Fashion is not for everybody. Simply take a look at any crowd of Americans walking down the street and you’ll see how true this really is. Not since the 1960s, when well-designed couturier and other fashion went into the tank in favor of tie-dyed T-shirts and raggedy beards for the fellows, Afghani muu-muu’s for the ladies, and the ubiquitous badly scuffed Indian sandals for everyone, with a few flowers in the hair cadged from the side of the road as an homage to bodhisattva... not since then has fashion been so ignored by the average person.
But these days it’s not simply ignored. It is actively, intensely denied.
There is real malaise in the insistence on looking like a slob that so informs how most people dress now. In the 1960s there was at least an anarchist political outburst. Now, there is simply a hunkering down to avoid being noticed. Perhaps dressing badly helps hide you from the White House and Homeland Security. And the Europeans –- at one time the creative source and ardent defenders of good design — are no better.
When you look at the fashion magazines, and see badly designed clothing being modeled by starved young men and women wearing make-up that looks like poster paint, in photo-shoots that make use of subway-station men’s rooms as sets, you can be forgiven for thinking that fashion was better in the 1920s. The problem gets worse when you see photos of the contemporary designers themselves, so many of which look like homeless skateboarders.
Coco Chanel has no doubt worried about all this from the grave.
Luckily there are historians and institutions that remind us of what once was, and we can hope that this attention to past beauty will some day result in beauty’s re-awakening somewhere down the line.
One of these historians is The Kyoto Costume Institute, whose striking collection of European fashion has been commemorated in the two-volume collection entitled Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, published by Taschen. These volumes, which are among the most beautifully printed books I’ve ever seen of contemporary fashion photography, can be purchased (at least as of this writing on January 30, 2008) from Amazon.com for the amazing price of $36.17 per set.