Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...
by DSWarren in Vancouver
But for every answer there is a question that reveals not all is as clear-cut as we would like it to be. The reasons behind our actions or of those larger scenarios in the world are fraught with convoluted intricacies that underscore a necessity to look beneath the surface. Sometimes, for all that we look, it only leaves more questions, out technology and cumulative knowledge revealing how little we know.
So while we attempt to compartmentalize, rationalize, quantify and qualify our existence we have obscure aspects that cannot or at least have not been able to fully see. It is these aspects of life that are obscure to us, visible yet not clarified to a degree that we would like. The interpretation of this murkiness can sometimes only be explained or translated via literal means, and fashion acknowledges that in kind. Designers such as Peter Som and Vera Wang had blurred florals within their collection. The slurring of imagery is just enough to let us know what it I but remains incomplete in its clarity. Ducky Brown had some abstract prints that were also nebulous while Zimmerman's cloud prints also held vagueness in its execution. Yeohlee had a different take on the emotional degradation of the thought process in the form of a print of written scrawls overtaking itself into a sea of black. The psychological commentary is ripe for speculation of the thought process losing clarity as it runs over itself.
Perhaps this is where some can relate. The volume of what we are and the pace at which we are living it is running over itself. The experience of life becomes a bit of a blur that we try to make sense of, and not always can we capture its essence as much as its speed as our understanding becomes fleeting in the face of the enormity of all that there is. And thus the best way to express it is to catch it life in flight for us to muse over.
Originally this was going to be a topic to be covered on the heels of the frenzy known in the Big Four as Fashion Week. It came about at the same time as the Oscars, another momentous occasion where fashion flexes its muscles, succeeding in capturing attention when the event should center on cinematography. But film holds great importance in the world of fashion. It, as every other art form, stirs the imagination. A successful film resonates with the sentiments of the public, and can trigger sweeping influences in every design expression.
Those in the 90s can easily attest to this when looking at Merchant ivory films and period stories such as the epic “Titanic”. All inspired massive influences in design in the 90s as its fated romantic undertones and uncertainty of the future meshed well with the spirit of our lives as we came closer to a new millennium where all we knew was that our old ways held an expiration date.
But you cannot cultivate a phenomenon, as those in fashion learned with the hype surrounding the Great Gatsby remake. Although we see drop waists in virtually every collection currently, this is less to do with that film and more to do with a recognition of our coming on the centenary of the decade that ushered in the modern sportswear trend we live by today.
Our glance is less to do with the past than with the future and we had a role model of sorts when the film “her” came out. The long-distance forecasting by hipster-favored label Opening Ceremony showed an utterly intelligent and practical perspective in how fashion may evolve, taking into consideration more realistic approaches to fashion that mirror current modern sentiments, such as gender neutrality and function connecting with our tech. It also recognized the swing of fashion’s fickle tastes and our willingness to bring back aspects of fashion’s past as elements for inspiration. Hence, the high-waisted pant that was in the future-fascinated 50s and 80s came around for this film.
And given the power of the fresh setting in the face of the emotionally connecting storyline, it is bound to find influence with some collections, such as in Alexander Wang and Creatures of the Wind when looking at gender neutrality in modern design expression; at Richard Chai Love when witnessing how grunge elements were combined with the minimalist simplicity of the film; and at Milly, Barbara Casasola, Celine, John Galliano and Louis Vuitton where paper bag and high-waisted pants were featured.
But one needs to think about the fleeting nature in which seemingly modern affinities with our tech world and good story are not always enough to bring staying power to trends, a reason why this subject was put on hold for a while to be brought up when the prescient allure of the film has faded. A good example of stale dated technical influence in film is “Sex Lies and Videotape”. Here, the accessibility of recording our lives ushered in the YouTube/Vevo world of today, but any costuming trends that accompanied the emotional connection to this film did not last because the focus on the technology’s newness, central to the plot, faded as our tech progressed.
Our current fascination with how our tech world has become more integrated into our lives is also stale dated when seeing how the wearables market is threatened with clothing that integrates the very tech currently being reworked into accessories and how our tech is shrinking to the point of where it can be integrated into our bodies, something not happening in years down the road but currently as tech stories are coming out now. And given that we are creating smaller tech for use on our bodies having pockets deigned for tech that may no longer exist or be required may betray our gift of prediction the same way that previous generations with their images of the future did before us. Let’s also remember that we will have new technical qualities with manufacturing and textiles that we are not even remotely aware of that may very much influence our future aesthetic. The gender neutrality we may see as modern could be shunned in favor of another expression depending on what our culture values, and we cannot always know what that may be.
Another aspect to consider concerns trends brought back may only highlight why they left in the first place. Joaquin Phoenix complained about the high waist of the pants as being uncomfortable and restricting, not a feeling we’d associate as something we’d embrace when thinking of the evolution of fashion. Then again, we can’t seem to leave the impracticality of platform shoes behind, no matter how many times models wipe out on the runways. So perhaps any vision is up for grabs. But if you go shopping and find a few items reminiscent of the film not to your liking, take comfort in the evolution of fashion as you momentarily mumble “damn Her” and wait for the next season to arrive.
For a designer to remain relevant, he or she demonstrates a connection with the largesse of world affairs by translating current events, concepts, and sentiments in a garment format to convey connection with those in witness to its creation. It's kind of like creating a code that taps into the subconscious associations we have of the world around us, forged by years of consistent reinforcement of symbology. In the most basic form, colours hold associations that can trigger memories and elicit reactions to bring our moods and even actions. Decorators, for example, know this when carefully choosing colour schemes for restaurants. The foundation of this knowledge is worth billions with many industries relying on findings associated with this knowledge.
Designers have a more complex task, however. Under constraints to keep fashion fresh to continue interest while being germane to global events, designers must involve all aspects of interpretation to their wares. This means that cuts, shapes, materials, finishings, accessories, pattern and appliques all must contribute to relating and must balance innovation with conformity to the larger fashion climate. Get too far ahead and it can go over the heads of the general public who aren't aware of the gift of trend prescience and can results in lost sales, negatively impacting survival. Come too late and one can lose cache for being out of touch or behind the curve, thus losing reputation as producing items worthy of investment. It's a stressful balancing act for those who aren't practiced in this field, especially when the well-being of others under ones employ comes into play.
Sometimes the inspiration is fro a lighter place, such as art or music. Other times the sophistication of understanding world affairs becomes the source. In the 80s, the awareness of starvation in Africa due to pronounced drought in the face of increasing world technological real-time reporting in contrast with our focus on celebrating consumption stirred our conscience. While mega-events such as Live Aid sought to tap into our altruism via pop culture framework, fashion was influenced by reflecting an interest in African culture. This resulted in tribalistic and African prints utilized in clothing trends, and encouraging appreciation in new international genres, such as the rise of “world music”.
Not always is the inspiration light or as optimistic. The exaggerated turbans and chunky shoulders of the war years in the 40s was a subversive reaction to the Nazi regime, where designers still in Europe were forced to design for the high society within those dictatorships. They chose to design what they thought was ridiculous and absurd creations made to distort and make ugly the wearer as away of creative retaliation in the only way that they could. Oddly enough, these elements found their way into fashion trends as the irony wasn't conveyed to those who followed fashion, but for those who were central to the efforts they felt some satisfaction in their outlet of expression.
Such is all forms of art. Sometimes the creator has a firm message or vision it wants to impress and sometimes the message is left for the audience to interpret, with the power of any reaction being more important than the specifics.
When looking at current events that have multiple facets of activity, the inspirations may not always be clear. Looking at Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine over the past year, one can see a few angles for inspiration. Here is a n area that has been under greater focus in the media, partly due to the Olympics and partly due politics. The more appreciative cultural view looks at the rich heritage from patterns, cuts and accessories native to the culture that form our associations. But another view focuses on these cultures as a result of the not-so-wonderful happenings. The hampering of LGBT rights by Russia while hosting a world-class international event was the wrong kind of attention that may have garnered incorporating elements from that culture into current design. Its escalating the threat of democracy in the Ukraine is also another event that can become inspiring, be it for designers that are reminded of the beauty these places can create or the designers that thrive in subversive or provocative inspiration because of what is happening in those places now.
So, while Russian-inspired accessories were found in collections by Badgley Mischka and eastern European folk print was seen at J. Mendel, KTZ's collection was dripping with Slavic elements in cut and print, some quite provocatively Ukrainian.
Fashion gets its direction from a few places. Some of it comes from trending organizations that invest great resources in interpreting current events and circumstances, comparing these with previous sociological and psychological patterns, and translating these into elements that are compiled into materials for dissemination. The process is intricate and comprehensive, with initial frameworks done up to a decade in advance, something outlined in the previous article “What It Has To Do With The Price Of Eggs In China” (November 11th, 2012).
The designers all subscribe to this material to keep abreast and to remain relevant. Select designers that demonstrate more acute awareness combine these with their own keen observations that are reinterpreted into design ideas. Hence, some of them take on a leadership role with regards to trend direction and sometimes being more attuned than the forecasters that supply the information to the degree that they forge new trends. Those in the forecasting industry pay attention to them and factor their activity into their data, knowing the symbiotic relationship is ongoing. Sometimes the external influences and sometimes the internal takes the reigns. It swings back and forth. Fellow influential designers are just as aware of this, so we see a continuous passing of the torch that compliments the design landscape.
A rising interest in examining our history and the processes behind this now merges with the explosion of big data. Our technology is such that we are able to compile and examine way more information than ever before. These technological advancements have afforded us more powerful processors to handle and extrapolate this mass data while engineers create sophisticated logarithms to better interpret this data so that we may find more reliable revelations of patterns of behaviour and thought. This complex process is giving way to more accurate predictive analytics that will shape our more mundane aspects of the day-to-day while also alerting us to potential crisis that we have seen before that may be appearing again.
The knowledge of this is, of course, of interest to a designer as emergence of patterns that match historical references give inspiration that supports creative interpretation. Design aspect from the 20s are here because many aspects connect and data released a few years ago showed how awareness could influence design (see “Garden party…at East Egg or Collingwood Manor?” May 27th, 2011). And as our world is an amalgam of various aspects, and our technology is such that we are aware of the sophistication of our current events, we are seeing multiple patterns melding together and are able to better separate the aspects and understand them.
The discussion of the parallels between 1914 and now were grimly covered by many sources in the media drawing parallels between political instabilities where the key players may be different but the combined circumstances remain intact to provide a similar potential outcome. Whatever relationship dynamics between the UK and Germany is now correspondingly mirrored between the US and China. And what is happening in the Middle East is comparable to what was in The Balkans a century ago.
Economical similarities exist as well, such as what union organizers faced prior to the First World War that is occurring today. Back then there was a threat of blacklisting employees because the employer would call them troublemakers for wanting to be paid for their work. The similar dynamic is unfolding as companies threaten to dismantle the union environment and we see a rise of unpaid internships unchallenged in the face of labour laws that should not allow this to occur in the first place.
All this plus the emergence of technological upheaval via new advancements and the uncertainties facing our roles in this new world are as similar now as it was then. Our entertainment has picked up on the more romantic aspect that is manifested in the heavily influential “Downton Abbey” series that poured through this period. How can a designer not be influenced by the output of costume detail in a show that is so hugely popular?
With all of these aspects merging, the militaristic aspects find a place in many collections. Aquilano.Rimondi, Araks, Bibhu Mohapatra, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, Gabriele Colangelo, Marni, Paul & Joe, Ports 1961, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Stella McCartney, Tia Cibani,Trussardi,Vanessa Bruno and Vivienne Westwood all used military wools. Alexander Wang had more military details in pockets while Band of Outsiders, Chanel, Hugo Boss, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Roberto Cavalli incorporated epaulettes into some of their pieces. Daks had a militaristic cape while Zadig & Voltaire had many military-inspired coats. Felder Felder mixed military olive with watercolours, Isabel Marant had military olive abounding and Emilio Pucci, Guy Laroche and Comme des Garcons Comme des Garcon played with military olive in a few pieces as well. Hunter Original had military brown boxy coats with patch pockets, Guy Laroche used similar pocket detail, Kenzo also to a certain extent and Versace had some militaristic button detail included into their designs. Antonio Marras and Isabel Marant also played with militaristic aspects in a few items while Ports 1961 played with militaristic cuts and Lanvin hybridized military cuts, merging them with a playful go-go edge. Some military leanings were seen at Vivienne Westwood as well. And if we’re going broad-based on the military theme, Roberto Cavalli had a 19th century military coat amongst his collection.
Of course the military theme merges with the current 40s fascination, emphasized by the continued use of peplums and conservative cuts suggesting a leaner time when rationing was part of the patriotic effort. Be it turn-of or mid-century we are aware of conflict, and fashion copes with the awareness the only way it can, for what more can it do outside of support any larger cultural efforts. And thankfully it hasn't come to that...yet.
Sometimes we catch ourselves when we see the byproducts, such as what this is doing to our fellow man or our environment. When the damage is such that we cannot turn away or live in denial any longer we have dialogue. Our technology has afforded us no excuses regarding awareness of the degree and detail of what we are and what we do, especially these days, and this manifests in the form of media stories of factory conditions and environmental carnage.
Deep down we know that we need to do more but doing so requires a level of change and sacrifice we aren't prepared for. That doesn't stop us from alleviating our conscience from having dialogue, or even making individual change in the hopes it inspires greater change with the hope that we can make improvements. In some ways we are, through the advent of waterless dyeing or recycled materials usage in garment creation in fast fashion, such as what H & M is doing. But this is not the whole of what is happening and we have a long way to go.
In the meantime, we continue our process and push our wares. We are heading into the future, and not everyone is ready to let go of the past just yet. We didn't last century, although there were inroads that we are emulating again as higher, more sophisticated incarnations of similar processes.
When looking at the Art Nouveau period, it merged an appreciation of naturalism in design with a drive towards quality to compensate for the low quality mass production that was preceding it. It came during a period of new technological advancements that were transforming the world. The gentle streamlining of the previous fashions was occurring but the vision was held in place by mindsets of the previous century because those who created the fashions were of that time period. How could they possibly know what the next generation would desire or think? So we had the sporty and progressive Gibson Girl but she still was bound by convention; her Hobble skirt still hobbled her freedom, even if it was stripped of volume and embellishment.
Out twentieth century advancement of dress would take hold in the hands of those who had affinity with the20th century, where its formative years would have little, if any, connection with the prior century. The rebelliousness and rejection of prior conventions lifted us to a new place that has become the foundation of where we are now.
But now a new century and a new millennium is in our hands. Like the Gibson Girl we dress with a streamlined and modern version of what we were. We see this in the new incarnation of couture, and even in the pret-a-porter of the higher labels such as Dior and Chanel. Running shoes, denim and pared down utilitarian variations have become acceptable in the collections as we accept the new modern woman’s place and function in society. And yet we hold on to shapes and cuts of the 20th century, and there is no shortage of articles in this blog that bring to light how true that is.
Our collections continue to look back. The article “In” Joke For The “In” Crowd ( October 20th 2013) showed our continued attraction towards the 20s as our last reference of rule breaking that ushered in a new century that we refer to currently. Most collections featured a short hem with a drop waist, a hallmark of the 20s. And just as the 90s included Art Nouveau, we see this today. The proliferation of florals and foliage has multiple meanings today regarding inspiration, and the appreciation of naturalism in design, like back then, is referred to now.
Badgley Mischka incorporated some rather Nouveau flourishes in some of their gowns while Brandon Sun laid claim to this period for inspiration, albeit in a more streamlined approach. One gown from Dennis Basso leaned towards the silhouette with a tiered gown while Donna Karan included some design that suggested Klimt. A closing gown form Thom Browne held the aesthetic of Art Nouveau gloriously with religious undertones. Temperley London had florals within the design framework of Art Nouveau while Etro had nits in their patterning. Hints of this could be seen in some pieces at Alberta Ferretti in the degrade tweeds or in the Gibson Girl silhouette of one ensemble. In the most streamlined fashion one jacket at Tom Ford would have satisfied a Gibson Girl.
Some of it is connected to the 90s that fashion has hung onto, some of it is a nod to where we are now, a 2.0 version of leaving the Nouveau for the Deco. But regardless of which decade it honors, it all traces back to our continued connection with a century that we are letting go of. Being that we are still years away from the end of this decade and those who will shape it have yet to get out of junior high, we have yet to truly see how we as a larger culture will define our new century and millennium through dress. We’re getting hints. We just need to watch our century’s version of the Gibson Girl to know what those are.
Economy matters to fashion. It has to because it’s a business, and a good business person pays attention to economic factors to thrive. Such details are important for strategy as they need to know whether they are able to compete and succeed with regards to their demographic. But this also impacts design decisions. The need to ensure relevancy means making clothes that fit with the demographics needs and expectations, and one cannot survive making clothes that are too conceptual or impractical for the demographic they are serving.
But a designer also has another aspect within the competitive sphere, and that is the ability to capture the attention of the fashion audience to attract attention, stir desire by appealing to fantasy and escape that fashion offers , and to command attention through relevance balanced by creativity. There are thousands of designers in competition for attention as well. This competitive environment brings formidable challenges that require tremendous skills to navigate the fashion landscape, especially when the landscape offers challenges of their own.
The current technological advances have brought tremendous excitement. It should; those advances we are witnessing are amazing. It also brings fear that has to do with a growing concern of the population wondering where their roles will be a landscape that indicates less participation in favor of automation. Exacerbating this concern is the continuous awareness of the erosion of the middle class in the face of greater economic divides that are becoming more prominent each year. The ability to survive in an economic climate where education no longer guarantees the mobility our past once provided plus the concern that the upcoming generation may actually have less than the generation before it is not encouraging news fort anyone in retail, for a healthy economic climate is necessary to foster growth and expansion in industries relying on consumption.
The recent downturn of luxury spending along with a revelation of China’s economy becoming a deflating bubble does not help, and not only because it has been the locus of luxury growth over the past decade, or that retail in overseas cities has been maintained by reliance on tourist dollars. This country also holds a lot of overseas assets, and should the bubble burst this could negatively impact many market where value has been upheld by the holding of these assets. If Chinese panicked and started selling, the impact could be huge. And the ones to suffer would ultimately be the middle class, shrinking it further. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the result would be acquisitions buy those already with means, further enhancing this divide that would resemble something almost feudal.
Good designers would pick up on this in the same manner as artists, such as artist/programmer Emil Choski . When speaking of his work, he said that he pictured what New York City might look like in 2017 for Envision New York, referring to the city as turning into a feudal one where you've got the castle and the moat, and all of the serfs living outside it. While our current societies are not at that point there are a few other things to note.
In medieval times the church and state were inseparable. While laws in democracies are in place to separate those areas, one can see the rise of religious influence in politics through right wing parties where religion has been integrated into political policy. Human rights issues such as equality are being challenged based on religious freedoms in the US, stalling same sex marriage and resulting in places like Arizona supporting open discrimination based on religious grounds. How church and state are separate in the face of these issues remains to be seen. If anything it looks as though church and state are meshed more so than before.
Another aspect is revelation of science knowledge with the general public and the education system. The U.S. News & World Report announced a recent public survey using the NSF science-literacy test showed 26 percent thought the sun revolves around the Earth and the scores showed a third had failed basic science knowledge such as accepting or understanding evolution, or continental plate migration over time, or that the center of the Earth is hot. For a connected world, it is appalling to know that there are views that seem more in place with the Dark Ages.
Our entertainment is blood thirsty and anyone who knows about video game design can agree, as can those who produce video content for our entertainment. This plus our fascination with royalty and figureheads all inspire creation of and enjoyment of things medieval. The television program “Reign” comes on the heels of success enjoyed by the phenomenon known as “Game of Thrones”. It is no wonder that this, plus knowledge of so many factors listed above all support inspiration for some designers who take elements into consideration in the creation of their collections, bringing the fantasy of connecting with the opulence and chivalrous romance to those who relate with the more favorable aspects of court life.
This was noticed in gowns capturing the languid medieval lines from Jonathan Simkhai, Tadashi Shoiji and Mary Kantrantzou, while a more simplified gown with a cape-like addition from Zac Posen or short versions of court dress from Monique Lhullier and Temperley London had a looser reference. Use of heraldry by Mary Kantrantzou was very court-appropriate. Embellishments fit for a court abound from Erdem and more so at Dolce & Gabbana. Medieval elements were also observed at Alice + Olivia and Red Valentino, and those knee-high boots from Rick Owens also had a medieval feel.
Those designers see what we may subconsciously connect with, with our history education and cumulative media references along for the ride to shape the awareness of those observations. Noticing all this is not a bad thing, for as we make these connections we admit our return to cycles of living that we have yet to evolve fully from. The dialogue opens our awareness that we have work to do. Thankfully, we evolve in a constant pendulum of progress that, over time, steers us as we explore our circumstances in the name of finding solutions...just as the Dark Ages made way for a renaissance.
Fashion serves many purposes beyond covering us to shield us from the elements. It demonstrates our values and advertises our preferences. It lets the world know who we are through subtle psychological aspects and obvious bold statements. It is our affinity or rejection of our culture versus our individual nature.
The giant that is fashion is powerful, and it's effect is not to be underestimated. The same person in different dress can evoke emotions with whoever we come in contact with, even though we know, deep down, that the person we see before us is the same regardless of what they wear. And yet our affinity with clothing betrays us; our wardrobe is evocative to the degree that it shapes our interactions. We cannot deny that fashion is a very important complement of our identity.
The industry knows this, and spends a great deal or time, energy and resources to tap into who we are, what we want and what we aspire to, translating this into what seems like an innocuous item on a hanger in a store. A previous article in this blog already laid out how much work is involved in creating a garment ("What It Has To Do With The Price Of Eggs In China", November 11th, 2012). What is interesting is interpreting what comes out in collections as of recent,. For these are the most current expressions or, rather, translations of who we are.
In Jeremy Scott 's collection for Moschino, his commentary on consumption was evoked through the associations of symbols of mass consumption (in this case, fast food) applied to another industry that glorifies the same but from a different price point and with higher aspirational associations. Meanwhile, Karl Lagerfeld's collection for Chanel created a presentation that mirrored our consumption bin the form of a Chanel-infused Costco, replete with supermarket items and signs indicating prices are actually raised. The audience unwittingly underscored the point when they rushed to the set post-presentation to take home items off the shelves, much to the delight of the designer who hoped others got the point. Iris van Herpen went further, encasing models in plastic in the runways while indicating in a post presentation interview with Style.com the revelation that parts of our DNA have been and are being patented; in effect, we are become a marketable product.
The Financial Times chimed in on the subject of marketing, featuring an article on fashion and the marketing machine while drawing comparisons to Andy Warhol's wry commentary of mass consumption and success through mass appeal with designers such as Hedi Slimane for Yves Saint Laurent or Fausto Puglisi as examples. In the former, Mr. Slimane's collection was seen by some critics as a well-thought offering that was repackaged or appropriated design, ironic as his influence was Californian artist John Baldessari, known for appropriation as a component of his creativity. In the latter, criticism was levied that the amicable creativity of Mr. Puglisi seemed to be tempered to bring in profit by making his collection more appealing for a larger audience.
Looking at many collections, one sees the checklist of trend factors that show an awareness of conformity to mass expectations. You can't blame designers for this as fashion is a business. They have to make clothes that sell. Comme des Garcons knows this; their dual presentations this season cover the artistic expression of the designer blanched with a secondary presentation that features clothes one would actually wear. To ensure the public didn't get turned away from the conceptual aspect the designer must have known that it had to present the alternative to ensure the public would view it as relevant to practicality.
Fashion gets that it is a product that has to have mass appeal and affinity with familiarity, especially in the face of recent reported turndown in luxury spending in the face of affordable luxury encroaching on its territory. To compound this concern, another seemingly innocuous trend has emerged that reminds of a less favourable influence that plagues fashion in the 90s, and it's been given a catchy name to market its presence already: normcore.
Just before the economy showed signs of collapse in the late 80s, fashion got creative to capture the attention of the buyer and excite the public. But the price points were out of reach and the game of keeping up proved unappealing when looking at business closures and job losses. The game of fashion got lost in the race for a luxury market, and a hunger for status fuelled by vanity propped up by abuse of easily accessible credit. The current climate of seeing attrition and threats of more through the introduction of 3D printing, algorithms and robotics as a way of thinning the workforce without any plan of where people will fit or even survive next is not helping consumer confidence.
With decreased opportunity, labour abuses through exploiting desperation in the form of unpaid internships, and talk of workplace environments becoming a contract and temp environment, and increased debt in the vain quest to amass relevant marketable skills, the newer generations do not see participation in the current environment as remotely possible. To save face and preserve esteem, this generation has taken ownership to cultivate a trend that rejects a game they lament they cannot possibly participate in, and, in the spirit of our times, have branded it with a catchy name and a philosophy of reclaiming individuality through conformity of mediocrity.
Is this new? Hardly, In fact, the reference to the style is cited in 90s fashion, with the sitcom “Seinfeld” in particular as an example. Those who lived in the late 80s onwards know it better, though. As the credit crunch brought world economies to their knees and homelessness became frighteningly rampant, it was deemed distasteful to wear the creative expressive fashions of past. The youth that embraced rejection of fashion consumption gave birth to grunge. No investment in hair, cosmetics nor clothes here, this movement was the bane of every person who made their living in the industries that supported these things in the past. Layers and second-hand hand-me-downs, workwear from surplus stores and utilitarian clothes became the order of the day.
The difference here is generational perspective. If the kids of grunge faced expulsion of the material world with resignation, this generation is raised to be seamlessly integrated into the world that supports the very mechanism they are rebelling against, and isn't divorcing themselves entirely from it as much as recognizing their inability to participate at this time. They have hope of overcoming it because they have access to knowledge and history online that shows every generation overcomes its obstacles in the formation of its new identity, and know that they are a generation that knows how to use the tools that inspire fear: technology itself. They marketed themselves into a better angle to cope, learning to do so because that is the world they were raised in.
And so we see the critique of consumption and marketing in fashion, a transparent admission of shilling for profit and shamelessly doing so while a younger generation sets the stage to embrace the method of the message in lieu of participation in the status quo.
For example, in the movie franchise "Back to the Future” the main characters travel into the future. Here we get glimpse of what our reality is supposed to be, but interestingly enough it also details how we, in our future, would view our past. Those of us who were living that past found the portrayal of our present reduced to sound bites and trend aspects were quite amused. The reason was largely due to our inherent awareness of what living in our decade encompassed and how our culture was more richly layered. It is true that those elements, such as Max Headroom, MTV, acid wash and big hair were a few components. But those who were more immersed and aware recall a more sophisticated aspect of that decade where the avant garde had a fundamental role in shaping the expressions of the culture.
For every Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren Polo there was a Jean Paul Gaultier gender-bending defiance and romantic Vivienne Westwood declaration. We saw the amazing explosion of Japanese design break every rule to bring us forward. The exploration we take for granted owes much to the humble barrier testing of Comme des Garcon, form exploration of Yohji Yamamoto and the technical innovation of Issey Miyake. We were left awestruck by the sweeping architecture of French master Claude Montana and monumental structural sex appeal of Thierry Mugler. These were highbrow designers at a time when inspiration took years, not days, to influence the larger masses who found their designs too unconventional.
The class elevation through mass consumption and wealth flaunting included fashion as a determining component of social relevance not before experienced. In fact, fashion’s significance was boosted by the connections we further enhanced in this decade of exclusion. It was true status to come home from a shopping trip in Manhattan, London or Paris wearing a coveted garment from a designer collection because knockoffs just didn’t appear and fast fashion not only took too long but also could not hold a candle to the actual pieces’ design. Our technology was just not there to support the kind of immediacy we have today. Nor was it status to have an imitation. Innovative unknown designers were excitingly embraced, but no copies would get you past a velvet rope in an exclusive venue. Fashion grew in this era as we celebrated individuality and got caught up in the value of being relevant to the times.
This connected with knowledge of other cultural highbrow territories such as art and music, and those who knew about the influencers who started the trends, i.e. the avant garde or underground, were part of the status set. However, general history never was generous when it came to acknowledging the significance of the avant garde or was as aware of the importance of those groundbreakers. The commercial distillations that the general population took from these innovations are what stay with us.
It’s not limited to that decade. Investigations into each prior decade uncover a wealth of amazing groundbreaking expressions that were the true sources of the pop versions of history we go-to today, and someday we will have a comprehensive archive to celebrate those who produced incredible forward-thinking expressions. In fact, many of them were so ahead of themselves that we find their results relevant beyond today. The Dadaists influence in design is a fine example when looking at our art and modern architecture. Much of what we accept as current would have stunned generations of that decade. It was an aesthetic they could not relate to that we identify with now, and even then some of the concepts from that period would still be considered the outer periphery of design expression today..
So the “Back to the Future” film underscores how we can bypass what was truly relevant in favor of what was popular as a hallmark of a decade without giving proper credence to the actual forces that shapes our cultural expressions. And there is a charm that comes from seeing how that world appears in the eyes of youth that only has limited access of what we know of that decade as it finds its way back into our trend influence today. Think carefully and you’ll see this is something we all have experienced.
One post from trend conglomerate WGSN’s Twitter feed recently expressed surprise of seeing Issey Miyake’s runways show as a collapsible design was pulled out of a bag to be worn on the spot. However, those who have lived longer know that this theatric is a Miyake hallmark; long before Chalayan, Miyake had modular aspects to his designs for all to see. And a post from Style.com on Gareth Pugh’s show mused of the unifying theme, when the unifier appears to be recognition of source in context with the larger trend thread in the Paris collections today: late 80s design. The grand architecture and sweeping elements remind of Claude Montana, the cocooning elegance of Romeo Gigli, and the stoic experimentation of materials of Issey Miyake. These were clever and beautiful reimaginings of what stunned us decades before, their intelligent beauty rediscovered and brought forth with the same spirit that it was back then.
This is not to dump on the expertise of WGSN or Style.com, for these organizations have incredibly knowledgeable professionals who deserve respect. Their work is hard and their dedication is to be admired. They lead in the dissemination of fashion information, and that carries a lot of responsibility. Rather, it underscores that some details require having lived in the prior eras to appreciate the nuances that a designer would incorporate. Remember, many of these designers also lived through that same decade. They would recall many of those awe-inspiring elements to include in this round of retro appreciation. It’s just not possible to recall these aspects if one hasn’t actually lived…no, immersed one’s self by living through that decade.
Many of the collections coming out of Paris for the Fall Winter 2014/2015 season incorporate volume and structure, the shoulder emphasis and material experimentation plus the ostentation of opulence that accompanied a similar climate as back then. And there are too many doing so to mention here, it’s so prevalent. In the 80s, amidst the status clawing, there was an attitude blending denial and cavalier devil-may-care risk-taking. The fashion industry saw a need to generate excitement while the economies sit precariously between idealistic hope inflated by careless credit abuse and vague knowledge of impending collapse. The climate supported expression to keep interest and continue the buying spree as those with genuine wealth were conspicuously spending while our pop culture cheered it on in admiration, much like what we’re doing today.
Does this mean we are heading towards a similar outcome? That is not so simple. One only has to look at the multiple influences to see that there are combinations of elements at play to illustrate our awareness of current events. Look carefully enough and you may get a few clues…or wait until the next few articles whole you draw your own conclusions.
For fashion to connect with the very population it continuously wishes to seduce, it must continuously speak to the public, reflecting its sentiments while subtly leading the way through the dichotomy of conformity and competition for reigning inspiration through individuality.
Fashion doesn’t just want to be relevant; it needs to be.
For fashion to do this, it must associate with what we consider new, and it is in the direction of youth that always wins. Youth is everything new. It is fresh, energetic, and wide-eyed. It sees the world from new eyes and isn’t afraid to ask why things are the way they are or why they must be. It is the optimism of exploration, the naivety that opens doors to new approaches. How can one think out of the box when it has never been put in one? Youth knows. It hasn’t learned all the rules, and thus can break them.
But the design world is not coming from a youthful place. These creatives have experience and accumulated knowledge that come from being on the planet longer. That doesn’t mean they are out of touch. They pay attention as all artists do, and they have the technology to pay attention to the younger demographic.
The current focus is on embracing youth to be relevant, particularly when our world is changing. The economic picture is transforming as manufacturing gives way to the potential disruption offered by technological advancements that threaten everything we have grown accustomed to. Erosion of middle class has pushed us to embrace technological knowledge relevancy such as our ability to learn the new basics such as coding and program adaption that are attributed as innate to younger generations such as the Millennials.
Compounding these concerns is our embrace of social media has a necessary component of relevancy. This has made appearance even more important, something not lost in the beauty industry but not limited to it either. As our older generations are living longer, they are maintaining youth longer as well. We all have heard the ”forty is the new thirty” mantra. Many who aim to maintain relevance dress younger to preserve the association. Fashion knows this; it’s part of the mechanism that maintains the cache of youth in our culture as valuable. And for a growing portion of unemployed and those looking over their backs aware of their age as an unfair judgment factor, the competition to remain relevant has spurred articles instructing job-seekers on ways to look and appear young, even though our appearance has little to do with technical knowledge or relevancy. We wouldn’t have this concern if value on youth wasn’t emphasized to the degree it is today but our associations of youth and technological adaption along with age stereotyping have shaped this perception. Thus, to cultivate a new client base and continue the attraction with its existing clientele means reaching out to youth because we associate relevance with such alignment.
Our strongest reference of youth are the decades where youth ruled. For the 20th century, this would be the 20s, the 60s through the 90s. These were energetic and sexy periods. These were also dominated by the power of youth culture. In particular, the 20s, 60s and 80s had high hemlines and drop waists. The sexual ambiguity of a dropped waist and the youthful permission to hike the hems high were embraced as part of the larger affinity with our value of youth culture. And there is no shortage of these in the collections coming out this month.
There are simply too many names that would fill the article to refer to. Nearly every collection has both elements in their collections. For those with great legs and a tight waistline, fashion is smiling on them with these elements being offered. And for those who are young or maintain the appearance of being so, these items are for them. The aspects of youthfulness is a new (yet not) currency of exclusivity that fashion offers, and some lines have a higher percentage of these elements as if to declare the status of their clientele. Fortunately, the collections have more going on. It is, above all, a business.
It’s fascinating to see what we value and what components of society are contributing to the values we maintain. For those who are more educated one realizes that not all Millennials are as tech savvy as media has portrayed, and energy and innovation is not the domain of youth. A culture raised on conformity has nothing on a seasoned creative who has learned with less barriers and constrictions and the rise of obesity that includes all generations doesn’t speak much about energy. And, in the coming decades, the more physical aspirations we place value on won’t be restricted to an age range either. The amazing discoveries in science and its exponential growth we see now are already looking to extending and reversing the very process of aging.
As this happens you can be sure that we will find, explore and exploit whatever qualities we deem valuable in its place. And as designers are businesspeople, they will recognize that a good collection is not solely based on these aspects…although they will be sure to take those values into consideration in their collections; the compulsion of exploitation which acts as drivers of human nature is unlikely to change. We’ll just have to hope for enlightenment to come into fashion. Perhaps we can plant the seeds now to get there.
The artists’ mind is a fascinating one to have. It merges the capacity to create and express with hyperawareness of one’s surroundings. Drinking in details, the artists is constantly seeking and taking in stimuli that feed the insatiable need to create. Designers share this capacity, especially those who have risen in ranks to have control over their platform for expression. Here, they have the added mandate to constantly rejuvenate their expression to reflect the current pulse with great regularity in the name of relevance. This and, of course, to maintain profit; you can’t have a designer’s platform without the money to maintain it.
Not all influences are cultural inspirations. Sometimes it is the more seemingly mundane elements that can catch a designer’s attention. For example, during the 90s in New York there was a sudden fascination with the weather channel and its at-the-time high tech way of present ting real-time and advance weather coverage. And somewhere in the mid-90s there as good reason to talk about the weather: a weather anomaly in the form of a tornado over New York City. This came around the same time that dialogue was taking place concerning climate change that was beginning to be noticeable. Some collections, such as those by Versace, were duly inspired by our fascination with the weather; the tornado effect adapted to ballgowns with twisted waists for one (a reboot from a 1982 design aspect made apropos considering current subject matter). Some collections were also weather adaptable such as Helmut Lang’s more rain-ready summer collection a few summers later when weather got wetter. The weather was increasingly wilder, or maybe it’s just that we had more coverage available to pay attention to its changing volatility.
The weather is a magnificent topic now, and has been more so over the last year as powerful storms have dominated the airwaves and netscape. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed increased frequency of intense rain events happening over the last 50 years, while The National Center for Atmospheric Research found the percentage of Earth’s surface suffering drought has more than doubled since the 1970s. What are termed “Black Swan” events such as the hurricane that hit New York and New Jersey last year are also on the increase. Organizations such as The GLOBE Group are factoring reactions to climate shifts into their strategy for sustainability, a hot topic into their upcoming conference. No matter what the cause, it’s happening and the patterns aren’t predictable. Sometimes the weather is balmy only to be frigid and arctic the following week. The collections have and are more so reflecting this haphazard pattern, trying to adapt. After all, how can a designer not notice this and not be inspired to some degree?
So no more do we have traditions with a predictable weather pattern to match, and this schizophrenic mixing of elements in collections merely reflect that. Florals in winter? Why not? It has been happening in real life during the warm spells, such as when Alaska was warmer than Texas this year. Pastels and whites normally territory of spring and summer are here to stay as well , as seen in collections by Alexandre Herchcovitch, Badgley Mischka, Creatures of the Wind, Organic by John Patrick, Philosophy, Ralph Lauren, Rosie Assoulin, Threeasfour and Victoria Beckham. Short skirts and high hems, the inspiration in part due to the interest in 60s and, to a bit of a degree the Valley Girl 80s, are aplenty in every collection so far. Shorts, gauchos and capris that would normally be out of place in a winter wardrobe are peppered though many collections as well, such as in those by Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim, CG, Charlotte Ronson, Coach, Duckie Brown, Escada, Joie, Kaelen, Nicholas K, Public School, Tocca, TSE and Veronica Beard. Some collections reference the elements, such as the clouds from Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Zimmerman or the cotton batting and 3D aesthetic intermixed in the brilliantly executed collection from Threeasfour. Here, they conveyed their awareness of the environment beyond weather as they primarily covered observations in terrains and, in particular, topography.
We’re talking about what’s around us, and when it becomes a major component of our daily lives you can be sure it takes precedence in our minds. Designers are connecting with us, letting us know that they too are fully aware of what is around them. It’s noticed in what we all see and read. It’s in their sales patterns, such as not having enough light layers when winters resemble resort season.
Will the heavier knits and cocoon coats be perfectly timed, or will it be thin summer wools and light layers that becomes the most-used items in our closet? Either way, the smart designers are making sure that have their bases, and our interests, covered. And what doesn’t sell immediately may not matter, as whatever isn’t weather -appropriate could be held until the next season in case an anomaly happens there. Anything’s possible now.