Thursday, 23 May 2013


Fashion is widely regarded as an industry designed to make women (and men) look beautiful. Clothes are designed to be sold, and for this reason the principal role of a designer is to design clothes that flatter the figure, accentuating the silhouette and generally creating a garment which is both attractive and wearable. In this post I will attempt to look at how important it is for modern fashion to be wearable - although the recession is tightening its grip on industry in general, the fashion industry continues to thrive. The question I wish to explore is whether or not there is room for more avant-garde design in the commercial sphere - the main goal is to sell the collections, meaning that designers choosing to explore less practical visions are now taking a larger risk than ever. 
Hussein Chalayan - one of fashion's most avant-garde designers
In terms of mainstream fashion, the truly iconic houses such as YSL, Chanel and Versace all rose to fame by selling their own interpretation of beauty. Although each designer had their own niche aesthetic (whilst Versace specialised in sexy, bold looks, YSL favoured elegance whereas Chanel glamourised androgyny), each designer created garments which sold well because they maintained a level of wearability which meant that any woman could wear the clothes and look (as well as feel) great. 
Glamour in the 50s - Chanel

In modern society, the enormous presence of the media means that it is now more difficult than ever to maintain a sense of mystery in fashion. One of the greatest aspects of the work of designers such as Kawakubo and Margiela was that the designers rarely made public appearances or gave interviews, leaving the spectators to unravel the story of the collection. Sometimes the message was obvious - Kawakubo's 'White Drama' collection, for example, was a clear commentary on the restraints of marriage, a theme which she had previously explored in her 'Broken Brides' collection. However, other elements are open to interpretation; Kawakubo is renowned for her intellectual take on fashion, often choosing to create garments that aren't traditionally pretty in order to challenge perception. Kawakubo's F/W 2012 collection was comprised entirely of dresses which were designed to look 2D, shown in a variation of bold prints & colours. Lady Gaga later chose to wear one of the designs (now known as 'The Fat Dress') as a response to criticism of her weight - the exaggerated proportions of the dress render the dress almost unwearable, yet Kawakubo herself has given no explanation as to her decision to create a collection of dresses that are essentially impossible to wear.

Comme Des Garçons A/W 2012
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The concept of facelessness is another which crops up often in the more avant-garde realms of the fashion world - Margiela often sends his models down the runway in bejewelled masks, entirely masking their identity. If we relate this to the fact that Margiela himself is an enigma (the designer is rarely seen in public, leaving his equally-mysterious 'Maison' to handle all public relations), the element of enigma is one which has gained him a cult following. By choosing to retreat from the spotlight, the designer becomes infinitely more interesting than his fame-hungry peers, leaving his collections entirely open to interpretation. 

McQueen is another designer famous for the use of masks in his collections - in 'Joan', for example, the main look is a red lace dress complete with mask which entirely covers the identity, creating a foreboding presence. McQueen has also been known to obscure models faces with, amongst other materials, bird feathers, chain mail and heavy leather - interesting when we consider that these are his Pret-à-Porter collections which are aimed at consumers. Even in the work of McQueen's successor, Sarah Burton, the traditional rules of fashion are not adhered to. For the A/W 2913 collection, Burton showed a collection which is best described as 'demi-couture', incorporating luxe materials and intricate detail into a RTW collection. As opposed to showing 40+ looks (as most designers choose to), Burton presented only 12 looks, all of which were dazzlingly extravagant and arguably unwearable in day-to-day life, yet the collection garnered critical acclaim. 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, A/W 2013 Detail
It remains to be seen whether or not there is room for an experimental approach to fashion in today's society - the couture shows are now reserved for the elite, and even respected houses such as Givenchy and Mugler no longer show Couture. Instead, 'semi-couture' (a term coined to describe Margiela's work, incorporating the hand-stitching of couture into mass production) is rising in popularity - Margiela's 'Artisanal' range, for example, recently gained couture status, meaning that the line between couture and ready-to-wear is now more blurred than ever. Whether or not this will translate into sales (which are, unfortunately, indispensable), will only be proven as time passes. 

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