The term avant garde gets batted about a lot in the world of fashion. And most of the time the really famous designers only dally with the ideas encompassed by the phrase. But newer designers, with less to risk in many ways are the ones who really push the boundaries of our ability to understand and appreciate this visual communication medium we call attire.
These images are from designers working in the Futurist movement popular in the teens and 20s of the 20th century. They were trying, with remarkably little real success in real terms, to break clothing away from the strictures society had built up around them. This desire to re-examine our suppositions about apparel and adornment is one of the most vital parts of attire, and I use vital with two of its meanings here. The avant garde arm of fashion is both energetically lively, and also essential to the continuing evolution of attire. Just like a language must and does evolve, developing new words and phrases upon need, so does this visual language.
Sometimes the adjustments are fairly gentle ones resulting in simple changes in proportion or textile usage.
Often the changes are extreme, daring us as viewers to try to enfold this new idea into our brains. This red outfit is a slap in our faces. It very nearly stands toe to toe with us, calling us out to try to stand up to its presence. Our reaction to such works is usually instantaneous and visceral.
We laugh, or call it ugly, or unwearable. But at last, that is part of
the point. Unless you look beyond conventions. When I look at this
outfit, and I stand back from it and see the thing in its entirety, I
see a sculptural shape that is actually quite beautiful.
The way avant garde clothing manifests often disregards the shape of the body beneath entirely, working with rectilinear shapes and other forms that have no reference to how the body moves or balances.
And the avant garde also gives us a chance for self critique, like this Viktor and Rolf piece that carries its own lighting, an obvious slap at our self involved culture.
But it is the ability of avant garde fashion to shock, to test and to disquiet that is its most key element. It is imperative to us that we look closely at what we think and do, never allowing ourselves to become to complacent. Wildly crazy things like this tunic suit below, completely covered in pearl buttons, do just that. Sure, our knee jerk reaction may be revulsion or laughter, but if we stick around, there are things to learn, and appreciate.
Lastly though, there is an eerie beauty that the avant garde can present us, an otherworldly place where all manner of things become possible, and creatures of the most compelling nature exist.