Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What, Oh What, Will I Wear Tomorrow

The “Future of Fashion” exhibition, sponsored by accessories manufacturer YKK and designer Kei Kagami, held in St. Martin’s Courtyard in Covent Garden, was a fringe event that accompanied London Fashion Week. It seems odd to name one event the Future of Fashion, when, really, isn’t that what Fashion Week is about anyway? To showcase new collections, show off new “girls” from the hottest modelling agencies, and to create new fashion trends? How do new fashion trends come about, though, and what makes them so cyclical? Why are we so enthralled by the corseted velvety primness of the ladies on Lark Rise to Candleford, and what makes us drool for vintage fashion?
Kemp and Earl say in The Elgar Companion to Consumer Research and Economic Psychology that two things signal a change in fashion trends. One, a particular trend gets more and more extreme, to the point where it becomes unsustainable to run any further with it. And two, the whole point of new fashion trends is to allow the people who are “in the know” to stand out from the crowd – once everyone starts to wear cheap imitations, the trend loses its reason for being. So, the trend changes, and things move on. (In Kate Middleton’s engagement dress from Issa, have we finally reached the anti-thesis of this proposition? Will we ever see the end of it?)
This kind of trend may be true of design historically, but it seems in the fashion industry today that designing a new collection is an end in itself. As a hot designer, your new collection has to always outshine your older work, and everyone else’s new ideas, too. Where, then, do designers look for this constant flow of new ideas? Are there any new ideas, or are we resigned to looking at retro fashion to find new inspiration? Alexander McQueen’s armadillo shoes notwithstanding, are there any truly new ideas in design?
Critical postmodern theorists like Jameson and Baudrillard, in Fashion as Communication, say that everything we design, the buildings we live in, the clothes we wear, they are all a pastiche. We’ve done it all before, and our “new trends” are simply a nostalgic re-hash of old trends. As Baudrillard says, fashion is always a recycling of the past. This is not a criticism, simply a fact of the cyclical nature of trends.
Going with the flow, then, the Future of Fashion showcased a motley collection of fashion and accessories from recent London design graduates. Fully three of the eleven pieces on display evoked a distinct Isabella Blow flashback, designed either with bird feathers in the head gear, or as birds in flight. Emma Yeo’s two pieces of millinery half hid and half revealed the face, cosseting the head like a nun’s habit, or an Egyptian hieroglyphic. Both hats were made of delicate-looking but strong black mesh in the shape of a bird’s wings, and looked poised for flight. If it were up to me, I would have chosen some of the award-winning confections on her website to be featured in the exhibition. The starburst oyster shells and the delicate tiara of wood shavings are my favourites.
If Rob Goodwin’s funky leather bustier is the future of fashion, though, then I’m in. Delicately and softly moulded to the chest, the jacket buttons all the way up the neck, and leads up to one of Goodwin’s acclaimed leather helmets, some of which have been commissioned by British Vogue and Vogue Italia. Going with the retro trend, the gear wouldn’t be out of place on a Roman gladiator, if she were young, petite and sexy.
It is true that the Future of Fashion event featured David Longshaw’s mouse Maude, who is supposed to be a spawn created by the (im)possible mating of British fashion’s favourite muse, Isabella Blow, brewery-goddess and walking-pastiche, Daphne Guinness, the effervescent Beatrix Potter, and several other colourful characters. It also featured Mason Jung’s uniform “Camouflage,” that evokes, for him, the strict discipline of his childhood. Still, my biggest thrill on visiting St. Martin’s Courtyard was the discovery that Bill’s from Brighton has now stormed London. I’m not totally convinced that this small fashion-fringe event was indeed the Future of Fashion, but I do know that Bill’s is the Last Word in Food!

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