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Friday, January 15, 2010

Return to Classics ~Part I

With a new year and decade, new hope springs eternal. Recently I was perusing my monthly required reading to ensure I wasn't missing anything the "mainstream" fashion elite were saying. One snipit I came across was from InStyle magazine. They had a poll asking, "Your goal is to create a wardrobe that's more...?". Very interesting results. 14% answered "Trendy", 15% "Sexy", 17% "Unique" and 53% answered "Classic". Ahah! I like that.

Aside from the "Classic" wardrobe response, a truly classic wardrobe could also well be considered "sexy", "unique" and even "trendy" compared to what we've seen in recent years. Are we returning to our roots? Perhaps its the bad economy and the disdain many have, or pretend to have against conspicuous consumption. The Madmen effect? Maybe people are coming to their senses both sartorially and economically. Afterall, it's a better investment to purchase high quality classical styles that last longer than 6 months. But then again, they could have just misunderstood the question or the poll was terribly flawed. On the other hand, another poll says Jackie Kennedy was  the most fashionable First Lady of all-time. Maybe there's something here in this classical thing.

Nevertheless, I'll take the result and run with it. While basking in thought of a return to elegance, just what is considered classic? A good place to start would be what is considered the Golden Age of Couture.  This so-called Golden Age would be roughly between the mid-1940's and 50's. At that time, names that have withstood the test of time were in full-form. The fashion houses and designers Chanel, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Lanvin and Nina Ricci were in full form and the period provided experience and influence for countless other designers.

To gain a grasp of this period, its important to understand the context surrounding it. Leading to and during this period of time, Paris was the center of the fashion universe. The rest of the world came to Paris to get their inspiration and see the latest styles. Relatively speaking, high fashion in Paris was well organized. Starting in 1868, Haute Couture houses were qualified as such and organized initially to work together to stop designs from being copied. From my daily walk from Tribeca to Soho, I can see on Canal Street they're still working on that issue. Although the organization has undergone several shifts in management and title, to this day it still falls under the French Ministry for Industry.

"Haute Couture" is actually a legally protected name in France that fashion houses must qualify for by meeting certain standards. The English translation of "Haute Couture" is somewhere between "high dressmaking" and "high sewing" and in practical terms means custom-tailored, hand-made, high quality garments. The connotation over time has come to symbolize the highest of high fashion.

Among the requirements for a fashion house to legally say they are Haute Couture, they must design made-to-order garments for private clients with at least one fitting and have a workshop in Paris that employs a minimum number of employees. Another requirement to become Haute Couture is notable for how it has influenced and led the way for the fashion industry we know today. Each Haute Couture house must present its collection for the season to the Paris press with at least 35 runs presenting both evening and daytime wear. As a result, the numerous required shows of Press Week has since become what we now know as Paris Fashion Week. Since then, the major Fashion Weeks of New York, London and Milan as well as countless other regional shows have emulated and developed to join Paris in becoming the bedrocks of the fashion industry we know today.

An interesting side-note is that the earliest form of New York Fashion Week started in 1943. What's notable about 1943? Paris had a German occupation problem and haute couture was not a war-time priority. Germany wanted to move the fashion capital to Berlin and fortunately never had the chance. American designers until that point had taken a backseat to Paris and while the designs were generally accepted as good, they designed for private labels of department stores and other retailers. Designers were largely ignored by the American fashion media such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, the attitude being that fashionable inspiration and design was Parisian-centric.
With Paris occupied and a void in high fashion, New York organized a series of shows around the City with each designer hosting their own event. When the venues proved to be sub-par and even dangerous with large groups, they finally agreed to hold the "Press Week" event at Bryant Park. As a result, American designers were finally able to show their designs without the long shadow of French influence to the American fashion press, show they were able to create excellent designs without inspiration from the French, were mentioned by name with their designs and designers such as Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta came into their own.

Paris was occupied by Nazi Germany from May 1940 through December 1944. Coming out of WWII in 1945, Paris as well as the rest of the world was exhausted and in shambles. Out of necessity during the war, woman became much more active in supporting the war effort and filling the voids left by the men serving on the battlefield. As a result, fashion mirrored the more androgynous role woman had taken. Boxy shoulders, straight lines, muted colors, heavier shoes, the femininity of woman's fashion had been diluted. The world needed to be put back on its proper course. Fortunately, in 1947 the right designer with the right idea was ready help point Paris and the rest of the world in the right direction. We were ready for a "New Look". We were ready for Christian Dior.

To be continued...

1 comment:

designer said...

I can't wait for there return! ~Loren