“You're… blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets… then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.” Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada.
When I think of my grandfather I can remember the way he smelt of hard-boiled fruit lollies and the musk of old age. I recall sitting on his little terrace turning over shiny gold coins in my hand, a lavish gift. But in each recollection my grandfather wears the same clothes. But this is not a failing of memory. Here was a man who had three sets of clothes; Levi jeans for work and household duties, a suit for appointments and riding the train to and from work and a uniform of tailored brown shorts and a checkered shirt for every occasion in between. Practicality motivated all of his choices, sartorial or otherwise. But now those Levi jeans have been retro reprieved and hip young things are wearing the very same checkered shirt.
You can still choose clothes for practicality but you can no longer escape the context. Fashion marches forward like nature, keeping time with the seasons and always, always regenerating. An undeniable presence throughout history, fashion was there for it all. The brass buttons on army uniforms in war, the flare on a pair of pants that symbolized an entire era of music, the scandalous safety pins on Liz Hurley’s Oscar’s dress, the afro haircut that conveyed black pride, the wisp like smoke, of sparkling fabric that encased Marilyn while she sang Happy Birthday one evening a long time ago. Layers upon layers of cultural references that have accumulated in each stitch and seam of the clothes we wear every day.
Originality is relative; our fashion choices are drawn from a catalogue of our own previous cultural encounters. Our fashion dreams have already been dreamt, pondered, created and sold before they are implanted into our minds before bed. So that when you awaken and open your closet the ideas are already there. Like a champagne fountain fashion flows from the highest rungs down to the bottom where it pools among the masses. For example Christophe Decarnin is one day inspired by rock stars, Gianni Versace’s work in the 1980’s and country western. Along comes his celebrated Spring 2009 collection for Balmain. Jennifer Connelly wears the collection’s sequined green dress, Lindsay Lohan wears the jeans, and Victoria Beckham wears the jacket. These designs are recreated and bought by department stores and then cheaper fabrics are sourced, edges softened and the style meets the greater population in the chain stores. And so when this season you are greeted by rails of sequined dresses, broad shouldered tuxedo jackets and stonewashed jeans, the choice has already been made for you.
For those of you who don’t put their left hand on Vogue to swear an oath, I’ll fill you in on a few of the other latest trends on the sidewalks and catwalks: there’s tuxedo jackets, draping, over the knee boots, leather and Harem pants- loose, tapered pants with a dropped crotch that are a little bit genie and a lot MC Hammer. These pants are hotcakes and can be found in all good chain stores. Young women across Australia have all decided that puffy pants in the vein of a nineties rap star are part of their personal style. But what’s the punch line? These pants were first seen on the runway of someone called Christian Dior, wait for it… back in 2002. The girls that are wearing these pants did not choose to do so out of practicality or necessity, they chose to participate in the fashion game, they strived to express themselves and communicate a message that they were better than my grandfather in his Levi jeans “before they were cool.” When we make our clothing choices in this bottom feeder fashion way, we’re being a little bit different and a lot the same. But nothing against harem pants.
This is the way world wardrobe operates. The cycle is unavoidable. Mid 1970’s London saw the emergence of ‘punk’ culture. They were a group of young people that rebelled against the restraints of music and fashion. They ripped, tore, pierced, studded and painted clothing, and they called it ‘anti-fashion’. It was an aggressive movement; they defaced the process of design and spited the beauty of their bodies with never before seen piercings and haircuts. These kids would not shine their shoes, they would not button their top buttons and they believed they were refusing to participate in fashion. But punk was one of the greatest fashion revolutions of all time. Here began the idea that instead of adding to the creation of a piece a designer could take something away from the silhouette, from the richness of the fabric or from the symmetry of the pattern and it could actually be improved as a result. Vivienne Westwood delivered this style to high fashion and Alexander McQueen transformed the concept and sent bloodstained models in tattered dresses down the catwalk, and called it Highland Rape.
Today people who have never listened to punk wear tattered tartans and doc martens. Weekday businessmen trade suits for drag on the weekend and women draped in designers return home to low rent apartments on the bad side of town. To add extra wear to a very overused quote, Shakespeare once said, ‘all the world’s a stage’, and each day we choose our costume for the show. Style is like power; the rich foolishly believe they posses it as a birthright, it inspires love and jealousy and those who do not try hard at all ultimately lead the way. John Galliano said that “clothes are memories” and designers live to “decorate your dreams”. In this way fashion operates as an invisible framework in all of our lives, fairies in the night. So when you wake tomorrow morning and you choose, for example that dress with the slim waist and full skirt without ever knowing that it was inspired by Dior’s ‘New Look’ you can at least have a sense that you are surrounded by the magic that is fashion.
Let me know if any of my facts are wrong... its horrible to see how dated it's becoming already. But I suppose that's how it goes with fashion.