Friday, February 28, 2014

These Inspired Streets

    The move to derive a good deal of style inspiration from the streets is mostly something that happened in the second half of the 20th century.  Of course there are style inspirations based on popular culture and the common people before that, like these little headdress styles from the 18th century.  They were meant to be sometimes honest praise, but often satirical commentary on the events and people in the current cultural mind.  Sure, to us, they seem fairly random assortments of drapery and feathers, but to those in the know, (read, the upper class) the language they spoke was clearly discernible.
      Moving on to Coco Chanel's early work in wool jersey, which was inspired by the loose fitting shirts she saw fishermen wearing at the seaside resort at Deauville; changed forever the way people thought about wearing clothes, and how a woman could, and should feel in them.  Chanel stands alongside Poiret as one of the true innovators of the beginning 20th.  Her work was about simplicity and active movement, concepts fairly alien to most women of means at the time.
        But it wasn't really until the 1950s and 60s that the trend took wing in full.  Rock and roll, the Beats, and younger generation en masse provided the inspiration, and their growing financial power, the reason to bring it to fruition.  Suddenly massive amounts of clothing and accessories were being created exclusively for the young market.
    In the process, these youth derived, street derived looks entered the formal style lexicon, and have become standard fare.  Both the women's and men's looks here, with minimal tweaking could be worn right now with zero comment.
    By the 70s, the young had discovered thrift shops, and the treasures of amazing, fun, and unique (to them) styles on the racks there.  This spurred a huge retro fashion trend which manifested in companies like London's Biba department store, and the Fiorucci design label. The decades of the 20s 30s and 40s were all just far enough in the past for the young that they thought of them as cool, and funky.  Sound familiar?  Sure it does.  The rage for all things 70s that swept the design world in the beginning of the 21st is a perfect example.

    And now, the influence of the street in fashion is so pervasive that only at the couture level is work done that exists outside its influence, and not even there, most of the time.
    But the most vital point is this: now, street fashion has become its own game, spinning off into ever more subsets and groups of players. 
     From the profoundly fecund number of Japanese street styles, to the irony heavy looks of hipsters, the playing field just keeps getting bigger all the time.  In my mind, this is all a good thing.  To me it implies an increasing desire to express in more individual terms, rather than in herd terms, our personhood and mindset.  For example, the number of t shirt design companies on line that create and market designs for one day only, give an exclusivity, and uniqueness to the ubiquitous Tee, allowing it to be a billboard for one's own thoughts.
    So, let your freak flag fly, be unafraid of stating loud and clear who you are with what you clap on your back.  The truer you are to your own self, the more attractive you become.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Mr Data, Warp Factor 10."

    We have here a chicken and egg kind of question.  Did technology create the ever increasing speed with which modes change; or did the increase in changes help drag technology forward?

    The answer is of course, both.

    For the first 1300 years post BC, styles were pretty much in stasis.  First of all because so little trade to and fro was going on, and because the level of education was so close to zero, unless one were Catholic clergy.  Even some sovereigns couldn't read or write.  But along with the end of the Crusades, came an increase and interest in things outside one's own little sphere, and the splendid things that had been brought back as spoils, began to inform design in textiles, in particular.
    Now, of course all fabrics had to be hand spun, and hand loomed, and the jacquard loom was a long way off; so complex patterns of this sort were even more time consuming to create since the weaver had to keep track, thread pass by thread pass, of where they were in the design.  A single meter of such an involved textile would have taken days to make.
    As trade between nations increased, most especially with the East, and with a rise in information technology through the printing press in 1450, things began to move at a faster pace.  From about the mid 1400's on we see an ascending curve in the speed and universality of style changes.

In the early 1400s, things looked like this.
    By the mid 1500s they looked like this.
And by 1600, they had morphed into this.
    So in a scant 200 years the ossification of the prior millennium and a third was washed away.  We went from primarily loose, unstructured garments that owed much to classical drapery, to clothes that were not only complex, but rigidly structured and contained.  This rigidity of structure mirrored the structure of society which was daily becoming more carefully codified and set about with rules and regulations.  As well, the increase in complexity of structure gave ample opportunity for displays of significant wealth, through the use of expensive and literally rare textiles, and carefully worked embellishments.
    Now, take a look at what just 50 years brought.
    From here on changes continued to accelerate, but we have begun to see here with these images above, the beginnings of a pendulum swing from tight to loose, overtly sexy, to constrained.  In the mid 1600's the restraints of the reformation loosened, and so did apparel.  The clothes above are deliberately sexy and enticing, not so their predecessors of only 50 years time.
    The 1700's took us through another phase of constraints and releases, but as we got further into the century, the ever growing number of social rules of conduct began to stiffen, quite literally, the shape and execution of clothes.
    Once we get to the 1800s, with the beginnings of ready to wear, the increase in textile manufacture technology, and the growth of trade and exploration, we are really gathering speed.  Throughout the 1800s, changes in style and silhouette are occurring decade by decade, as opposed to the more generational changes previously. 
    And by the 20th century, shipping by rail, boat, and plane added to the vast growth of manufactured goods, means that change can happen with even greater rapidity.  Through the 20th, styles lasted, with a few exceptions, no more than 5 years before being supplanted.  And now, in the 21st, prevailing modes barely make it through a year.  Things are on trend for months, sometimes even only weeks.
    This rapid fire change is helped along by computer technologies that allow a designer on one continent to design a garment in C-Cad, send the file to India to be made up, where they will shoot video of a model wearing it so the designer can make changes, and have finished designs patterned and ready to go into production in a matter of a few days.

Marry body scanning technology to computerized pattern making and robotics, and you get to a point where a client could walk into a store, pick a design and a fabric, and have a custom made and fitted garment delivered the next day.

Whew, I'm dizzy now.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Monsieur Poiret Loses the Corset

     Revolutionaries have abounded in the fairly short history of couture.  And few have been as much so as Paul Poiret.  The number of innovations he brought to bear, not only in terms of what he designed, but how he presented them, resonate today and are mostly part and parcel of doing the business of fashion as we know it now.

    First and most importantly, through his love of Orientalia of all sorts he introduced a new manner of dressing that released women from the spine curving, waist crushing corsets that had been the mode.  Suddenly the waist returned to a level unseen since the 1810s.  And clothes fell in loose folds, with no restrictions in the midsection.  Of course corsets didn't actually disappear, but they changed radically, to a shape much closer to a human norm; and many women did in fact go without entirely.

     He also engaged the services, and encouraged the careers of young artists, like Georges Lepape (whose illustration of Poiret's work is below), and Paul Iribe; both of whom drew fashion illustrations for expensive, and exclusive folios of current design work from the house.  This began a collaboration with artists and photographers that is an intrinsic part of how fashion works today.

    He was also a master showman, and created lavish parties which became much talked of and recorded; which only furthered his fame and influence.  The most extraordinary of these was the 1002nd Night party, held in the gardens of his home.  All the guests were costumed by him, and this photograph is of the costume he himself wore, along with that worn by his wife and chief muse Denise.  No expense was deemed too much, including covering the garden paths in carpets, having caged birds and monkeys, and peacocks roaming about.

    Keeping his eye always on modernity, he used photography extensively, and was one of the first to show his designs on models moving through their day, These images were shot inside his home in Paris, which he used regularly as a setting.  He even did film of his models walking through his gardens, wearing his clothes, so that patrons could see how the clothes moved in real time.

    He was also the first couturier to produce fragrances attached to his house, and eventually created, with the design assistance of his daughters Rosine and Martine, businesses that made textiles for home use, furniture and home accessories.
    But for me, it will always be his remarkable critical eye, that never made something lavish simply for its own sake.  Everything was integral, and if it didn't contribute actively to the harmony of the design, it was rejected. Drama was fine, and in fact, actively sought, but rococo abundance was not.

    This final image, above, is called Robe Sabat, and is as fine an exemplar of the Poiret aesthetic as I could imagine. It is grand, brilliantly colored, expertly constructed, and given an operatic dash, without going too far.  He is for me, one of my first and best inspirations. And his work helped pave the way for decades of other visionaries who conceive entirely new ways of dressing the human form.  It remains for us to find and chivvy along these young unknown people, for who knows what wonders they make bring to light?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Keep Your Hands And Arms Inside The Car

Welcome all to Attire's mind.  I hope you enjoy the ride.  It promises to be a fascinating, complex and fun journey.

    This first post here, I thought I would dive right into the deep end.  One of the most recent things to show up in the world of attire is post gender design.  Its also known as gender neutral design.

    Now, there have always been people among us who have been of ambiguous sexuality or appearance.  And there have always been certain manners of dress that accentuate that ambiguity; for example the clothing of people in religious communities, which are deliberately designed to minimize the sexual attractiveness and availability of the wearer.  For most of us however, the sense of what is appropriate for a male or a female is quite clearly defined and though we may not like to think so, informs our perceptions to a very significant degree.  As we become more truly a global community, and as the strictures that have held male and female in separate camps for eons continue to fade, a growing number of people, among them an ever increasing number of designers of clothing, have decided to consciously push this concept forward by creating collections that either tweak the current ideas of the male/female dichotomy, or blow it to smithereens completely.

    But lets begin with the littlest of us first.  Fashion and Attire are not only the province of the adult. We train our children from infancy in the culture of attire; and the separation of male and female through it. Interestingly, one of the first places where gender neutral clothing has appeared in great quantity, is baby clothes.  Though the pink and blue rule is widely regarded, more and more makers of infant and toddler clothing are choosing instead to go with bright colors and patterns that are not tied to our cultural memes about gender specificity.

     To be honest, the whole pink and blue notion is a fairly contemporary one; in fact its a 20th century conception.  Prior to the 20th, the colors were reversed.  Pink was thought more fit for boys as it implied energy and activity, whereas blue was considered suited for girls as it was thought to be calm, quiet and retiring.

     So, socially the notion of gender neutral clothing has already made inroads into our culture at the earliest possible point. The fact that this is so implies some significant differences to come in how our now infant people will view regard their own clothes when they get to choose them themselves from what we now regard as normal.

     For many years now there have been innovative designers who have probed and prodded these ideas, sometimes to great effect and success, sometimes not; but experiments of all kinds are needed to make this happen in some kind of real world terms.

    Male models have been sent down the runways in a deliberate attempt to challenge and ultimately break apart our long held notions of right and wrong about human attire vis a vis one's sex.  And female models have for many years trod the runways in menswear inspired looks that are often almost indistinguishable from the men's clothing they mimic.

    But no matter how you feel looking at this young man, in his wig and fake fur jacket, you cannot deny he is beautiful (according to our current ideals), however much his appearance might make you uncomfortable in some non-verbal way.

    So, designers continue to explore the boundaries of this subject, creating looks that in gross or subtle ways ask us to re-think who we are and how we feel about ourselves. 

    Along the way, we are discovering new shapes, patterns and methods of combining things that serve to expand the huge, varied language that is Human Attire.  And also it is giving us further opportunity to look inward to ourselves,  and outward towards our own future, as our world becomes more and more in reality, the global village that we heard about decades ago.