Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...
by Darryl S. Warren in Vancouver
© 2011-2017 Darryl S. Warren/Fashion Observed All rights reserved
T he Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections for the Big Four are done. As we catch our breath, we have time to review the many things that have happened , much of what was discussed in this blog during the past weeks when the main collection weeks were covered. As promised last week, this blog would continue on another trend thread within the retro-sourced framework.
The global political climate coupled with issues surrounding equality and the economy are powerful ones that connect with these collections. All have touched designers as much as they have the general public and the media who inform them, so it is not a surprise that designers would explore various translations of perceived shared observations via the current fascination with history that has permeated pop culture.
In the USA, some of the same eras reflected in fashion have been touched on in television programs centering on time travel, especially in the program "Timeless" which reads like a designer inspiration list for current collections. Other programs such as "Time After Time", "Making History" & the long-running cult favourite "Dr. Who" also bring visits to rather timely periods that connect to current sentiments while "Westworld", "This Is Us", "Stranger Things", "The Goldbergs" and "Frequency" explore our fascination with reaching out to, interacting with or experiencing a window of another time.
Within fashion, we find a few reasons covered in this blog before regarding this retro exploration. Part of it lies in familiarity as connection. By finding similar patterns in our past and past actions, we can better digest current events as they unfold. This is more likely when we have societal stress and are hesitant of the future, with the post-retro explosion of post 9/11era being the strongest reflection of this impulse. Part of this is romanticization as a coping device. By connecting with earlier periods, we can "travel" away from the deeper understanding of our current world to eras where our surface impressions are glossed over. The last part is identity through history. For us to move forward, we have to start form somewhere. By mining the past and experimenting with combinations, we seek something that can lead us forward without straying too far into unfamiliar territory.
Some influences are honest in pessimistic connection, much like what was mentioned last week. Others are just as much connected but can be in earlier stages. Even though the romanticized view we have of the 20s connects energy, technical and design innovation and youth running with the torch from the old (and an old century) to the new, it also has prohibition, morality and value system challenges, gender role exploration and a struggle with finding one's place in a changing world. Plus, the earliest stages of authoritarianism and xenophobia started hand-in-hand with the threat of cultural change.
That's a lot of depth for something we wear on our backs, and yet designers are sophisticated and informed creatives; you can be sure, even if the explanation isn't all-out confessed at press time that the recognizable elements let us know otherwise that there is more going on than a few lead-ups. Be it a drop waist by Alyx, Anrealage, Blumarine, David Koma, Jourden, Lanvin, Loewe, Paule Ka, Prada and Stella Jean; jazz age energetic swing of fringe by Andrew Gn, Balmain, Celine, John Galliano, Pucci and Wanda Nylon; exoticism of monkey fur by Francesco Scognamiglio, Gareth Pugh, Libertine, MSGM and Zimmermann; a nod to the cloche by Jacquemus and Marc Jacobs; a defiantly Dadaist aura by Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh; or even bold geometry as hints of roaring spirit by (loosely) Arthur Arbesser, Leonard Paris and Pucci all simultaneously grasp the political awareness with optimistic reminiscence, hope in current times still showing promise that not all history has to repeat where awareness lies, and a sly nod that our roaring 20s and all the convoluted promise it holds is but a few years away.
That it is but a slice of the many inspirations serves notice that there are many perspectives at play, and fashion...and we...are ready to have these before us to ponder. Does it bring us together? It turns out, there is another aspect addressing that expression and we'll let the next week tackle that.
T he Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections are winding down and now we have time to catch our breath before the next quarter when the Resort 2017 collections are presented. So, for now, we can further examine the various prominent trend expressions that designers have collectively chose.
The choice of historical references by tapping past trend characteristics is a common expression amongst designers. Current events can remind one who is well-versed in history with regards to parallels or patterns. For example, the current political climate exhibited in various western nations regarding xenophobia has been emboldened as political changes have allowed more right-wing views to come into play in response to the sudden influx of refugees that have strained resources at a time when many nationals are facing growing economic divides and hardship that erodes compassionate support. This, plus the political climate change in some larger western powers such as the UK & USA seem to be emboldening extremist sentiments along racial and gender lines; all this reminds heavily of the 20s and 30s where similar economic strains resulted in increased xenophobia and decreased tolerance overall, contributing to the lead-up of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in Europe that sparked World War II. Those who lived through this tumultuous period are doing their best to speak out to warn the general public of the similarities as event unfolding seem to bring about similar paths that we will regret should they repeat. However, the current population, especially those who are younger that have no connections directly or through living relatives who lived through those times, are not emotionally connected to the past, and thus do not experience the way history is unfolding in the same way those who lived it do. That is, they don't have a connection, so it seems less likely, despite grim parallels.
Most designers, though, are closer to that connection and are better connected to those who have the time and means to indulge in further education and understanding of the nuances that parallels can be drawn from. And so, we see decades carrying such similarities tapped and brought into the creative fold.
The darker expression of this is, of close, closer to the war years and those involve more dire economics. Collections from Belstaff, Christian Siriano, Elizabeth Kennedy, Ermanno Scervino, Gareth Pugh, Jacquemus, Jonathan Simkhai, Leonard Paris, Loewe, Marissa Webb, Rosetta Getty, Sacai, Sea, Trina Turk, and ZAC Zac Posen all contain whisps of components, be they a fur collar, a hallmark cut of a skirt, or even vague silhouettes and/or textiles that capture the mood of the 30s. It was a time where creativity and criticisms via artistic voice responded to growing entrenchment of the worst of ourselves yet manifest. And it was those most progressive and bravest of arts that eventually saw the wrath of a relentless evil that took advantage of a weary public that just wanted to be heard and looked after in the most stressful of growing circumstances via scapegoating.
But what about the lighter, earlier expression? Does that not merit a mention? Well, of course, and even better, it deserves a separate platform that will be covered in the next article.
H ere we are, now in March as the Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections are nearing the end with yet a few days left of showing in Paris before they wrap up. In doing so, fashion publication editors and staff will pour through all that has been seen to bring to the public their cumulative observations of trend summations. These will inform the public of directions that will shape purchase decisions and dress codes that will shape our larger cultural expression direction.
This blog has mentioned many times that the current technological landscape has brought up to a more sophisticated level of interpretation, resulting in more complex combinations of influences highlighting the wide scope of world events that affect us as a global whole. Some trend expressions tend to be universal, signalling a commonality of international agreement that our connected world supports. Gone are the days of distinct cultural separation in dress. Rather, within each culture, subtle variances in the strength of trend aspects denote what level of affinity any one culture may have on a mindset or emotional placement manifest as material representation.
For example, the proliferation of strong shoulders in fashion have multiple meanings when examine source versus impact. The 40s and 50s were the source of these design features. In the 40s, more women assumed roles reserved once for men as more men went to war and women took over to keep the "machine running". Women were empowered symbolically with clothing reflecting this rise of active participation in what was once domain of men. Fashion responded by offering a form of corporate armour that masculinized women to help them fit the roles that bucked tradition at the time. As there war ended, men returned and many (but not all) women went back into traditional roles. however, the shift of purpose of armour went from supporting the war effort to defence in the face of communist threats (and along with those nuclear ones), and the strong shoulder remained until it phased out as the next decade emerged.
The return of the threat came back in the 80s when the USA and the USSR began their showdown with nuclear weapon proliferation in a tense arms race with much of the free world caught in the middle (Europe in particular feeling the heat the most). President Reagan represented a generational mindset from the 50s where the drive to innocence and patriotism amidst McCarthyism and sometimes it seemed as if the administration under his helm was almost attempting to bring this back. This more conservative direction was met with a cultural shift as the decade moved forward via avant grade expression supported by the entertainment industry as personal rebellion, embracing diversity, equality and gender variation acceptance was made fashionable along with individuality, open expression and more open communication (really a continuation of groundbreaking work from the decade previous). But the threat of global extermination still reigned and the reminders of McCarthyism in the form of anti-Soviet sentiment all triggered the return of the personal armour: the strong shoulder. This lasted right through until the 90s when mindsets and the fashions they influenced changed.
Now, here we are and these have returned. During the period when these collections were being conceived and created, the hotly contested political race in the USA saw a traditionalist rising in the ranks towards victory that was not globally favoured, carrying a reputation of views that many justifiably see as regressive in the face of social advancements that affect women, minorities and the LGBTQ communities while broadcasting protectionist policy ideologies that hark back to less tolerant times. The potential fallout of someone at the helm of one of the most powerful countries in the world with such views triggers many sentiments that have seen expression in fashion this season, and the defensive hallmarks of the 40s and 50s have found a place to come back to.
True, some designers are embracing the cues where the strong shoulder reigned: the 80s. The exciting creative explosion that is the foundation of the most experimental cuts, shapes, assembly techniques and silhouettes is recalled during a time where individuality was lauded, and thus we see the defensiveness coupled with joyous expressive creativity that, for younger generations is legendary, embraced in its oversized comforting glory. But other designers feel the political connotations of a more historic connection and present a different relevance for the public to connect to.
The sexually repressive and limiting aspects of the 50s seem like a threat today when we recognize how far we have come regarding acceptance and equality. That some wish to return us to more regressive times would seem preposterous, but history has shown that our culture has the capacity to both progress and regress as we eventually grow forward. This social oscillation is long embedded in our history, so those who know history and trends know that we do waver as we progress.
Some publications, such as the astute Vogue Runway, have noted the appearance of 50s elements in some collections the season, attributing these to a growing interest in a return to feminism. That is not untrue, especially when we have years of masculine slants and gender neutral athleisure; eventually the pendulum does swing to satisfy waning interests. It's the global political awareness that the fashion press recognizes regarding the fears and fear sources that inform this trend connection further, especially as designers tend to have deeper and more informed observational foundations that trending organizations support. Add cultural inspiration such as the upcoming Victoria & Albert exhibition on the history of Cristobal Balenciaga as well and we have enough reasons underscoring the complexity of the creative mix.
Thus, it is not a surprise to see other hallmark aspects besides the oversize shoulders central to the 50s such as long wide skirts or portrait necklines that were slipped in at collections in New York by Elizabeth Kennedy, Jill Sander Navy, Oscar de la Renta, and Rosie Assoulin; in London at Barbara Tfank and Temperley London; in Milan at Antonio Marras, Aquilano Rimondi, Gabriele Colangelo, Luisa Beccaria, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Rossella Jardini, Sara Battaglia and Vivetta; and in Paris so far at Balenciaga, Dior, Jaquemus, Manish Arora, Paule Ka, Rochas, Talbot Runhof and Undercover.
The ladylike tweaks may signal a glance at a potential new cultural influence element, honour femininity's extreme or comment slyly about the source of those upholding traditional gender foundations in the quest to bring the public back to "simpler times". But we know that we are not of or in those times, and that aspects that may connect us to memories don't necessarily mean we have returned to those moments rather than noticing how our present reminds us of connections to the past as part of our mutual unspoken dialogue we wear to relate to each other and the times. That these are but a slice of the total combination of multiple aspects that make up various collections show how complex we and our lives have become. In that respect, we have certainly changed.
As we uncover more sources, we will find the other parts of the dialogue that informs what we feel is going to be the Fall and Winter sentiment of 2017.
A new moon and a new day upon us as the Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections continue. This week we saw London and most of Milan showing and this blog will come more specifically to these...another time. There seems to be a predominant thread that is holding a dual purpose that couples well with current global political climates as well as with anticipated current events (something fashion always connects well with).
As you know, Japan will be hosting the next Summer Olympics and, as we get closer to this event, the public will find its focus on that country, its culture and most certainly its reputation for leading the way in technology. It worked hard to get that reputation and is a foundation for some of its chief exports. In most countries the military (and, for the wealthiest of nations, their space agencies) tends to get first access in any technological advancements and experimental materials. Once these have been well-utilized and/ or find replacements with newer technology or materials, the well-worn and much tested items trickle down to the commercial sector where the public finds myriad applications for incorporating these innovations into our daily lives.
Japan is unique. Having its military restricted as part of the concessions after losing to the American forces in World War II, it proved adaptable in keeping its scientific communities busy. Where there was no military to test new technology on, it found a willing general public. Over time, its society started to incorporate into domestic life the kind of advancements that other public domains would only hear of. Merging traditional with technical, Japan found a unique way of living that inspires other cultures as well as informs our vision of the future. Things you would get used to would take as much as a decade to eventually find its way into Western society.
For the Olympics, automatic cars an robotics are expected to be the norm in Tokyo, and AI will be the host and translator for the world that depends upon it. You can be sure that ever aspect of experimental technology will be in full play, meticulously tested and ready to showcase Japan's craft while upholding honor, wrapped in respect for tradition.
Part of tradition is to also pay homage to the Greek roots of the Olympics. The Greeks were also known for another major contribution to the world: democracy. the respect of our fellow man as all part of a unified whole, entitled to equal representation for the fairness of all is a value to be cherished. Not all countries of the world have such a luxury and those that do sometimes find this gift squandered, such as when we see low voter turnout or apathy regarding a country's political process, especially when the fundamentals of democracy are challenged.
The global awareness of this happening in various forms is not lost on the design community, caught between finding diplomatic appeasement to preserve its economic base versus the innate duty to utilize one's good fortune to seize a public platform to make a difference by using one's voice and point of view to hopefully inspire and enlighten those same people watching. Now, more than ever, we are seeing extremism being brought out on both sides fearing an erosion or encroachment of their perspectives. For those on the right, they see a challenge to gains that support response to their fears. For those on the left, they see an erosion of cultural advancements that encroach on gained freedoms. Rather than taking time to understand each other, we have found forces feeding fear with confusion and anger, and these seem to be pushing back in ways that are causing us to wonder whether democracy is being challenged unfairly. The fears, whether real or imaginary, are felt as real and we have lost our ability to reason and communicate, and that goes against how democracy is fortified.
So...something as simple as the one-shoulder toga style gowns that have permeated in most collections in all major fashion centers presenting thus far (of even the inspiration towards Greek traditional dress foundations as per Hussein Chalayan) is honouring on both the level of acknowledging the Greeks as happens every Olympiad and in honour of what we see as threats to democracy, with the most glaring coming for a country whose central pride point is being the bastion of democracy: the USA. It is unfortunate and truly saddening to see a country so divided that has long broadcasted as wanting to uphold the tenets of democracy globally. And fashion notices this, as well as the divide which is, at times, even putting a demure, quiet strain within those in the grand family of fashion and design that must wrestle with what to do to keep the peace while respecting its individuality.
There are foreshadows of what is to come from designers showing thus far, and it is interesting to see what they are saying. We'll talk about that another time.
P lease forgive how this starts...
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The Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections are in full force with matters wrapping up in New York and London now capturing media attention, and one of the more prominent expressions is the clever articulation of deconstruction that has been taking place. Those who know fashion history have seen some clever technical expertise in the exploration of this design approach executed over the years when deconstruction has been explored.
Part of the evolution lies in the technology at one's disposal to take imagination and inspiration from conceptualization into actualization. Over the years, as technology has become more sophisticated, so have the results. Right now, a lot of the deconstruction is within craft lines, with extended dimensions to morph proportion, accent layering aspects and accentuate new silhouette variations. It almost is like genetic mutations of classic design where portions are being stretched and cut apart. But not all deconstruction follows this formula. That is, other approaches take the recombination of elements that is traditional deconstruction and adds proportion play and element distortion to produce new elements to incorporate into construction and this create new design.
This blog foresaw how this evolution coupled with technological advancement would evolve as we morph towards a more 21st century design as per the Fashion Observed article "Recombinant Deconstruction Is It's Name-o" (Sept. 19, 2015). Here, as seamless weaving and 3D printing becomes more commonplace regarding technical execution (most likely merged with VR imaging in the design process for enhanced design conceptualization), we would see more organic expressions in design; it would be like a 2.0 version of deconstruction. For example, a dress with a collar that slowly drapes into a sleeve that would have a segment becoming a cape, all seamlessly together as the textile slowly morphs from a tweed into a solid wool felt from one of the tweed's colours while an underlay of nearly clear translucent silk degrades into a solid monochrome micro-plaid with fiberoptic threading in places for added glow and cross-threads with binary colour range based on temperature sensitive dyes transforms from a sheath to a drape in a skirt-train that splits into multilayers to complete a wrap skirt and separate from behind like petals of a flower, the whole layer itself also seamless, with various pockets woven within to add volume in strategic places (neat stuff).
While the technology mentioned above is in various stages, right now such technology that studios have access to now is enough that we can design the type of deconstruction that resembles such morphing, and various collections this season that have deconstruction are taking this possibility to the kind of levels of execution that requires a textile engineer of sorts; the combinations of drape and element inclusion that verges on cubist or surrealist vision is fast becoming more present on the current runways. A glance at some of the pieces within collections by ADEAM, Casely-Hayford, Monse, Ports 1961, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Proenza Schouler and VFiles' Snow Xue Goa & Danielle Cathari show hints of this alluding to the kind of transformative handiwork that will one day involve complex weaving and textile "printing" to inspire even more sophisticated future efforts as intricate technology becomes more accessible.
The cubist effect that these design results conveys fits nicely with the 20s/30s themes that have been seen in some collection influences as well, and we know of course the reasons for such presence of those decade influences that fashion has been flirting with in seasons past. Well, if you have been reading this blog for a while you will. For those who are newer to the blog, we will revisit and revise the background behind these...and other...retro influences again. That is, just as the collections seem to have this season.
N ow the fashion floodgates fling open as the Fall Winter 2017/2018 collections stream in. While other world capitals have shown, the Big Four really got formally underway at the beginning of last week. But those who have been watching know that collections started streaming in earlier in the month from London, Paris and New York in advance of their proper calendar. The fabric of formality is slowly being torn asunder as she collections test the "see-now-buy-now" model while others stay with tradition with pragmatic caution.
The collections so far are being scrutinized in a large part to the past political changes represented in ideological shifts within various western nations. The struggle of "left" versus "right" has seen the kind of political overhaul that brings great stress. Not only form a business standpoint as immigration sentiments and tax changes loom, but also the revelation of the degree of xenophobia and nationalism that prominent democracies contain leave the fashion community in a range of turmoil that the largess of the general public is radiating.
But as fear-based division threatens the kind of growth first-world societies have cultivated, just as many are holding fast to uphold what we know makes sense for the greater good of mankind. As New York is near the epicentre of the most aggressive of tumultuous change, it seems fitting that it conveys this chaos succinctly. Vogue Runway in particular is finding a few choice approaches designers are making regarding the translation of sentiments that reflect the public's equally diverse mindset, especially where economics is involved.
The segmenting of the public is one influence that cannot be missed that is easy to translate in fashion almost literally. Collections from Beaufille, Milly and Prabal Gurung took to segmenting to emphasize the growing division (similar at Katie Eary on the "other side of the pond") while those from Custo Barcelona, Gary Graham, Gypsy Sport and Public School had the ecological effort of textile collaging or even patchworking (with sentiments reflected overseas at Cedric Charlier and Vivienne Westwood) to show a diversity at odds yet still together somehow. And most collections involved the haphazard styling of incongruous pieces layered to form our 21st century uniform of confusion; wearing our chaos in mismatched print or contrast of textile and textures seems more the norm for now as we struggle to find our footing now that we know we are not all on the same page.
And yet, we are together. While some find comfort in feeding ignorance, fear and ultimately separation, many more know the cost of this is too high and are seeking ways to find a solution to keep us together. It is a long journey that comes from not just recognizing the sources of division, but to find ways to reach out in the name of cohesion. The recognition of the value of each others diversity is a good place to start.
We'll see what else the collections have to say about us...next article.
I n the previous article, we last left you pondering the observations that the recent Spring Summer 2017 Haute Couture shows presented with a promise to continue discussions based on what was noticed. Today, we do not disappoint.
The haute couture world is a special one indeed. One might think this has to do with the level of expense associated with the collections, or the length of time to create them and they wold be in the right...to an extent. This is a world that many will never see nor have contact with: the movers, shakers and money makers one only dreams of being compose this world. These are people who know much more than most will ever get to hear about, given that theirs is a world connected to much more that controls versus inhabits the world we see. This is a world privy to information from top sources, with access to advance knowledge and developments that eventually shape what we have around us. Haute couture dresses them and dresses them well.
To do so requires time as the intricacies of each garment can take months of hand-made expertise. Some garments, such as those by Guo Pei, take upwards of two years to produce. Given that these garments take the time that they do means that consideration regarding relevance becomes even more essential; there is nothing worse than knowing that you paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars for something upstaged by a fast fashion cast-off. This is a level of humiliation that is simply not acceptable given the circles these fashions were meant for. However, as pret-a-porter becomes more sophisticated, involves more luxury composition and becomes more the norm for those in the upper classes, haute couture must pull out all stops to retain integrity and remain supreme in the age of information. The exclusive world of haute couture accommodates accordingly.
It costs a lot of money to have access to the type of forecasting a trending company provides, and you can be sure every successful design house has access to this information incorporated into their budget. Haute couture, of course, has a bigger budget and better connections that provide the kind of information that ensures their relevance to compensate for the lag time it takes for inception to finished product. Thus, any information we can gleam from the collections are the type of information we would find much more reliable for a sociological standpoint.
While there are many trend points form the larger wave of various global collections touching on the 60s through the 90s, the interesting observations hint at something less joyful in expectation, enhanced by current global political shifts. The tension of a potential war is inescapable these days and were long anticipated as we saw the rise of xenophobia and protectionist stances that remind us all to well of the sentiment that propelled the war years we fear are returning. Be it hats worn as halo hats or in the simplicity of sleeve construction at Chanel; skirt simplicity and proportion at Dior; 40s glam and Schiaparelli surrealism hints at Elie Saab; a zoot suit and big shoulders at Jean Paul Gaultier; and shoulder detail and hats at Ronald van der Kemp all hint of the 40.
Meanwhile, the post-war social regression and nuclear fears trigger another decade revisit. The wide sweeping skirts at Chanel, long A-lines at Dior and expansively wide ballgowns at Viktor & Rolf all hark of the 50s when the equality embrace of pants-wearing Rosie the riveter took a back seat to June Cleaver domesticity. The recent insult that the White House inadvertently delivered in its dress code edict seemed almost foreshadowed by the forces shaping the gowns coming out of Paris as we face the pendulum of social development swing towards the conservative. Fear does that.
But fashion no longer suffers the constraints of singular influences. Ours is an age of information (or , more recently, misinformation) and the cumulative forces shaping our societies are finding expression in multiple trend threads weaving a complex tapestry that tells the ongoing story of the development of man/womankind's prominent cultures. And no longer are the messages coming for any one place. Now, collections from the world over are being paid attention to as we grow in appreciation of efforts from our fellow human beings in far reaches of the globe. And with each one, we will look to see what they have to tell us; we never know who will have the most interesting thing to say.
I t seems trite to talk about the importance of material things when the world is in great stress over huge changes that fail to reveal certainties of our future.
The efforts of those who are creators within the field of design that this blog covers that fight for the preservation of fundamental rights for our fellow human beings is testament of priorities. But to give up the other facets of existence would signal that hopelessness wins. Our continuation of our spirit to live cannot end. Rather, it must go on to signal that we are not defeated by the events of the world. It also means we can multitask; we can both continue to live to the fullest and uphold what is right at every turn and this is what we do.
The scheduled time to protest and make a stand is balanced by continuation in the human race, and sometimes these overlap. The designer that creates gets the chance to use their hard-earned media time to make profound statements in the name of democracy, equality, human rights, the environment and/or whatever needs attention. Those who remember fashion in the late 80s will remember Katherine Hamnett being asked about her collection while she took the platform to talk about causes such as the environment or slave labour within and beyond the industry. Today, with events highly charged since the changing of the guard regrading the US presidency and the subsequent upheavals ranging from human rights and the environment to trade and political relationships, designers find themselves stuck between remaining neutral in the name of business preservation versus maximizing profile and reach to uphold political activism.
Some say that it is not what one says but what one does that speaks volumes. For this blog, it is not what a designer claims as influence as much as what is noticed within the collections that is of note. Designers can't list all the influences and some don't as it kills the mystique. But every piece of camouflage or deconstructed flounce is noticed as fragments within a complex vocabulary that becomes the dialogue designers have with the public about who and where we are. While the Fall Winter 2017/18 collections (which have featured men's looks within these collections) are just beginning to roll out, today we focus on the creme of fashion that is Spring Summer 2017 for Haute Couture.
These collections face even greater scrutiny than ever before on many levels. The passion of their relevance in the face of societal changes in dress run parallel with arguments of relevancy of royal families in the UK when looking at priorities and the economy. Haute couture seems the least practical and least relevant in the eye of the public. Nowadays, most evening wear can be found in pret-a-porter collections that are increasingly becoming see-now-buy-now options online and with the level of technology and attention to detail can offer much of what would have been unfathomable years ago (and more likely the domain of haute couture). The expense is another matter where economics and class division are increasingly broader public concerns, part of which precipitated the seismic political shifts that are fueling xenophobic sentiment. It's hard to get the public to rally around something so astronomically expensive, and when those who can afford them are finding less reason to wear these as the quality of pret-a-porter goes up and the overall tone of wearing fashion in public becomes less formal.
That's not to say that there aren't clients. The rise in economic division has created a class that finds their wealth increasing at a rate that hasn't been seen since the Edwardian times, and so there is a market ready to wear these items. There will always be gowns and glamour; every red carpet and formal ceremony will always find room for these, and when looking at the craftsmanship and materials many pieces elevate to a form of art worthy of collecting. But something else is shifting in this realm of fashion.
The proliferation of societal chaos as represented by deconstruction is firm as a mainstay design aspect in many collections such as Alexandre Vauthier, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ulyana Sergeenko and Viktor & Rolf with Maison Margiela being the master with a collection that gets to the girders of the structure while highlighting social media augmentation; all pretty modern directions redefining what couture means today. Meanwhile, Alexandre Vauthier acknowledged the relevance issue by mixing high fashion with lowbrow items like denim shorts while Armani Prive, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ronald van der Kemp and Schiaparelli had more what the public would call "wearable" items in their collections that could allow the couture client to pass through the streets unscathed. These changes are haute couture's way of reclaiming its relevance in the way fashion is part of the world today while maintaining its DNA in the form of material choice and, of course, the tradition that qualifies it to carry its designation.
And relevance is the key. As more pret-a-porter collections overtake the segment of formality and refinement while offering wearability, haute couture creeps closer towards extinction. Its artistic merit (and collectability translating into investment potential as a result) coupled with our appreciation for hand crafted work in the age of machines has helped keep it alive. Meanwhile, technical advancement that has delivered new versions of what couture can be such as from Iris van Herpen open the door to haute couture's potential direction and place.
Haute couture had other things to say regarding what it noticed in our world. Given that these collections serve the upper echelons of society, the message within its language serves to underscore the importance of what it observes. If those closer to the seat of power can relate to the messages from these collections, then it speaks volumes about where we are. Next week we will cover some of those observations that may or may not surprise you.
T o say that fashion is busy these days is an understatement. Not only is this a reference to the showing of Pre-Fall 2017 season that is still happening while the Fall Winter 2017 collections for men (which have shown some womens' looks within these collections) plus the start to the womens' Fall Winter 2017/18 collections (which have featured men's looks within these collections) competes for attention with the Spring Summer 2017 haute couture collections that are now underway, but the reference also applies to the proliferation of prints and textures heaped upon each other in many of the said presentations as well (and even this article's start is busy). The overwhelming changes that we are facing on so many fronts has us in a state of overload.
Political and technological changes compete with generational and cultural changes. So much is happening at once and we have devices to fully inform and critique every aspect of its unwinding, leaving us even more informed than any generation previously.
Much of the clawback for comfort is, of course, the retro story that fashion will not let go because we cannot either. Just as the post 9/11 years rattled us into a holding pattern of the familiar until we could get a grip on what living in the 21st century was going to mean, the changes now have pushed us into oscillation between sentiment and advancement. And as we go through it, the chaos is becoming second nature.
Some collections in the various season categories are reflecting this. Within Prefall 2017's recent outlay, you have Sacai and Stella Jean, while Fall Winter 2017/18's early entrants of Casely-Hayford and Katie Eary take this blended and layered concept into the next season. Meanwhile, gender play in model choice for Prefall 2017 from Acne Studios and MSGM underscore the confusion as fluidity of our current gender landscape where all are for all and nothing can be categorized and contained. Even the carefully assembled restraint of haute couture shows a little letting loose as the falling away and off-filtered asymmetry creeped into Alberta Ferretti Limited Edition.
We are all feeling the destabilization, unsure of what's next. The industry faces great change as the conventions of the 20th century make way for technology's hold on us in the 21st century. The see-now-buy-now model and the emergence of digital-only retail in the hands of several generations making sense of their place in the new century and millennium that is only beginning to define itself in the face of transformative technologic shaped by the power of AI and big data. All this is reflective of similar forces in various aspects of society thrusting us forward in combat with those resistant to change that aim to push us back.
History has shown that the pendulum swings back and forth as we eventually go forward. The technical genie is out of the bottle but it has yet to conquer the most primal of human behaviour: fight or flight. This powerful force within is all too familiar in fashion as it has long been manipulated to feed its growth. Now we find this to be the force that shapes its creativity, and the battle within finds expression in what's being created today. It will be interesting to see what else will come in the following weeks as the various season collections unveil the latest of observant minds transforming material into functional yet intimate identifiers of our state of mind.
N ow that the holidays are past and a new year is upon us, the Pre-Fall 2017 season collections come back to emphasize current retro-obsessed themes while others give in to experimentation of elements in the unsurpressable urge to grow forward.
Scale and proportion are one of the aspects of the fundamentals of art. The manipulation of this quality is an intimate communication between the artist and the viewer. Here, the artist can convey a sense of grandiosity or humility, or the point of view of the gods or the child merely by playing with the proportion in relation to surrounding elements. In fashion the effect becomes more personal as the viewer doesn't just look at the items but wears them, bringing these emotions into ones personal sphere. The success of this execution relies on tapping into matching sentiments. In the 20s the enormity of the world and its progress saw the wearer swaddled in comfort with coats to protect the wearer while helping to identify with the emotional modesty one inevitably faced in such a quickly evolving cultural climate. The 50s saw this repeated under similar circumstances where technological advancements and global political awareness almost overwhelmed the public. The scale of clothes almost responded as a way of offering retreat, again tapping into proportion in a deeply psychological manner where one forgets the comfort one feels when, as a child, one is huddling in a parent's protective sweater or coat. Similar sentiments fed the 80s while a rejection of the physical design aesthetic as a generational declarative shift found another expression in a more voyeuristic fashion in the 90s when large-scale detail took hold past the mid-decade. In that aspect, a more detached approach found us almost thinking in an existential way to cope versus delving too deep into our personal feelings as we had done before. The clinical, intellectual way of examining our relation to ourselves was held in check under retro foundations to connect us with the antidote of feeling too much; while the obvious retro sources helped remind us of better times to fall on, the details let us safely look at what w knew as looming large.
Now, as we find our intellects tightened with years of access to technology, we are no longer locked in a simplistic model where fashion can sum it up with a few choice influences, although our fears certainly do show its power in trying. The play of scale continues as a sizeable (ha!) component of our personal translation of the times, and it incorporates both intimate and observed components as we are both more aware and self-aware. Be it in proportion or in detail, collections from Christopher Kane, Delpozo, MM6 Maison Margiela, Monse, MSGM, Norma Kamali, Ports 1961, Public School, Stella McCartney and Tome all contain these expressions within to connect to the wearer at large (ha again!).
Soon the Fall Winter 2017 collections will come...as will the haute couture collections...as we enter the next leg of the fashion calendar season and it will be interesting to see how designers take these sentiments forward. Then we can see how much designers feel these influences connect beyond what we have seen so far. Given the scale of world events to come soon and our willingness to express ourselves, we'll see whether confession or emotional antidote wins out, and for who if we are inclined to look beyond the names to who they speak to.