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Gateway to Sustainable fashion via Couture

There has been a lot of conversation around the recently concluded couture week in Paris. Since some time now questions have been raised about whether couture has a place in today’s world. To quote Business of Fashion – What season is this exactly? What is on show? Is it couture, demi-couture, resort? Man Repeller questioned if couture had gone too casual with attendees in denims. In fact, denims were presented at the Fall 2017 couture week.

Image credit: @voguemagazine

Maybe couture should not and cannot be boxed into seasons or occasions. Maybe couture is meant to cause confusion and left to the interpretation of the individual – much like art. Because, what is couture if not the highest form of wearable art? In fact, one of the most interesting Dutch couturiers – Viktor & Rolf presented a very literal manifestation of wearable art in their Fall 2015 couture collection.

For me, that collection was asking the question – Should fashion be restricted to the concept of “covering our bodies”? If the answer were yes, then maybe, couture is one place where all the crazy ideas could come together and a place where fashion goes beyond this visceral idea. Couture as a fashion mecca for starting a conversation, making a statement, talking about thoughts, ideas, feelings.

However, fashion is also a business and the genius of a designer is when they take these abstract concepts of couture and distill them into clothes that are available off the rack for us mere mortals to wear. John Galliano gave a fascinating explanation of how Maison Margiela’s highly conceptual artisanal collection is distilled into RTW, all the way down to accessories during the BoF Voices event. I wonder if all houses follow this journey or is it about being specific to a collection and theme and each collection deserves a new theme.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that a piece in your wardrobe was born from an abstract concept amounting to wearable art and that you are now adding to that story with your own interpretation of that piece? It might even encourage us to view our wardrobe as our own personal art collection and hence each piece is curated and has a story and isn’t a disposable item we use to “cover our body”. Each piece is an heirloom, treasured and cherished and passed on to future generations until it cannot be worn any more. If all of us thought about our clothes this way, we probably could solve many issues plaguing fashion today such as mass consumption, human rights, pollution. The incessant chatter about the changes afoot in the fashion industry might amount to this.

Fashion as wearable art entwined with personal stories.

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Balenciaga — Shaping Fashion, A celebration of shapes

Was Cristobel Balenciaga celebrating diversity of form in the 1950s/60s when he created exquisite pieces celebrating myriad shapes from the book of the geometry?

The exhibit at V&A does make one think so. The voluminous garments which are intended to stay away from the body are as relevant today as they were when they were first introduced. In fact, they were considered fairly controversial when they were introduced at a time when Dior’s New Look with its nipped in waist and feminine shapes was all the rage.

It is quite an achievement in the field of fashion to introduce completely new silhouettes. And yet, Balenciaga is credited with introducing timeless silhouettes such as the shift dress, the cocoon coat, the babydoll dress and how very 21st century of him to introduce a hard-working piece which could work as a skirt or as a top. All of these innovations focus on an inherent elegance showcased by enveloping the wearer in voluminous fabric without restricting the figure. Designs that would look beautiful irrespective of the wearer’s body type.

If one were literal like me, one could clearly see the shapes in his designs. A circle in the form of the bubble dress made of green gazar silk, a square in the form of the black sack dress, a triangle in the form of the envelope dress.

Sack dress, image credit: V&A

However, the most interesting part of the exhibit are the construction techniques. They feel as though we are being made privy to secrets of a cult.

Take this coat. The delicious secret behind this coat is a ribbon which holds the fabric together to form the gathers.

This video reveals an incredibly satisfying construction of a minimalist ensemble from 2 pieces of fabric.

The fun does not end there, we are also invited to recreate a deceptively simple T coat from paper. Cut, fold, crease and make a coat

Looks simple, it isnt

If one looks closely, one can find that the shapes that Balenciaga was experimenting with have crept so much into fashion’s psyche that it is almost impossible to find a design house not influenced by it. The exhibit also highlighted his impact on both avantgarde as well as mainstream spaces in showcasing designs by the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Delpozo, Gareth Pugh, Molly Goddard, Hussein Chalayan and lots more.

The fluted sleeve printed dress as well as the flamenco inspired dress could be in any woman’s wardrobe today. High street is full of exaggerated sleeves and ruffles with them being a huge trend this season, showcasing how relevant his designs are even today

It would be difficult to find a western woman’s wardrobe devoid of Balenciaga’s influence and that is a good thing, because he was definitely onto concepts that are so relevant today such as diversity of shape, appreciating the female form while giving it the freedom to move, to express herself.

A longtime client offered a fitting epitaph: “Women did not have to be perfect or even beautiful to wear his clothes. His clothes made them beautiful.” (quote credit:Met)

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Making fashion relevant: lessons that Paris, New York, Milan & London could learn from Amsterdam fashion week

Amsterdam is a beautiful city famous for its canals, museums and infamous for its “coffee shops” & “red light district”. What Amsterdam isn’t famous for is fashion. While dutch painters & modern design are renowned worldwide, dutch fashion, not so much. However, if one were to look closely at the ongoing Amsterdam fashion week and also the ones before, one would find that Amsterdam and by correlation The Netherlands was and remains at the forefront of addressing several current issues upfront.

Political catwalk, which I witnessed first hand is a great example of trying to change the fashion conversation. In its second year, political catwalk is a platform for today’s youth to have their say on politics via fashion. The initiative allows 20 young people to create designs for 10 politicians, culminating in a competitive showcase, where the politicians are also their models. The sheer diversity of talent on display at this years show was phenomenal. Designers addressed issues such as diversity, acceptance, empowerment in, at times heart wrenching moments. Moments such as the catwalk filled with people of diverse shapes, colours and ethnicity. A white dress with a long veil with diversity, peace scribbled on it. Moments, when all one could think of is that all anyone wants at their core is acceptance and sense of belonging.

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Narjiss Bakali won this year with a hot pink dress shaped like the symbol of femininity.

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The concept is a unique & impactful way of encouraging young talent. An idea more popular fashion weeks could use to great effect.

On the more commercial front with still younger designers, Jenneskens, who had her first real show, put on a very well executed and coherent presentation. The collection is called Episode 04; volume 1: Water Retention. The idea being that each look is linked to the other and like water molecules form a whole when they are close to each other. A bright, athleisure infused collection for both men & women. I could see a lot of these pieces in The Netherlands as well as fashion capitals like New York. The collection reinforced the idea of creating something beautiful together.

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Going back to her roots was Maaike van den Abbeele. Her collection was inspired by the dutch golden age and her own childhood. Influences of dutch masters such as Rembrandt & Van Eyck were interwoven with symbols of power such as the lion motif. The combination of a powerful motif with the delicate tulle and sheer gold stockings was sending out a message that elegant doesn’t necessarily mean powerless. The designer paid homage to her dual nationalities by incorporating colours from both the Dutch & Belgian flags into her collection.

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While smaller fashion weeks like that in Amsterdam do not garner as much press, their larger counterparts have much to gain from them. They are brimming with new ideas and ways of ensuring fashion remains current & relevant in this increasingly politicised world

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