A Fashion Pandemic

AFTER months of misery the Fashion industry usually fights back and there is delight in dressing up and going out.  Paris, with its years of austerity, rationing and separation, during WW2, was revitalised by Christian Dior, Art director, dilettante, Europe’s other famous Norman.

With four years of Nazi rule Paris, ‘city of lights,’ was dim, but after liberation by the American forces there was the discovery of be-bop. It swept the city and black Americans stayed on, rather than return to the segregated USA.

On the streets the cult of cool was about to be born, and women wanted a designer to help them shake off the ‘horrible overalls’ and the boxy shapes of war-time clothes. They wanted to look sexy and feminine. It was then, in February 1947, that 30, Avenue Montaigne would become the world headquarters of Fashion.

Half a century before the internet Christian Dior, who had spent much of the war dressing the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, revived pre-war looks for post-war customers targeted at Hollywood’s world wide audience. He created feminised ‘flower women,’ happy to turn their backs on careers and military uniforms.

NewLookDior’s New Look, in 1947, made every other dress look outmoded. There was an electric tension – ‘wasp waist of jacket, weight of skirt barely worn by human beings, real old fashioned corsets to create shape,’ in direct contrast to the 40s look.

Christian Dior’s publicity machine was so effective that in a Vogue feature, proposing numerous routes through Europe by car by inventive motorists, Dior was featured by the magazine rather in the way Alexandra Shulman writes of Victoria Beckham for Vogue UK, April 2008.

Dior’s New Look was very good for fabric manufacturers, and especially good for his sponsor, Marcell Bussac. The ‘Bar’ suit, famously photographed by Willy Maywald. With its padded, static jacket and its heavy 80lbs, long, black wool pleated skirt, depended for its sculptural form on the 19th century skills of the corset maker.   Coco Chanel said of her rival: “Christian Dior doesn’t dress women. He upholsters them”.

Dior became the ‘master of marketing;’ selling perfumes, and realising the ‘importance of the public identifying with the designer.’ Dior had his personal and business journeys mapped and followed by the Media, becoming the first celebrity couturier. Recognising the importance of trade between the House and buyers by 1948, he and his team include Cuba, Finland, Holland, Mexico, and Sweden in their contact lists. When Bettina Ballard, the journalist who was editor-in-chief of Vogue, America in the 1950s, heard that designs were being geared towards department store owners’ wives she said, “I would not put it past Dior!”

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The recovery of the French Fashion industry was in the hands of Dior, who saved haute couture in the face of a ‘growing market of ready to wear, especially in the United States’. Paris was put into a position where it was also able to set the template for London couture and Fashion training. During the war there was the fear that American design would take over. So the Paris group, Chambre Syndicale, put together ‘Theatre de la Mode,’ a collection of dolls which were on display during the V&A exhibition in London. Said, to have been designed to raise funds for war victims they, really, were commissioned to raise the profile of Haute Couture.

SUCH DEVOTED SISTERS

RODARTE, the  American clothing and accessories label, founded and headquartered in Los Angeles, California by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, is going Goth on the catwalk.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy added to the vampire pantheon in their 2020 Fall collection in the dimly lit nave of St. Bartholomew’s church in Midtown, Manhattan, NY, providing a fittingly gothic stage as the Mulleavys sent their army of the ethereally chic, undead, out to stalk the night.

When designers work with influences from Art, Music and Cinema they are drawing on inspiration from Elsa Schiaparelli, the star struck twentieth century Surrealist clothes maker and  trend setter. She was however less likely to use images from the dark arts and more to be gazing into the galaxy. Rodarte

Midtown Manhattan audiences were wowed by the 17th look to parade into view.  It reminds me of a 1950s fine wool, black, shirt-waister patterned with white, miniature, dancing sailors, worn by my mother, Trixie Greenwood–Sparks, as she explained the wondrous life of the legendary Schiap.  Do the tassels look like comets?

MARY QUANT: Genius in action at London’s swinging V&A!

THERE’S  magic at a Mary Quant exhibition this Spring.  Quant is revealed as a genius of the Modern age in an exemplary experience at London’s V&A. Curator Jenny Lister, captures the enchantment and excitement inspired by the British designer just over half a century ago.  

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At the V&A Jenny Lister shows Quant in action, illustrating  her skills and success, with  spectacular displays of clothes from fans’ collections and donations; stylish people who’ve loved Quant since before influential 60s journalist Ernestine Carter wrote:

It is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant.

Travelling with Quant and her husband Alexander Plunket Green from Chester to Manchester airport in 1981, I was meeting a Fashion phenomenon.  After 25 years of continuing international success APG spontaneously praised her exceptional talent,

Mary and her team are like French couturiers. We don’t take great whacks out of the business. Our first motive is a passionate interest in the goods”.

My play for Radio 4, Thoroughly Modern Mary dramatises these early years, questioning the power balance between the Plunket Greens.  At the V&A there is new evidence to back my plotting. In dynamic film footage the couple are seen in their offices and studios running their international Fashion house in the 1960s.  APG is filmed directing staff, guiding them to assist in the operation, while Mary researches, designs, philosophises about Fashion and its impact on society. He is obviously in her thrall as he witnesses genius in action!

It was the British Post Office which confirmed Quant’s greatness when they put a little black dress on a series of stamps in 2009. No one was more surprised than Mary Quant when she found herself being celebrated with 20th century Modernists but this is exactly where she should be positioned.

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She was at the heart of the Modernist momentum and it took British Post Office to identify her worldwide influence. She was much too close to see she was interpreting an international movement. At the time of the second Bazaar opening she wrote:

“Fashion is the product of a thousand and one different things. It is a whole host of elusive ideas, influences, cross-currents and economic factors, captured into a shape and dominated by two things….impact on others, fun for oneself. It is unpredictable, indefinable. It is successful only when a woman gets a kick out of what she is wearing; when she feels marvelous and looks marvelous.”

Identifying herself with the characteristics of Modernity, Quant sees it encouraging change, embracing technologies which would make life more enjoyable for men and women:

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“It is the Mods…the direct opposite of the Rockers (who seem to be anti-everything)…who gave the dress trade the impetus to break through the fast-moving, breathtaking, up-rooting revolution in which we have played a part since the opening of Bazaar.”

For some of the forty years since his Bazaar liaison David Wynne Morgan, was chairman of Hill and Knowlton, Madmen archetype in New York. He was still working in Fashion when I met him. His first words on Quant, in December 2006, were, ‘She’s a genius’.

Staff at the V&A, delighted with the current show’s enchanting glamour agree, with  Wynne Morgan and me, that we are indeed witnessing a life and works of pure brilliance.

 

Daisy

 

 

 

 

Vestire il robot! Salva il Pianeta!

DON’T you just love the Italians with their sense of style and scientific curiosity?

Here’s a researcher investigating the most exciting developments in textiles and technology at the international fashion fair, Milana Unica, this month.

Designed to show what we –  or our robots – will wear S/S 2019, it keeps Milan at the forefront of the Fashion world!

Volatile fabrics such as layered tulle, muslins and iridescent organics, combined with multicolor satins and vinyl or metallized fabrics, inspired by Robotics and Second-Skin stretch tubulars are seen here.

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Milano Unica’s slogan for today is SAVE THE PLANET!

Art for Feminism and Fashion’s sake!

LEONOR Fini, the avant-garde artist who Christian Dior exhibited in the gallery he ran in early 1930s France, before becoming a Fashion designer; is inspiration Spring 2018.

Surrealism and the dreams of women; for Dior’s Maestra, Maria Grazia Chiuri.  Chiuri is said to be fascinated by how Fini used clothes and extravagant headdresses to “produce” her identity.

“She used her image to be regal and powerful. Surrealism speaks about dreams and the unconscious, and often about women’s bodies. It’s very close to fashion,” Chiuri tells us.

She uses Surrealist symbolism—the black-and-white checkerboard runway, and the bird cages and faux plaster casts suspended over it, to frame her collection. Stephen Jones delicate eye masks are in homage to Peggy Guggenheim. Guggenheim also  exhibited Fini in her 1943 show, ‘Exhibition of 31 Women Artists.’

Speaking of the difficulty women have to be taken seriously, Chiuri explains why solemn black is chosen by designers and MeToo campaigners. However her feminism allows her to move on, “We have to think about dreaming,” she suggests. “In a way, it [haute couture] is our business. But if you never dream, you don’t think that something negative can change.”

Like Helen of Troy, it’s ‘the face to launch a thousand ships!’

 

PAOLO Riversi believes that ‘photography is the revelation of another dimension’. His skills at devising a myriad of shots over decades is celebrated during an exhibition in Milan today.

“I am not interested in the everyday or the commonplace. They carry no emotions for me,” Roversi ‘master of the dreamy, the fantastic and the ethereal,’ tells The Business of Fashion.

“Paolo Roversi, Stories” is the main exhibition in the stunning Appartamenti del Principe on the top floor of Milan’s Palazzo Reale for the Vogue Photo Festival, curated by Alessia Glaviano, current photo editor of Italian Vogue

Among the intricate tapestries, gilded stuccoes and marble floors, are photographic selections, including a full series of unpublished portraits of Rihanna, outtakes from an album cover shoot.

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Whether the styling is eclectic, decadent, or divine the focus is always the face.

If for Fashion or the Music industry Roversi wants each carefully crafted image to tell a story.

“It is about fantasy, fabric, invention. In order to work, however, a fashion photograph must function in two ways: it has to be the portrait of a woman wearing a dress, but also the portrait of a dress worn by a woman.”

Vivienne Westwood interpreting her own creations, discussing her own work, explains, “The  silhouette looks like an ant on stilts, the head comes out looking more important, and with the shoes, forming a pedestal to give particular power and expression to the most erotic part of the person, the face.”

The Fashion geniuses  Roversi and Westwood are artists who pay homage to the Renaissance painters whose portraits make up the stories of  earlier lives, loves and eternal emotions.

 

The little singing milliner’s latest looks!

SOMETIMES a look is so subtly suggestive of a label’s legend that it’s difficult to spot the brand at first. Not this time, however! Even dressing transparently leaves no room for doubt.  This can’t be anything but Chanel!

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From the label’s 2018 Spring collection, the hat reflects designs based on simple styles and shapes from housekeepers, nannies and nurses uniforms of the times. Gabrielle Chanel saw the looks as more chic and flattering than the fussy overdecorated chapeaux worn by 1920s middle class conventional women.

Chanel experimented with textiles. Using transparent plastics and acrylics echoes the founder’s practice. Tweedy texture of the jacket continues a tradition based on Coco’s connections to English and Scottish aristocrats.

I love the way Lagerfeld and his team enchant us with new ways of seeing Fashion without losing sight of their original inspirations.