Fashion & Style: `In among the sparkle-scattered sweetness, designers are drawing on a less ostentatious source: the American sportswear tradition'
Because in among the candy-coloured, sparkle-scattered sweetness of it all, there is a more restrained mindset at play inspired by a less predictable vocabulary, although a time-honoured one nonetheless. Designers including Hussein Chalayan, Jil Sander, Helmut Lang and Emma Cook find inspiration from a rather less ostentatious source, that of the American sportswear tradition and its patron saint, Claire McCardell, in particular.
"Claire McCardell can rightly be called the founder of modern post-war fashion even though the name never became world currency as Dior's did," writes Colin McDowell in Fashion Today (Phaidon, pounds 24.95). That is hardly surprising. McCardell's most famous contribution to fashion was the 1942 "popover" dress, an entirely modest, utilitarian affair in the sort of cotton that was formerly the preserve of men's shirting. The popover dress boasted its own oven glove attached, and retailed in America for the princely sum of $6.95. Haute couture, it most certainly was not. Dior's finest moment? The entirely immodest and profligate New Look, a style that was entirely based on extravagance, on fashion whimsy over and above pragmatism.
If the response to this latter style was suitably hysterical, however - it is the stuff of fashion legend that women clamoured for copies the world over - it might well be argued that McCardell's more discreet contribution had the most far-reaching effect. "Unlike him [Dior], she [McCardell] was not backed by a billionaire industrialist," McDowell continues, "lacked the high advertising budget devoted to spreading the name of her house and, in common with most design houses at the time, had no publicity agent." Neither were McCardell's clothes anything like as attention-seeking as Dior's. Instead, they favoured functionality over frippery and were designed to help the wearer be active and independent. This was the first time that the concept of dressing to indulge the opposite sex was turned on its head, and women loved it.
"Fashion," McCardell's contemporary Elizabeth Hawes decreed in 1938, "is so shrouded in mystery, so far away and so foreign, so complicated and so boring when you understand its ways, that it has become a complete anachronism in modern life." Strong words, and ones that continue to strike a chord as yet another over-priced, beaded and embroidered Victorian- lingerie inspired slip dress/Belle De Jour pencil skirt/fashionable frump pussy-bow blouse comes down the catwalk as if it were the only one ever in the world.
In 1955, Time magazine remarked that while Parisian designs "complement the designer", McCardell's "complement the wearer". And while fashion, today a truly international beast, can no longer be compartmentalised in so parochial a fashion, the two very different approaches to dress continue to co-exist.
"The hardest thing to do in design for me is reduce ideas down," says Hussein Chalayan. "It's much harder to strip down than to add on. I do find it ridiculous to have lots of stuff going on on clothes." Jil Sander agrees, proclaiming: "Truly, it's more difficult to be subtle but it's the same old story, the fancier the richer, the richer, the more representative. Glossy representation is equated with a maximal aesthetic, an idea that comes directly from a fairy-tale as if we had never learnt anything from modernity."
In an age where even the average handbag comes weighed down by added tokens, this is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Northern Lights in the UK: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Merry Xmas Everybody: Slade tops 'most-streamed' Spotify Christmas tunes of 2014
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever