Recently, I was in an art museum and I picked up a book they had for sale in the shop called Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art. It is a book by Ossian Ward about as self-explanatory as can be, it teaches people how to experience, and hopefully, understand contemporary art. I skimmed through it, as people tend to do with books in gifts shops, and I saw that Ward was basically asking readers to just change their perspectives when looking at the art of today in order to come to new conclusions. I think this is something that can translate perfectly to contemporary fashion.
Many people have this preconceived notion that fashion is to be taken at face value and that, like art, fashion is full of elitists who make complicated concepts just for the sake of confusion. Fashion is so much more and so much deeper, which is why understanding it can seem more difficult than it really has to be.
Take the Rubin vase illusion for example, when people look at it, some people only see two men facing each other while others only see a vase in the center. A wonderful thing occurs when the perspective is changed however and the person who saw a vase now sees two men and vice versa. This change in perspective is simple enough for a black and white picture, but it also works for fashion.
For instance, something as simple, as Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking jacket, may be seen today simply as a tuxedo jacket, nothing more nothing less. Did you know that when Le Smoking was first designed, that it was designed to empower women, who had beforehand not been seen wearing tuxedos or jackets similar to suit jackets at all? Since then, Le Smoking has been made to this day with that same purpose in mind.
If that’s too obvious, try something more “out there” like Moschino. Since it was founded by Franco Moschino in 1983, the brand has always wanted to purposely break the rules of what fashion is perceived to be. Even today, a person may look at Moschino and think it’s all random and just a collection of parodies but each piece is designed with the intention of showing people that there isn’t one way of going about fashion. Design, styling, and self-expression, all which are assumed to be unified in fashion, Moschino is there to break the rules.
If you still believe that fashion is still simply about the way things look, the best example I can give you to persuade you otherwise is none other than Alexander McQueen and his Savage Beauty exhibition. Full of clothing made of feathers, metals, and almost anything you can imagine; it could be easy to assume that the clothing was just a designer making clothes out of anything he could get his hands on. The clothing for this exhibition are some of the most elaborate and intriguing pieces ever in fashion, but these were the last things planned out when making the collections. McQueen thought in a very conceptual way, meaning that he thought about the idea he was trying to bring before the aesthetic. Each collection has a story to tell, from love to patriotism to nature and beyond. With influences from every place imaginable like music, art, film, and even personal experiences, Savage Beauty is almost more of a symphony or play than a fashion presentation.
To say all of that in much simpler terms, fashion designers are not out to put themselves in some social club that you can’t gain access to or to make things that you purposely cannot understand, it’s the exact opposite. Like artists, fashion designers are people with a story to tell, it can be a personal story or something much broader than that. One of the best ways to change things is to change how we perceive things, and fashion seeks to do that both from the creator’s side and front the viewer’s side. So the next time you see someone dressed eccentrically or you’re watching a fashion show and you have no clue what you’re looking at, try not to see only as you would, try to look at it from the other side of it all.