POSTCARD PRINTS first made their mark on the fashion map after World War II, when after years on the home front, Americans began to travel—or at least dream of traveling. Sound familiar? Now that the world is once again opening up to tourism, prints compiling images of postcards are back, busily stoking wanderlust.
This season, miniature missives from destinations like Tokyo, London, Dubai, Milan and Hawaii plaster Balenciaga’s bodycon separates. Joseph Ribkoff’s capri pants and sleeveless shirt dresses superimpose images of vintage postcards on a tropical landscape, and Dolce & Gabbana’s new bag is a trompe l’oeil postcard, complete with a scrawled message that reads “Tanti Saluti!” (or “Best Regards!”).
Zimmermann—a brand out of Australia, which locked down harder than most countries—named its resort 2022 collection the Postcard. Luxe touches like chain hardware and laser-cut details update the nostalgic prints, which use imagery from graphic artist James Northfield’s vintage c. 1930s travel posters. Creative director Nicky Zimmermann noted that she likes to balance old and new: “The prints [have] a retro feel, but the vibrant colors and techniques used are modern.”
While postcard prints might read as retro now, they once showed off cutting-edge textile technology, said textile historian Leigh Wishner, the digital media manager at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum in Los Angeles. In the late 1940s, newly developed printing processes made it possible to reproduce photographic images on fabric, sparking a craze for postcard prints as well as novelty ties and Hawaiian shirts. Sometimes called souvenir prints or tourist prints, the patterns blended words and images, people and places in a carnivalesque collage as breezy as those dashed-off dispatches vacationers sent before the advent of texting and Instagram. Though digital devices may have replaced the original paper postcard, social media has made these fabrics relevant once more. “An accumulation of snapshots makes a lot of sense to people,” Ms. Wishner said.
A fan of 1940s and contemporary postcard prints, Ms. Wishner believes the key to pulling off the look is to “keep it simple and let the pattern be the star.” The prints play well with neutrals and current accessories, she added—vintage accompaniments can result in a costumey look. When “West Side Story” star Ariana DeBose wore Zimmermann’s sorbet-hued postcard polo last year on “The Drew Barrymore Show,” she paired it with pale periwinkle wide-leg pants and creamy Stuart Weitzman platform sandals for a silhouette that alluded to 1940s style without cosplaying it.
Knowingly kitschy, postcard prints can lend even a jet-less staycation an escapist vibe that will have Instagram followers commenting, “Wish I were there.”
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