The Oxford Dictionary definition of pure is that an artefact, substance or being is unadulterated by another material or that it is of unmixed origin or descent. What does this mean for fashion design today? For a designer it is impossible not to be inspired, influenced or affected by other designers, products or artefacts whether historic or current. Retro and vintage are acknowledged as key to the way many women style themselves and there are direct retro references in many of today’s collections. The influence of other cultures, artists or designers is recognised as central to the creative process, whether it be Picasso and tribal masks, Van Gogh and Japanese woodprints or Yves Saint Laurent and the tuxedo. Integrating and incorporating a range of influences into a design that has a purity of vision and integrity is the creative trick that all artists or fashion designers seek to achieve.
What does purity of fashion design mean in the context of a post-modern globalised world where we are exposed to so many influences through the mass media, on-line society and globalised fashion retail outlets? Barthes said:
”The wearing of an item of clothing is fundamentally an act of meaning that goes beyond modesty, ornamentation and protection. It is an act of signification and therefore a profoundly social act right at the heart of the dialectic of society.”
How does the fashion designer maintain their influence on society and produce fashionable clothes that go to he heart of who we are when there are so many competing products and influences?
Yves Saint Laurent Trapeze Dress
During the 20th century the structure of society made it possible for fashion designers to create collections that could have major impact on larger sections of society- Mary Quant, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin all developed looks that changed the way society dressed. Even towards the end of the 20th century designers with a singular vision could have a major influence- consider the impact of Issey Miyake or Mugler- yet in our now inter-dependent world where we can have immediate access to a myriad of looks, in a variety of price bands with almost instant delivery, it is now recognised that there is no one look or way of being fashionable. Every fashion magazine displays a variety of looks represented in a range of price bands. A plethora of looks and ways of dressing epitomises our society today and at the moment no designer has the sort of influence on a whole section of society of say Dior’s New Look or has created an item such as the mini skirt that epitomised a decade. Nevertheless, today’s established designers such as Galliano, McQueen, Prada or Karan, or emerging designers such as Christopher Kane, Erdem or Richard Nicoll are all able to take the idea of what could be just an item of clothing with a utility function and through their insight, creativity and invention create a fashionable item of dress that somehow embodies a set of cultural ideas, aesthetics and values that many people want. What is so mysterious about this process is that somehow the designer through a pure and direct conception is able in their clothes to capture people’s imagination and beliefs.
For designers operating in today’s complex inter-connected world, we as individuals consume in a way that makes clear our individuality – where we buy our clothes, books or even choose to eat out all reflect who we are. The internet, globalisation and a culturally amalgamated world means that we have the opportunity to buy goods and services which epitomise our values from a world wide variety of sources. In such a world the designer has an even greater role to play. With competing products and constant innovation, the ability to create fashionable clothes which have a longevity that epitomise the values of quality, environmental responsibility and ethical production is a real design challenge. But it is a challenge that many designers are rising to. Influential designers such as Stella McCartney place their beliefs as a central part of their design process. Her clothes are desirable and beautiful, they have a purity of design that doesn’t compromise her values. As she says
”Everything in my store and every single garment and accessory that you see is cruelty free, in the sense that no animal has died to make anything in here. A lot of people out there don’t want products that an animal has had to die for.”
Her customers buy her clothes for their great design yet know they have been produced with ethical beliefs at their heart. As Kawamura says “Fashion may be socially frivolous but it is not sociologically trivial” and the designer who understands and integrates this into their design process is going to have the greatest impact today.
For Sublime Magazine. Pure Issue 13