with its creators, Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble. The deck, drawing on the female goddesses of indigenous peoples around the world, was innovative in its focus on matriarchal figures and on a more inclusive perception of tarot imagery. Dior’s use of it was a clear signal that times are changing.
Other designers, such as Clio Peppiatt, Alexander McQueen, and Gucci, with their evening gowns embellished with hearts pierced by daggers and recurring “FUTURE” slogans of Spring 2017, have presented collections influenced by tarot and witchcraft. And lest they leave their runway of queens without counterparts, the D&G’s Spring 2018 Men’s collection featured suits printed with images of playing cards and modified tarot prints.
Many attribute this growing fascination with card games and modern witchcraft to an increase in young, politically active women discovering these cultures online. Through its associations with witchcraft, mystery and sexual liberation, tarot has come to symbolise an awe and fear of feminine power. Modern witchcraft, and its representation in fashion, is a statement, a way for young women to reassert their political and personal agency in a Trumpian climate of hyper-masculinity.