Friday, December 01, 2006

What is fashion? By L Brown

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By L. Brown

Many people are confused by fashion. They see ridiculous photos of a woman
the size of a toothpick, wearing a day-glo orange Egyptian mummy costume.
And when people see these garments, they believe they are being told that
designers expect them to wear this outfit on the street. That isn't the
intention at all. Here is a brief discussion of fashion, and the roles that
define it.

Clothing is what keeps you warm and clothed. It is functional only. A
burlap sack, with holes cut for the arms and head, serves this function.
Fashion is the art of wearing clothing. It need not be formal. Sportswear
is considered a style, or type of fashion. But if fashion is art, haute
couture is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is a garment that has been
laboriously checked to make sure that every stitch is perfect. There are
currently only ten haute couture houses in the world, because the standard
is set so high.

This description often inspires the question, "Why do I see ridiculous
things on the runway?" The answer is complex. More risks are taken in
couture because typically the gowns are never sold anyway. Just as it would
not be appropriate to hang the actual Mona Lisa in your average home, it
would not be appropriate for most women to wear a haute couture gown. It
would be just as out of place. The reason haute couture exists is so that
designers can focus on grand concepts. They may like the beading for a
design, and the entire design evolves around that beading. Or perhaps they
want to do a certain type of hemline. They may base the entire dress around
the hem.

And that's when many people counter with the argument that they see plenty
of ridiculous items in a ready-to-wear collection. Typically, in a
ready-to-wear collection, a designer may have all the models in a ridiculous
hairstyle, or wearing offbeat hats. These are mostly gimmicks that help tie
the collection together. The garment itself should work together as one
complete outfit, and tie in with every other garment in the collection, so
that it looks like all of the outfits would belong to the same woman during
one stage in her life. These often have details that they may want to
present to the world, or trends that they think are coming, but the outfit
as a whole does not have the same level of craftsmanship that a haute
couture gown will.

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Even then, the designers do not typically expect that you will buy their
gowns. The press attend the shows, and fashion writers talk about their
favourite details of each gown. They pick out the things they think will
sell magazines. The person who is most responsible for what the consumers
have to choose from is the buyer. They view all of the collections, pick
details that they want to have in their stores, and find similar clothing
with mass appeal that has that detail.

The haute couture designers make the day-glo orange Egyptian outfit that has
mummy bandaging. The designers take that idea and make a de-constructed
garment, like Jay McCarroll's collection during the first season of Project
Runway. The fashion writers focus on collections like that. Then the
buyers find garments that have frayed edges or feature gauzy fabrics. It's
a trickle down process, although one that happens very quickly.

So have no fear ladies. Nobody actually expects you to dress like a spray
painted mummy.

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