Are we original?
It is undoubtedly the case that every youthful population in circulation at any point in history wants to be seen as unique; to be seen as a group truly shaping the world with their ideas and new aesthetics.
Due to reasons that don’t bear much explanation (the growing young adult population and their engrained struggles with employment and housing), when we think of ‘the youth’ today, it’s a broader group then it might have been 20 years ago. The advent of social media has blurred lines between the ‘teen’ and ‘young adult’ groups so that anyone between 15 and 30 right now can be seen as part of the same millennial cohort. With this in mind, we are uniformly guilty of following the retail trends of late, recycling trends from two decades past because they have enough distance from us to seem ‘cool’, or counter-cultural.
We’re wearing the 90s now – mom jeans, bomber jackets and sport lux – and this will inevitably evolve, over the next few years, into wearing the trends of the 2000s. In and of itself this is all fairly benign; but why is it so difficult for us to create our own fashions, as a cultural stamp for the times we (and only we) live in? Anyone who has watched Clueless should remember the point at which inimitable protagonist Cher is describing the clothes men wear in high school: the baggy clothes and the bright colours and the skewed hats – that was so different for the time. Are we being lazy now - or is our ability to choose between any era we find aesthetically pleasing a positive thing?
The cycles in which fashion moves have always been fascinating. One hears stories of how Christian Dior became an icon by redesigning the woman’s silhouette post world war one or how St Laurent created the groundbreaking women’s tuxedo. It seems to me, as a ravishing observer dressed in grey, that there was a point when a great deal of what the youth were creating was genuinely original. That’s a phenomenon we seldom see now, in fashion and retail alike.
Surely as time marches on and we become more technologically advanced and have these great templates to bolster our own strides, we should be making bold advances too. Maybe the difficulty is purely down to the pace of things now. The scale. A modern day fashion house, to be truly noteworthy, typically must be part of a larger conglomerate like the LVMH group for financing, and that requires interest, which requires commercial viability. That is to say, you must be able to sell your product on a popular commercial scale in order to survive – how straightforward. The issue then comes when one looks at this technically – a designer is required to create up to 6 collections a year being Autumn/Winter, Spring/Summer, Pre season collections and possibly (if the house is prestigious enough) couture shows too. How could one be genuinely expected to create anything truly new in between all of that? Sure, it serves the public in an instant gratification sort of sense; we are sated and can wait for the next round of shows. But what art and ingenuity are we losing in this continual grind? Dior and St Laurent flourished with their contemporaries during the mid 20th century when they had more time.
Like most any art, fashion shouldn’t be rushed. Creation of what people are going to exist within, collectively and individually, shouldn’t be rushed.
Tom Ford is arguably one of the most talented designers and brand directors that has ever lived – he saved Gucci from oblivion, while creating the most sensual collections the 90s had ever seen. In lieu of his acclaimed work on self written and directed film Nocturnal Animals, he spoke about his foray into film being due, in part, to it being a greater avenue in which to express himself. He pointed out that he saw himself as a “commercial designer” which, while being a position he enjoys, doesn’t allow for as great an artistic freedom as filmmaking.
Now, this is all well and good; and of course it must be noted that it is a trifle unrealistic to expect designers to create nothing but truly avant-garde high-art, and for everyone to covet it. Many consumers aren’t concerned. This notion doesn’t negate the significance and importance what it means to live in a time where there is no time for raw self-expression. Multiple brands are now ditching the traditional fashion calendar in favour of their own, which suits them more – one can reasonably hope that this marks the beginning of a shift toward a sort of design renaissance, where everyone can enjoy the process and clear passion put in to the collections in a less stilted, more organic way. Time will tell.