FASHION FROM A to Z Piet Paris & Georget te Koning
Black, white, flesh-coloured, strapless, push-up, padded, silk, lacy, satin. Even if I don’t need a new bra, I still enjoy browsing through the sprawling lingerie section of a department store. Just look at them hanging there in rows and ordered in succession of size from 65A to 80D (and larger). There is no other item of clothing with such a complicated sizing system, and yet a bra seldom fits perfectly. And they are actually quite strange things: those thin straps, the round cups made of synthetic material, the horrible metal underwires and then there’s the twentieth century fastening at the back that every man loves to hate. They are available in a maddening range of colours, materials and designs. I squeeze the nasty foam cups, wonder at a strawberry print and marvel at some of the price tickets. So much money for so little fabric. And what about innovation? Bras haven’t been innovative for years. The push-up Wonderbra was introduced in the mid sixties. What do the hyped brands such as Agent Provocateur, Victoria’s Secret and Fifi Chachnil actually bring to the industry? Nothing more than just another sexy pin-up model. And then there’s the kinky spider’s web design by Marlies Dekkers … Purely ornamental. The bra is all about decoration: a little lace here, an extra strap there, an added bow, spots or stripes. As every designer knows, these embellishments have a double power of attraction for us. I’d dare to bet that the even most dedicated fan of Calvin Klein, known for his minimalistic underwear, has a soft spot for the odd frivolous decoration. Browsing through hundreds of bras, stubbornly thinking no no no, I really don’t need a new bra, is a thought I can’t hold on to for very long. Just as with shoes and bags, bras have become impulse buys – my hidden accessories. Just wait and see, you try on one of these strange contraptions and it comes to life – you’re sold.
COLLECTION Corolla, Ballet Russes, Russian Doll, Afterwords. These are the names of famous collections that once made their mark on the world of fashion or have become unforgettable for some other reason. A recent example is Plato’s Atlantis, the last and also truly fantastic collection from Alexander McQueen in 2010. A fashion collection is an amalgamation of items of clothing that together create an image. A striking presentation can add to the drama. For their Russian Doll couture collection, Viktor & Rolf dressed a model as a layered matryoshka doll in eight dresses. It was a miracle that the poor model didn’t collapse under the weight of so much gown fabric. Spectacular shows like those of Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan, with dresses like tables, are now very last-decade. Until the end of the sixties, it was the collection that shone in the spotlight. The shows were rather dull affairs. There was a lack of music and a female speaker announced every model (‘And Paulette is wearing …’). Season after season, the show opened with simple house frocks, followed by smart suits for wearing out and about. There were exuberant cocktail dresses to wear late afternoon and festive party dresses for the evening. And finally, the icing on the cake, the wedding dress. Such a traditional show still exists here and there. I quite like them and compare them with a 24-piece tea set consisting of matching components that are all useful and inseparable. But just as the shops selling traditional coffee sets and complete dinner services have disappeared, the fashion shows of today no longer include outfits for specific functions and times of day. They are more like our kitchen cupboards, containing a mishmash of glasses, plates and bowls – but there are precious top pieces too. The Corolla line by Christian Dior in 1947 included all kinds of variations, but just one skirt fanned out so beautifully under a slim waist and broad shoulders that we deified it as the New Look. There can be only one teapot.
Checks, spots, stripes, Indonesian patterns, pinstripe, panther and floral. Printed, woven or embroidered. Designs are essentially completely unnecessary embellishments, but they say a lot about who you are. This is put to great use in films, with hard-working characters typecast in checked shirts. Pinstripe-wearers represent order and control and this is sometimes what we are supposed to think. In Wall Street – both in the money grabbing film of the eighties, and in the modern banking world – the greatest villains are always the best dressed. We like to play with preconceptions. Just consider the gruesome skull motifs printed all over cute little baby clothes, and everyone’s wearing pinstripes nowadays (gangster-chic). For the wearer, a certain design or pattern often carries a different meaning than for the onlooker. ‘No, you idiot, my baby is not a member of the Hell’s Angels. It’s fashion.’ The fashion world hasn’t been so keen on patterns for quite a while. Yet there’s always a flower blooming somewhere in a collection. I like that: abstract sixties blooms, sweet little biedermeier bouquets, romantic English roses. Gorgeous. I often find myself standing in a shop holding a blouse with a very girly Liberty floral pattern … and then hanging it back in the rack. I know I’m not the floral type. Flowers in my house, OK, even on the wall, but on my body? No. The same goes for stripes. They work beautifully in this illustration, and on cups and umbrellas too. But women wearing polkadot wrap-around dresses make me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Just like men wearing floral shirts. Fashion is a means of expression. The man or woman choosing to decorate themselves with flowers – even if they’re hidden on the lining of a blazer – say to me: ‘I’m creative, cheerful and fun!’ Yawn. Give me a man wearing cartoon-print socks and Uggs (and a My Little Pony T-shirt over his shaggy chest hair) any day.
Allure, eyeliner, style, Richard Avedon, couture. Is any other concept more out-dated than elegance? Elegance is just like the X-factor: if you don’t have it, you never will. ‘Elegance is something on the inside and has nothing to do with being well-dressed,’ said the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. In her opinion, elegance is the rejection of non-elegant behaviour. So what do you do if you don’t have it? Everyone can walk up a flight of stairs, but very few people make it look good. It would be very easy now to write about peasants, commoners and their lack of elegance in the way they dress and behave. Gone are the days that a man would open a door for you, so you no longer have to acknowledge their kindness with a chic nod of the head. But this is a rather old-fashioned way of thinking. Elegance changes over time and it is still all around us today. Even in a tracksuit on the sofa, or in a pair of tired sneakers and a padded body-warmer walking down the street. Elegance can be found in not doing all these things in an ugly way, but in a beautiful way, a simple way, your own way. Diana Vreeland recognized this. ‘In the nineteen twenties, people dressed for dinner, and I mean really dressed, not just changed,’ said Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Harper’s
Bazaar and Vogue (Anna Wintour, her successor, is a pussy cat in comparison). Vreeland herself may not have been blessed with great beauty, but she had allure. And that is the second secret to elegance. Use your strengths and always opt for the most beautiful and often the simplest gesture. In clothing, this translates as simplicity. It is easier to be elegant in Dior than in a sexy Versace outfit. And a Chanel suit makes you elegant without even trying. But you must also act appropriately. Obey your clothes, and feel how the fabric of your designer piece helps you raise that cup of tea to your lips with an air of elegance. Or am I going too far?
FOLKLORE Feathers, flora, fluttering skirts, headscarves, puffy sleeves, embroidery, baggy trousers and lovely little cross-stiches; folklore as fashion is different and occasionally exuberant, such as the cheerful fusion fashion from Japanese Kansaï Yamamote who made it big in Paris in the seventies with baseball jackets decorated with colourful Chinese dragons. In the Netherlands, fashion artist Fong-Leng also fished in Chinese waters, making a memorable impression with coats depicting Asian fairy-tales. Russian babushkas, African shoes and Japanese geishas inhabited the international catwalks until the eighties. Each year, Yves Saint Laurent found inspiration on a different continent and created ingenious things with it. We seldom see traditional costumes – with the exception of the Norwegian sweater – on the high-street. Not as a free fashion choice, in any case. As a child I was sent to school looking ridiculous, dressed like a German Mädel in a Dirndl made of black velvet with white puffy sleeves. The dressing-up-like-a-doll feeling comes back whenever I think of designers like John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier dressing women to look like Balkan princesses. Why? It does nothing for the progression of fashion. Do they really think that all women have grudgingly traded such traditional costumes for a pair of jeans or a comfy dress? Some traditional dress, such as the headscarves worn by Dutch girls in Vermeer’s day, can still be seen on the high-street, thanks to religious girls and women. What surprises me is why so many women can’t seem to get enough of the Ibiza folklore garb. Do they want to feel like free hippies and bohemians with their billowing blouses and flowing skirts or are they just trying to escape from fashion?
Fashion from A to Z Fashion is a language. So itâ€™s high time for a fashion dictionary. Fashion journalist Georgette Koning and fashion illustrator Piet Paris guide you from A to Z through the world of fashion. A comprehensive and humorous view on everything from A to Z in this fashion alphabet.
Fashion from A to Z describes concepts such as houte couture, glamour and vintage, but also explains why the white that is fashionable now is a different white than that of the sixties. The E for Elegance refers gracefully to the work of fashion illustrator Gruau who worked for Christian Dior for many years. The Y with the famous graphic Mondrian dress is a tribute to Yves Saint Laurent in both word and image.
Fashion from A to Z offers 26 surprising and often witty views on fashion.
Georgette Koning writes about fashion in numerous newspapers and fashion magazines. Koning has collaborated on various fashion books. She blogs for Vogue.nl and independentfashiondaily.com. Piet Paris illustrates with his clear lines for both Dutch and international fashion magazines and for advertising campaigns. Piet Paris has won various prizes, Âincluding the Grand Seigneur 2008.
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