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With All This Trompe L’Oeil, It’s Hard Knowing What Is Real Highsnobiety

Fashion’s having its Is It Cake? moment. The viral Netflix show saw master cake makers create everything from suitcases to bowling balls out of cake with such precision that people couldn’t tell what was real and what was cake.

Now, whenever I see a new fashion collection, I’m similarly left questioning what is real and what is a clever illusion.

Fashion designers have mastered the art of deception over the past few seasons, tricking us through clever prints that make two-dimensional objects look 3-D — otherwise known as trompe l’œil.

Jean Paul Gaultier mesh tattoo
Jean Paul Gaultier, Press

A French word that roughly translates to "trick the eye," it’s a technique that has its roots in art and can be found used by everyone from the great masters to contemporary artist.

And while fashion designers have been known to experiment with this style of deception since the early 20th century, it’s increased in its use. Louis Vuitton is printing realistic socks and thighs to the tops of its boots; Loewe is making clothing look like digital pixels; and there are countless brands using trompe l’œil to print bodies onto clothing — a trend that can be traced back to Jean Paul Gaultier in the ’90s.

Louis Vuitton's $2,500 Illusion Ankle Boots with painted-on socks, heels, and human legs
Louis Vuitton, Press

No brand has quite perfected the sleight of hand more than Bottega Veneta, though. The Italian house can seemingly manipulate leather to look like any fabric: denim jeans, cotton sweatsuits, silk tank tops, flannel shirts — it’s done the lot.

Believe it or not, the sweatsuit worn by A$AP Rocky in the photo below is entirely Bottega Veneta leather. I’d have bet my life earnings on it being cotton if I hadn’t seen Rocky and Veneta pull off similar stunts in the past.

a$ap rocky jogging outfit
RAAK / Backgrid, Press

Designers have toyed with trompe l’œil in the past, it was first used by Elsa Schiaparelli in the late ’20s and Martin Margiela was known to use it regularly, but the current wave of designers is taking the technique to new lengths.

Down below, we break down some of our favorite pieces of trompe l’œil clothing available to shop now. And be warned, nothing that you see below is exactly as it seems.

Keep Scrolling for Our Favorite Trompe L’œil Pieces

Off-White™ Backpack Shirt

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You don’t get to use any of the functional features of a backpack with this shirt but you do get to look like you’re wearing one. The print on this shirt is so realistic that most people probably won’t even realize the backpack is fake.

Jean Paul Gaultier Trompe l’oeil Tattoo Longsleeve Top

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Taken straight out of the archives, tattoo tops like this one are a Jean Paul Gaultier staple. Almost 30 years on from the first time the designer created mesh tops with fake tattoos printed on, the concept remains almost every bit as provocative (and popular).

Louis Vuitton Illusion High Boot

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For just short of $2.5K, these Louis Vuitton boots come with fake socks and a bit of fake leg. Available with two skin tones to choose from, the end result is highly realistic.

Y/Project Compact Print Shirt

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Reminiscent of Maison Margiela‘s Spring 1996 collection — where the Maison photocopied vintage clothes and then printed the scans onto other clothing — this shirt has a photo of another shirt printed onto it. Y/Project achieved the crinkled effect by taking one of its archive shirts, compacting it in sheer mesh, and photographing the result.

Maison Margiela Wool V-Neck Sweater

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Having just mentioned Maison Margiela’s historic use of trompe l’œil, here’s a contemporary example. One side of this v-neck sweater doesn’t look like a flat surface thanks to a yellow-colored print which is supposed to replicate the effect of a sandstorm.

Syndical Chamber Wet Dress

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Getting the wet look without ever having to touch a bit of water, Syndicate Chamber is one of the brands that specializes in trompe l’œil. This dress even goes as far as having matching, "wet" detached sleeves.

Doublet Trompe L’Oeil Boxers

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I thought the Gucci boots above, which include a fake leg printed on them, were wild — until I saw these Doublet boxers. The Japanese label has gone one step further by printing a fake torso, complete with a belly button.

Diesel K-Patmos Knit Sweater

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Unlike some of the highly realistic options on this list, I don’t think you’re going to fool anyone into thinking this sweater is a denim jacket. The printed jacket does make for an unconventional look though.

Bottega Veneta Printed Leather Pants

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For the eye-watering price of $7000, Bottega Veneta has created pants that (until you look a bit closer) exactly resemble a standard pair of baggy, washed blue jeans. You can only admire how closely this fabric is made to look like denim.

Marni Knit Sneakers

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The upper of this Marni sneaker is made entirely from a soft, knitted sock, although you wouldn’t know it at first look. Everything on the upper of this sneaker is made to fool you, even the laces aren’t real.

Y/Project x Jean Paul Gaultier Trompe L’Oeil Belt Sweatshirt

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No need to splash out on a Y/Project belt when this T-Shirt exists. Created together with the master of trompe l’oeil, Jean Paul Gaultier, nobody will know that you’re not wearing the real thing at first glance of this top.

Bottega Veneta Printed Leather Jacket

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Nobody is doing trompe l’œil clothing that’s more realistic than Bottega Veneta, so we had to include them in this roundup twice. Seen worn by A$AP Rocky as part of a full sweatsuit, this jacket is not made of cotton but instead (you guessed it) it’s all leather.

Maison Margiela Trompe L’oeil Tabi Shopping Tote

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A tote bag that’s got Margiela’s Glam Slam bag printed on it, this design further confuses things by featuring a real, three-dimensional strap hanging from the fake Glam Slam bag.

Sugarhill Gill Leather Denim Jacket

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It’s not just Bottega Veneta that can make leather look like denim, Japanese label Sugarhill is also at it. This 100% leather jacket is printed with what looks like the weave of denim.

TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist. Trompe-L’œil Shirt

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TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist. is turning medical gowns into fashion by printing them with fake floral shirts. It’s a wild concept but the print does mask the fact it’s a medical gown pretty successfully.

Jimmy Choo x Jean Paul Gaultier Cuff Over-The-Knee Boots

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Making a pair of jeans fall perfectly onto your boots is no easy feat. Jimmy Choo and Jean Paul Gaultier have a solution though, printing a pair of jeans onto a folded-over portion of these boots.

(DI)VISION Printed Jeans

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Why go through the effort of ironing when your jeans come pre-wrinkled? Well, they’ve been given a print to look like they’re already wrinkled at least.

Stella McCartney Pearl Trompe L’oeil Print Midi Dress

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Pearls can be expensive and if you’re wearing lots at once (like on this dress) then they can get in the way. Overall, there’s a strong case for wearing printed pearls instead of the real thing.

Acne Studios Trompe L’oeil Roll-Neck Top

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Lace tops might look great but they can be uncomfortable. This one stops you from being constrained by tied-up laces as they’re printed onto the sheer top.

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