Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Future is Mao

Warhol's Mao

Andy and Me
Mao Tse Tung by Andy Warhol c. 1972-4.

Thinking about mass-produced clothing, "the people's clothing," and just exactly where fashion is headed leads me down a curious road. As a sort-of ready-to-wear couturier, if that's the best word, I have put myself in an odd place. Who exactly is the competition, and how can I possibly compete with, say, Old Navy? When a dressmaker sets out to make casual clothing, sportswear, with the tools and approach employed in haute couture, there are many questions to overcome. The most obvious one being, simply, why? I won't waste time trying to justify an unjustifiable thing, but I feel there is value in the process as much as the result.

Clothing has changed as lifestyles have changed, women and men are more likely to have a closet full of throw-away clothing than a few good suits. This is not a matter of economy, as all this inexpensive clothing ultimately costs so much more than the expensive suit. And what's wrong with this? I wouldn't be the first to discuss the nasty problem of sweatshops, or their environmental impact, but I wonder who is taking up the intangible problems &mdash that's right, sweatshop clothing and the concept of Qi.

Mana, numen, qi (or chi), whatever you call it, the idea that the creator of an object transfers their energy into that object is widespread. As is the idea that that energy is later passed on to those who interact with said object, whether by viewing a work of art, or using a tool. Imagine clothing yourself daily in an aura of panic, poverty, indentured servitude &mdash oh, wait, you don't have to imagine.

No one likes a snob, I know. With fondness for Eames and Warhol, I maintain that this isn't snobbery against mass production &mdash there's nothing wrong with pop art or accessible design &mdash only an assertion that, perhaps, clothing made by unhappy, mistreated workers may possess not only sloppy construction but also a whole lota' bad mojo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In and Out Blogger

Dress by Claire McCardell

Dress by Claire McCardell,
c. 1950.
And they said no one designed like Halston.

There's always a lot of talk about what's in and what's over in the ever-changeing world of fashion, but to most Americans high-fashion runway trends are of no significance. Sportswear is what matters. Young ladies across the country stock up on sloppy knit tops and poorly constructed jeans, while clinging to years-old cargo pants and more-than-gently worn flip-flops. Why? These somewhat questionable fashion choices have very little to do with trendiness, and so much more to do with the unfashionable pursuits of personal comfort and low-brow conformity.

A stroll across almost any college campus in America &mdash with the exception of, say, FIT &mdash will prove this sorry point. The kids are wearing pajamas in public, short skirts and tank tops, "vintage" t-shirts (still!) and the kids are wrong.

We all choose our uniforms, why not make the effort to choose that which flatters, is tasteful, and comfortable not only for the wearer but those around them as well? Sadly, it's not always that simple; stylish practical clothes are not easy to find. There's really nothing wrong with sportswear, or even the t-shirt, but there is much room for improvement.

As an antidote to fashion's gradual decline: mass-produced Ready-to-Wear, to the disheveled hippie, to The Gap, I propose we revisit the work Claire McCardell, inventor of sportswear. As is often the case, when she did it first she did it right. So many of McCardell's designs look so fresh and modern that they could have been torn from last week's Vogue, shot in grainy black and white only for effect. But her work was not only stylish, it was functional, practical, easy to wear. McCardell is the woman who designed evening dresses with pockets. Today it's hard to find a pair of ladies trousers with functional pockets, much less a skirt. Apparently, even though we carry keys and cards and cellphones, modern women have less need for a place to put them than women in the 1940s.

McFashion may churn out polo shirts, tube tops and ill-fitting pants in fourteen different shades of navy, but we need not fall into fashion apathy by buying them. Let's demand the extra 1/10 yard of material required for pockets! Let's refuse poorly cut pants and cheap fabrics! If sportswear is the the people's clothing &mdash then people, we must demand better!

Shameless Flattery

You didn't hear it here first: volume is the new form-fitted. For a second it will be, anyway. Oversized clothing brings, I suppose, true fashion equality.

A tent will look equality shapeless on everyone, or as attractive as the pair of legs underneath its hem. But is that what fashion is about, equality? What happened to the fashion ideal, the look we aspire to possess?

Everyone's a rock star, artist, pundit, starlet. Talent doesn't matter anymore, so maybe it's time to forget even the ideal of beauty. Your looks might begin to fade before your fifteen minutes pass, so why bother? Everyone's shooting Botox these days—it's not cool anymore.