Fashion designers. They can make us gasp with admiration, weep with frustration and, on occasion, empty our pocketbooks. They are innovators, casting an artist’s eye on what is and seeing what it can become…or creating something so new it begs the question: Why?
The House of Poiret:
Paul Poiret was a brilliant and innovative designer. His designs from the 1860’s to the early Edwardian years are still stunning today. But somewhere around 1910 he broke the mold of mainstream fashion, shattered it, actually, and gave us the “lampshade” dress. And as radical as that was, he usually paired it with a hobble skirt. So not only does one look ridiculous, there’s no chance of running away from ridicule. S’il vous plait, Monsieur Paul – what did you see that I don’t?
And, when enough time passes to ensure it’s new all over again, the look comes back – often even stranger:
Artist Sonia Delaunay was part of the Orphism movement, which is similar to Cubism and which explains her designs. Colors, angles, design in sub-units…her sketches are full of energy and movement. Her designs were angular in an age of angles. I wanted to dislike her work because of its overall shapelessness, but the more I saw the more I realized that it helped Cubism and Deco and Dada all bring visual movement to fabric. So, I offer a wincing cringe accompanied by an artist’s appreciation.
Needless to say, her fashion inspiration is still going strong:
Back to Mr. Poiret and another set of “fashion forward” designs. Oh, dear. Why do so many designers relish the thought of removing a woman’s shape altogether? I understand the move to free women from corsets and artificial form, but boxes and sacks? Really?
Louise Brooks was a famous model and actress who championed the “flapper” look by bobbing her hair before such a thing was done. As you can see, her figure and proportions were normal.
But wait! Here’s Louise in a little designer number intended to “emphasize the hips and detracts from the waist of the wearer.” All I can say is…mission accomplished. Big time. (Love the guy sneaking a peek.)
The biggest difference I see between the cutting-edge designers of the past and those of the present is pretty simple: Poiret and Chanel and Delaunay designed clothes that were to be worn as clothing. With a few notable exceptions, today’s designers seem to design clothing as costume. IMHO, that is. I wonder what, if anything, that says about the evolution of culture?
In closing, I offer a final salute to the designers of fashion, past and present, who take us to the edge and often over the falls. I don’t know how you do it and I don’t always like the end result, but your creativity can be just freakin’ amazing.