On the fashion cycle, kitsch and Walter Van Beirendonck

There was a time in fashion when everything was 'new'. With the rise of 20th century individualism and the birth of youth culture, fashion in the 50's had a clear route forward. Modest values waned and hemlines got progressively shorter, culminating in the 60's mini; the rise of the career woman saw 80's power dressing and trouser suits for women. Each season was mapping uncharted fashion territory. After a point, however, fashion had to start looking backwards. Being, as it were, a combination of visual elements confined to the constraints of the human form, possibilities for practical attire are not quite endless. 2009 saw the revival of power shoulders, not just in high fashion, but on the high street. Suddenly, you could walk into a shop and cop a feel of spongy shoulder inserts in a good share of the sweaters (this is something that doesn't appeal to me - reminds me of prosthesis) as though Topshop were a time portal to the 80's.

Givenchy, Autumn 09

When iconic trends from the past return, to me, there is almost an air of parody (this is the connection with kitsch) - it's not quite the same as the first time around and the resurrected trend has a cultural past and inescapable associations. Something has to be done to take fashion history and make it fashion forward. Or is retro fashion a law unto itself? There is definitely a cerebral involvement beyond sheer aesthetic anyway. It takes a similar kind of involvement to decipher another of fashion's curiosities; kitsch. An undeniable element of street fashion, especially in the noughties, has been the counter-intuitive, the garish, the mismatched and the downright tasteless - precisely the anti-fashionable. And it doesn't seem to be just about going against the grain, or giving fashion the finger either - there is a different sensibility at work here.

I've recently become interested in the Antwerp Six. Theirs is an inspiring tale of a band of Belgian fashion design graduates renting a truck and storming
London fashion week '88. Of the six, Walter Van Bierendonck is the most interesting to me. He's still going strong and his designs are something else;

Walter Van Beirendonck - Fall/Winter 10/11

What is this? More importantly, what is it doing on a runway? (I hope this isn't the RTW collection.) Is it stylish on a level not immediately comprehensible? Nope, not stylish at all? Is it primarily a social commentary? This could be a visual study of bad taste with the human body as a canvas, but Walter Van Beirendonck is a selling brand. Incidentally, the word Walter, or just the letter 'W'. crops up prominently (and garishly) on many of his designs; a parody of branding, itself? The above image may be bordering on conceptual art but we've all seen something closer to this on the street;

Walter Van Beirendonck - Summer 04

This look is interesting and multilayered but also works on a face-value level. Its a cultural jigsaw puzzle, mixing elements from pop culture, forms and lines from past eras and an off-kilter colour scheme to create something that's original in its own right. The parts are recycled but the whole is fresh and directional. It looks good. Fashion may be subjective, but if an aesthetic is swathed in layers of irony, parody, and social comment yet doesn't look good, the whole thing becomes an intellectual pursuit and runway shows a kind of performance art.

  1. Sentimentality or vulgar, often pretentious bad taste, especially in the arts.

No comments:

Post a Comment