notes and thoughts: does street [fashion] influence fashion, or vice versa?

i attended the panel discussion on wednesday with pete and a nice young anthropology student, kelley, who’s going to SFSU (who also happens to be writing a large paper on street fashion for one of her courses this year). hi kelley! *waves*

it was a very interesting talk…most of the historical gems and insights below came from a rather educated academic on the panel, melissa leventon, who is a specialist in european and american costume and textiles. she is a museum curator, and teaches classes at CCA on fashion history and fashion theory. i would very much LOVE to take some courses from her; she appeared to be a font of knowledge and i could have listened to and discussed her insights on fashion (from a historical perspective) for hours. i mean that quite literally…i’m a history buff (i got a major in art history and a minor in history in my undergrad and history is one of my great loves, next to and in conjunction with fashion and the arts).

the other panelists were fashion designers working in the field…and were able to give insight into the business of fashion, which i appreciated on a personal level, though i felt that discussion of that particular subject (the business of fashion) often fell out of the bounds of this particular discussion topic (street fashion and fashion in general). so as a result, i’ve only included my notes from the portion of the talk that dealt with fashion as an art, and street fashion itself, with a few exceptions that i felt were relevant and/or interesting (particularly on the topic of haute couture and how it fits in with fashion as a whole and the arts).

***

what is street?
-literally, what’s in and on the streets
-seeing different elements-putting things together in an individual way
-popular culture
young people doing their thing—>typically the disenfranchised, NOT the wealthy-doing interesting things with what’s available [in the marketplace, what’s available to them]-interesting things happening mostly in the metropolises/bigger cities
-the street is like a fashion runway for the masses

borrowing?
-everyone borrows from everyone and everything-we are inspired by what we see
-give and take

fashion is?
-primarily about status
a collective expression AND an individual expression, simultaneously
we reinvent ourselves visually every single day
-fashion mediates expression, we choose what we want to partake of, and what we do not want to partake of
-there are not many original ideas, there are definitely common themes in fashion [and all arts, really!-TR]-there are common themes and people are influenced by the work and ideas of other people—> originality is in the INTERPRETATION
-we reinvent and recombine—> things become different

celebrity influence on fashion design/street style?
-stylists pick from the latest collections for shoots, which then influence later sales [to the average consumer, like YOU]-these stylists make sure that their clients [celebs] are at least one season ahead of the masses
-celebs typically don’t influence what designers are doing, though some designers do cater to celebs and keep an eye on them
-some mass market companies respond to what celebs are wearing and produce those products to gain sales from people like YOU

haute couture is?
it’s really just advertising
-RTW (ready-to-wear) is what REALLY drives the fashion system, since @ least the 1960s
-couture keeps going, though it’s really just a “fantasyland” using what are essentially 19th century design resources (hand-sewing/hand-work)
-there are less than 1000 true haute couture customers in the world and the garments typically cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce and purchase.
-haute couture pushes the RTW and licensed lines, which is where the bread and butter of a design house is TRULY made
-haute couture is an art form…very few people have the resources to actually be haute couture or buy haute couture

is fashion art?
-this point of view is not held as much in the US
-some do consider clothing to be art—> clothing is like portraiture-images of ourselves
-haute couture is allegedly “higher class” and makes fashion seem like an art to the elitist art world (though others disagree and call any level or class of clothing an art, even the most basic of tee shirts)
-fashion=a decorative applied art
-fashion=wearable art—> practical AND beautiful

today’s fashion?
-it’s like the 1970s [we’ve been looking back quite a bit since then]
-revival, looking at the past
-the cycles have sped up…we are looking at decades and eras increasingly close to our times…revival of past styles has been shortening
-we have TONS of images from the past and past styles (magazines, television, movies, the internet) to look back on and thus styles to revive
we do nothing but look behind us, YET it’s never *exactly* the same the second time around as it was the first time around…the DETAILS and PROPORTIONS are different
-there is something art/fashion/cultural historians call the “accident of survival”—> we can only riff on what survives and what we can see…but the pervasiveness of the aforementioned imagery means that we have plenty of fodder for inspiration, even if the item itself has not stood the test of time (this was discussed in response to a point my husband pete made concerning the dearth of cheap mass-market fashion on the scene at the moment, from places like H&M, etc. that seem to disintegrate after one season or less (planned obsolesce, essentially))

-today there seems to be a trend of ageless dressing, more than any other time in the past-more democratic-some social/societal norms of the past are breaking down or beginning to break down
-fashion still remains a young person’s game: the young are the most interested in consuming fashion
-older people generally have found their style and tend to stick with it
-the fashion industry focused on young [read=skinny] bodies [in general]
-there is a trend of “anti-brand”, which in itself becomes a brand (referring to NYT article of recent vintage)

the fashion industry…
wants to capitalize on what’s happening on the street..it’s all about making money, girls and boys.
[which is why things YOU AND I WEAR (and display on the internet) seem to mysteriously appear in the stores later…think of retailers like urban outfitters: they are capitalizing on the innovators on the street and in turn influence what average kids want to wear, and that’s merely one example.]

7 comments

  1. Lanzers

    Thanks for this, Tricia. Really appreciate your report/notes of the discussion. Echoes a lot of my sentiments, but in a much better fashion! Pun intended.

  2. Sullen Girl

    Very intelligently written and seems to have a backing of much knowledge from both experience and research. I love reading other people organized and outlined thoughts!

  3. tricia

    miss mary jane: i don’t think it’s nessisarily a bad thing that fashion re-invents itself. so does art! one thing builds upon the next. that is the way that it is, historically. it’s been happening for hundreds, if not thousands of years. if it’s a doomed world, it has been a doomed world for it’s whole existance.

    also, i believe that creatively re-using products made in the past is the smart, and eco-conscious thing to do. there are so many products already made and out there in the world just waiting to be worn again as-is, mixed with other things we own, taken apart and made into something else, and so forth. any new use will be a re-interpretation. nothing will ever be the same as it was the first time (a point someone made the other night at the discussion). i really believe that. things will be different because we are all different and the way we organize ourselves will be different. it’s all about one’s personal style and creativity.

    i think it’s interesting that the cycles of fashion are speeding up…we’re reviving and riffing on clothing from closer and closer eras….the 1990s seem to be back, actually. and i think that is so because thrifting and second-hand shopping among young people is VERY popular, and it’s popularity has been growing exponentially for years. garments from certain decades are in style at the moment (i’m thinking 70s and 80s styles mostly) and there may be less interesting pieces available in general from those eras, so people MAY be turning to more recent, more available, potentially cheaper fashions, i.e. things from the early 1990s. also, it’s been long enough since the early 1990s for there to be a bit of nostalgia for things from that era (has it been 15-16 years already? scary.)…

    there are not many new ways of constructing clothing being developed….our bodies have not changed hugely in millions of years…there are certain things that can be done with fabrics to make them mold to the body. the creativity comes in remixing the elements to make a new statement. even new creations in say, the world of textiles are riffs off of old ideas….remixing the elements of several fabrics and their characteristics to create a new fabric with new, combined characteristics. and then we go and make something retro out of those fabrics, and voila, we have a “new” take on a old idea.

    i guess it really doesn’t bother me much because i like the idea of remixing found things to make a new statement…i also really love turntablist music, and whatnot! but that’s a whole other subject…heheh. 😀

    really, it’s a myriad of things…!

  4. Anita Grant

    Interesting!
    This has given me a different perspective on fashion as I am just a T-shirt & jeans with trainers (running shoes) type of gal myself.
    However, this article has made me rethink about design and why it has to reinvent itself and where the reinventions of the day/era come from?
    Blast from the past maybe?
    OR
    Is it something more of a “I like what s/he’s wearing”?
    Not too sure…
    In London (UK), people wear what they want regardless but is that considered “Street” or just plain “Neet”?
    Thank you for encouraging me to ponder..

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