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.

FASHION, DISTINCTION, DEMOCRACY

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IT’s possible that Fashion’s power reached its zenith when Kate Middleton married the heir to the British dynastic throne of the United Kingdom in April 2011.

Prince William had fallen in love with her, it was said, as she paraded down the catwalk at a charity Fashion show in their shared university town of St. Andrew’s, near Edinburgh, in Scotland.

Roland Barthes, the 20th century French philosopher and voyeur would have been fascinated by how the signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to a virile young royal.

Realising that the written garment is made by publicists and journalists, created through words, Barthes was interested in the way sign systems produce not clothing, not women, but the abstract notion of Fashion. He saw any number of extra meanings in everyday gestures and images. His genius was to write about them in a kind of reverse poetry; to reconstitute rather than condense.

Arch flâneur, he was consumed with a passion for observation. Speaking of Fashion as a ‘cross-subsidising organism’, he was enchanted by its vivacity, seeing it as a living thing. He thought it could do two things at once; extend everyone’s access to clothes, while making each wearer feel distinctive.

He writes of modern democracy, as if it were a universal given. In mid 20th century Paris it may have felt quite near.  Now not so much!

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!

A day in the year of a ‘Lifelong Learner!’

NEED an autumn break more than ever, but bothered about the planet. A vegan lifestyle may be the way forward but perhaps I should reconsider whether cruising around the globe for my next voyage is strictly ballroom!

Today I’m running ‘Cospa Gee’ in Akihabara for my friend. She’s a geek but a clever organised otaku. Her followers often create wardrobes from scratch, but  ‘Cospa Gee’s off-the-rack costumes, ranging from Sailor Moon to Final Fantasy fare, accessories and wigs are here for me to sell until it’s night-time in Tokyo.

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To keep me relaxed, as I dress for the day, I recall with utter mindfulness the moment I saw the coat which will take me from shopping mall to gorgeous city bar.

There it was among the cherubs, the gilding, the giant chandeliers, in the Paris neo-Renaissance Hôtel de Ville worlds away from the modern techniques long part of Issey Miyake’s output. Block-coloured red and yellow lights illuminated the balcony where sound artist EiWada manipulated radio frequencies for a live soundtrack.

Creative director,  Yoshiyuki Miyamae, took colours from the Aurora Borealis, northern lights, together with the ‘Pleats, Please’ legacy developed by the house. And for their AW /17 collection Miyake, collaborating with Dutch shoe label United Nude, kitted out models in bootie trainers with white corrugated soles, and ankle strap flats with chamelon-like soles that change colour from different angles.

This should take me from work to play, seamlessly, from demented shop keeper to ‘Silver Bullet’ sipping sophisticat at the ‘Oribe.’

 

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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.

 

 

Paris – City of flowers and lights!

‘I want to be there, NOW!’ to quote Axel Sheridan.cafe-de-flore

It might have been fun in 1954 with Barthes but in Summer 2015 I was on my way but I had to cry off.  I will make do with a Chanel presentation in London this July and maybe I can make Paris somehow, before 2018.

‘What was it about her face?” thought Roland Barthes sitting in Café Flore, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, after seeing Audrey Hepburn in the first French screening of ‘Roman Holiday’ on April 4th, 1954. Surrounded by Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, Françoise Sagan, Nathalie Sarraute, Romain Gary, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Marcel Rochas, Gunnar Larsen, Givenchy, Lagerfeld, Paco Rabanne, Guy Laroche, Tristan Tzara, Alberto Giacometti, Dali, Jacques Lacan, inspiration came thick and fast for Barthes.

Between 1954 and 1956 his stunningly provocative and most influential text, ‘Mythologies,’ observing cinema, advertising, fashion magazines, motor shows, began challenging ideas about Hollywood, striptease, steak, wrestling, wine, and film forever.

 Born in 1915, Barthes has become the ‘go-to’ guy for story angles and inspiration for 21st century art, media, advertising, fashion professionals and his reputation today rivals that of any of his Parisian contemporaries.

Of Fashion he wrote that it became an industrial synthesis between its making, and its selling. He recognised the contradiction, inherent in the industry, of Fashion being readily available for the many, without losing its ability to raise stakes or status for an individual.

Tomorrow I’ll write about Parc Citroen, Parc Asterix and the pack of peanut butter sandwiches!