DE2606 Cultural and Contextual Studies, Fashion
2) Define what is Fashion and Radical fashion? Define these terms before you examine no more than three fashion designers who exemplify Radical fashion? How do they achieve this label as radical designer? Which of their key collections evidences these radical elements in dress? What are the boundaries that they have challenged or are challenging?
Teo Jia En Name
FMT3A | 12565 Class | ID No.
Rajee Vissa Lecturer
2011 LASALLE College of the Arts Faculty of Design Singapore
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Accepted by the Faculty of Design, LASALLE College of the Arts.
Rajee Vissa Lecturer
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Fashion depicts a world that is constantly changing. In this world, there are many that follows the trends and some that sets the trends but few dare to challenge and rebel against what is the norm. In my essay today, I will discuss the works of acclaimed radical fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaïa and how they have challenged boundaries and how their key collections showcase the radical elements in their designs. To define radical fashion, one has to first define fashion. Fashion can be defined as a process that details change, from introducing a variation of a cultural form to its acceptance, discarding, and replacement by another cultural form. (Joanne B. Eicher & Barbara Sumberg, 1995) Fashion is also defined as an indicator of individual and group identity and that its fluidity reflects changes in the society. (Amy de la Haye, 1999) Alexander McQueen and Azzadine Alaïa are radical fashion designers because they are revolutionary in their works. Claire Wilcox defines radical designers in her book “Radical Fashion” as: “They are motivated by different impulses, and of different generations… each designer has in common a highly influential place in the fashion world. These designers cut through ideas as well as fabric. Challenging established views, they have committed their lives to seeking ever more demanding expressions of 'beauty', with diverse and often provocative results.” McQueen and Alaïa are truly radical as they frequently break established boundaries and drive the development of fabric technology respectively even though they work within the traditional fashion industry. Underlying their radical creations are skills learnt through years of training, experimentation and effort.
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Alexander McQueen achieves the label of a radical designer for his strongly themed and always creative collections and shows, which have been described as 'images of beauty heightened through suffering'. Their sensational eroticism, built on a combination of exquisite, androgynous tailoring and fantastical creations, have truly redefined late 20th-century fashion. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Figure 1: Alexander McQueen's glass and ostrich dress Spring Summer 2001 (Victoria & Albert Museum) McQueenâ€™s VOSS collection from the Spring Summer of 2001 explored and challenged notions of popular beauty. In this collection McQueen had audience seated around a giant mirrored box meant to evoke the troubled setting of an asylum. The idea was to turn perceptions of beauty back on the viewers. Before the show began, the audience could see only themselves reflected in the mirror. When the collection began, models showed the clothing while interacting with the boxes, and when the collection ended, the lights went on inside the box, and a woman of 'unconventional' beauty â€“ obese and naked - was revealed. It was very radical and daring of McQueen to subvert the attention of the fashion show back on the audience and the media and more importantly to inspire thoughts about perceptions of beauty in life and death.
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Figure 2: Detail of Alexander McQueen Dress Spring Summer 2001 (MetMuseum.org) A highlight item of the collection is the gown as seen in Figures 1 (Guardian.com) & 2 (MetMuseum.org). It is comprised of ostrich feathers dyed red, as well as microscopic glass slides painted red, invoking the idea of blood underneath. When donned on a moving model, the dress moves gracefully and dramatically but when it is show on the mannequin it is more like a piece of sculpture. The gown brings to mind the life force within us. While building blocks like blood, plasma, and cells create larger objects of beauty; McQueen also highlights the microcosmic biological elements, which in them have a kind of spectacular beauty.
Another display of McQueenâ€™s penchant for runway theatrics is seen in his Spring Summer 2010 collection. The collection is also testament to McQueenâ€™s remarkably ability to harness cutting edge technology in his work. Titled Plato's Atlantis, the show was live-streamed on Nick Knight's SHOWstudio.com, intercut with the photographer's premade video footage. There was a sparkling, illuminated mother-of-pearl hue runway in which two
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sinister, robotic movie cameras on gigantic black booms ran back and forth, while a screen played Knight's video of model Raquel Zimmermann, lying naked on sand with snakes writhing across her body. Then the models came out, dressed in short, reptile-patterned, digitally printed dresses, their gangly legs sunk in grotesque shoes that looked like the armored heads of a fantastical breed of antediluvian sea monster. According to an internal logic detailed in a press release, McQueen's was casting an apocalyptic forecast of the future ecological meltdown of the world: Humankind is made up of creatures that evolved from the sea, and we may be heading back to an underwater future as the ice cap dissolves. (Style.com, 2009) As with his usual style, McQueen takes the world by surprise again for this radical idea, showcasing his take, a fashion designerâ€™s concept of doomsday.
Figures 3 & 4: Alexander McQueen Dress Spring Summer 2010 and Details (Style.com) The ultra mini, super-structured reptile-skin-patterned dress as seen in Figures 3 & 4 (Style.com) is particularly representative of the collection and underscores McQueenâ€™s perfected technique of digital printing. Each dress
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was a hybrid of computer-generated images with McQueenâ€™s couture-based signature cuts, the perfect marriage of man and machine in an innovation fashion context. (Kristin Knox, 2010) This combination is truly revolutionary as McQueen creates visually stunning designs by giving unique forms to the beautiful digital prints.
Figures 5 & 6: Alexander McQueen Dresses Spring Summer 2010 (Style.com) In another selection of dresses in Figures 5 and 6 (Style.com) look as if McQueen was envisaging a biological hybridization of women with sea mammals, there were trousers whose bulbous flanks mimicked the skin of sharks or dolphins. A reminder of his taste in Savile Row tailoring came via a few looks in which formfitting gray men's fabric was cut away to reveal "portholes" filled with turquoise (an effect akin to the view from a glassbottomed boat).
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Figures 7 & 8: Alexander McQueen Shoes Spring Summer 2010 (Style.com) One of the strongest features of the Plato’s Atlantis collection is its outrageous footwear, which made headlines around the world. Pictured in Figure 5 (Style.com) is the ‘monster’ stiletto, melted and twisted plastic meant to evoke a post nuclear apocalyptic landscape after the ecological meltdown of the planet. (Knox, 2010) The famous ‘Armadillo’ shoes shocked the fashion insiders and the general public alike. These twelve-inch python stilettos garnered a lot of attention for proving to be very daunting to models that feared breaking a leg in them. These shoes are truly unique and radical for conveying such a strong message and still looking every bit beautiful and glamorous. McQueen radically challenged notions of accepted beauty in his Spring
performance on stage and through the elaborate yet beautiful red gown that sent his audience thinking deeper while being blown away by his creativity and technical virtuosity. In the same vein, he challenged people to think about global warming through the Spring Summer collection 2010 through his futuristic alien-looking models, donning on beautiful digital graphic printed fabric on couture-like dresses and shoes that resembles seamonsters. Alexander McQueen has been rightfully hailed as ‘genius of a
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generation’ (Knox, 2010). These two short collections are but a tip of the iceberg of McQueen’s brilliance in fashion design.
Azzedine Alaïa a French fashion designer, describes himself as a 'bâtisseur' or builder rather than couturier. Born in Tunisia, Alaïa originally studied sculpture. That is a key reason to his brilliance and acclaim in fashion design. Alaïa says 'I have to try my things on a living body because the clothes I make must respect the body.' Some of his garments contain up to 40 pieces and are constructed with corsetry stitching and seaming to achieve a perfect, sculptural form. (Victoria & Albert Museum) Taking reference from the Azzedine Alaïa Spring Summer Collection 1992, instead of translating abstract notions into concrete fabrics and cuts, Alaïa takes as his muse the fabric itself. “Unless I can have a length of fabric in my hand” he says, “and a girl in front of me, I really can’t say I come up with a lot of ideas.” (Elle.com, 1992)
Figure 9: Azzedine Alaïawith a model in his dress Spring Summer 1992 (Elle.com) The fabric that inspired Azzedine Alaïa for the Summer 1992 collection is the
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same charming embroidered eyelet that used to be made up into detachable collars and cuffs. This is exemplary of Alaïa’s modus operandi and his ingenuity of fashion design as inspired by fabric.
Figure 10: Azzedine Alaïa chemise dress Spring Summer 1992 (Elle.com) Central to Alaia’s collection this summer is the chemise. One version is short and striped and comes equipped with its own curves. It’s made with a small, sexy bustle that buttons on and off and is designed to be worn as a pouf – under a skirt. A longer version of the chemise, slit up the sides, manages to look impeccable chic while breaking the rules by opening to expose bra underneath. Cool and collected, the new body-skimming chemise is as easy to wear as a man’s shirt and radiates confidence and good humor. Alaïa’s main muse and the hit of this season’s collection is a radically new yarn. Originally developed by the NASA for use in astronaut’s uniforms, chemists at the German firm BASF came up with a cordon yarn that is softened and made wearable when combined with rayon or cotton and wool. The resulting fabric is light and resilient. Appropriately enough, Alaïa calls the
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new fabric ‘Relax’, and he had an exclusive on this revolutionary material for that summer collection. The yarn was used for underwear, sweaters and dresses that fit like a second, calming skin.
Figures 11 & 12: Azzedine Alaïa latticed velvet dresses Fall Winter Couture 2011 (Style.com) Fast forward to today’s times, we arrive at Azzedine Alaïa Fall Winter Couture Collection 2011. Alaïa’s focus is as sharp as the laser cutting that created the latticed velvet on his eveningwear. Taking a look at the dresses in figures 14 &15, Alaïa is clearly again inspired by the possibilities of technological advancements on the fabric of which he has designed elegant and timeless dresses from the laser cut latticed velvet.
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Figures 13 & 14: Azzedine Alaïa knit dresses Fall Winter Couture 2011 (Style.com) Alaïa creates magic with his knitwear. Alaïa has worked with the same mill in Italy for the last 30 years. Such an enduring relationship has allowed technical feats like this collection's short fitted jackets, as well as evening dresses that limned the body to the hips, dipped to cup the bum, then erupted into flamenco-like tiers of ruffles. All in knit! (Style.com)
In conclusion, both Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaïa have radically impacted the world of fashion. McQueen’s works are often bizarre, conceptual and challenged the norms. Alaïa on the other hand, is radical in the way he incorporates and constructs new fabrics into his designs in ways that have never been seen and worn before. To the untrained eye, Alaïa’s work may not seem magnificent but fashion insiders can tell that he has pushed boundaries with the use of new materials. Whether it is the NASA ‘Relax’ fabrics from 1992 or the amazing tiered knit-dress in the recent Fall Winter Couture 2011, Alaïa has always been a radical designer that the world has their eye on.
Word Count: 1881
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References De la Haye, A. and Mendes, V. (1999) 20th Century Fashion, London, Thames & Hudson Eicher, B. J. (ed) (1995) Dress and Ethnicity: Change Across Space and Time, Oxford, Berg Knox, K. (2010) Alexander McQueen Genius of a Generation, London, Page One Steele V. (ed) (2008) “Exhibitionism Special”, Fashion Theory The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture Vol. 12 Issue 1, April 2008 Welters, Linda & Lillethun, A. (eds.) 2007. The Fashion Reader. Berg. London & New York. Online References: Victoria and Albert Museum. Radical Fashion Exhibition. [Online] Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/rad_fash/html/exhibition/index.htm l [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Armand Limnander. VOSS SS 2001. [Online] Available at: http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/S2001RTW-AMCQUEEN [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Sarah Mower. Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2010. [Online] Available at: http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/S2010RTW-AMCQUEEN [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Elle.com. Elle Flashback: The Azzedine Alchemy (May 1992). [Online] Available at: http://fashion.elle.com/fashion/insider/2010/05/03/elleflashback-the-azzedine-alchemy-may-1992/ [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Tim Blanks. Azzedine Alaia Fall Winter Couture 2011 [Online] Available at: http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/F2011CTR-ALAIA [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Image References: Figure 1: Guardian.com. Alexander McQueen's glass and ostrich dress. [Online] Available at: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/pictures/image/0,8562,10104271309,00.html [Assessed 22 September 2011].
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Figure 2: MetMuseum.org. Detail of Alexander McQueen Dress Spring Summer 2001 [Online] Available at: http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Figures 3 & 4: Style.com. Alexander McQueen Dress Spring Summer 2010 and Details Figures 5 & 6: Style.com. Alexander McQueen Dresses Spring Summer 2010 Figures 7 & 8: Style.com. Alexander McQueen Shoes Spring Summer 2010 [Online] All available at: http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/S2010RTW-AMCQUEEN [Assessed 22 September 2011]. Figure 9: Elle.com. Azzedine Alaia with a model in his dress Spring Summer 1992 Figure 10: Elle.com. Azzedine Alaia chemise dress Spring Summer 1992 [Online] All available at: http://fashion.elle.com/fashion/insider/2010/05/03/elle-flashback-theazzedine-alchemy-may-1992/ [Assessed 22 September 2011].
Figures 11 & 12: Style.com. Azzedine Alaia lattice velvet dresses Fall Winter Couture 2011 Figure 13 & 14: Style.com. Azzedine Alaia knit dresses Fall Winter Couture 2011 [Online] All available at: http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/F2011CTR-ALAIA [Assessed 22 September 2011].
Individual CCS (Cultural and Contextual Studies) for Fashion Essay. Year 2 for Fashion Media and Industries BA (Hons) Degree studies. LASA...
Published on Jun 27, 2013
Individual CCS (Cultural and Contextual Studies) for Fashion Essay. Year 2 for Fashion Media and Industries BA (Hons) Degree studies. LASA...