Learn from the Masters of Fashion
Beginning stuff is always really hard. We talked about a lot of resources. I think it's really important for a designer to have an appreciation and understanding of the history of fashion. But a lot of times that can feel very dry because when we think about history, it can be a little flat for us if we can't relate to it. So we need to come up with the strategies to make it relatable and to make it relevant to where we're going with our designing. So for the history of costume we're gonna talk about sort of tapping these ancient resources that might not feel relevant, but how to approach looking at them. And then for the history of couture part one, we're gonna talk about having historical references. Kind of like the movie pitch where we're talking about pop culture. But having historical references is really helpful. And it also just makes you sound like a real fashion designer. Having that language and those reference points is really great. All right, so I have a great quote here ...
from Alexander McQueen. "I think there is beauty in everything. What normal people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it." So I don't think the images we're going to see next are ugly but I think they may not be images that we can immediately relate to. So we're gonna talk about sort of ancient representations of fashion. I'm gonna zip through these, but I would love to kind of get some feedback in terms of what's the first thing that stands out about this to you. Not necessarily the historical context, but of those elements of the mood board that we talked about, what might be the first thing that we relate to? Anybody?
I think the head thing.
The head piece? Yeah? And do you see it as an actual headpiece or do you just like the texture of it or the shape of it?
At first I saw the thing going up. But then I saw the bird thing kinda going down and I liked that. That could totally be interpreted in other ways. Like her with the feathers,
Yeah. Definitely. Okay. So let's go to the next one. And here we have medieval. Anybody else see something here that they respond to?
Well there's a sort of severity of color and contrast and seriousness to me, I think.
And one of the things I might point out here too is that the mosaic aspect of it is kind of one of the things that I, one of the reasons I chose the image because thinking of almost pixelating a design. You could think of it as beads. You could think of it as a print. You know, breaking it down into not just what the overall image is, but how did they put it together. Okay, so let's move onto the next one. Ancient Greece and ancient Rome, anybody?
Yeah I would agree, the draping is definitely what stands out. And I was actually kind of surprised by the illustration on the right because of the color. I normally think of, you know, sort of that draping and that toga feel is just always white. But bringing color into that can kinda put a whole new slant on it. And also remembering to go to other cultures. To think in terms of what was happening in ancient Japan and ancient China. Anybody here, anything stand out for you?
For me again it's the draping, the flow of the fabric, the fine fabric.
Yes. And it has a whole different feel from the draping we saw in the Greco Roman images. Yeah.
That makes me think, 'cause I see them painting their own fabric, it also makes me think of 'cause I've had, I don't know if anybody else has had their own fabric made, but it's amazing. And it just makes me think of that. I love finding beautiful artwork and then having that made into something. I actually have artists drawing stuff out. And then having that made into something.
You know and that's a really great point 'cause that's a whole world. And we're talking about finding inspiration, but a lot of times we can create the artwork that is inspiring. Ralph Rucci, an incredible designer and a painter, he does these incredible paintings that then turn into the print on the fabric. It makes even the most simplest silhouettes so original and unique to his design process.
I like the pattern and color mixing too. There's just a lot of different patterns going on in one and bold colors.
And yet it seems kind of soft and gentle. It's not like jarring. But there is a lot of texture and pattern. All right. So here we move into the Renaissance in the 1600s. Anything's jumping out?
The ruff. That is something to wear around your neck. And how might we make that relevant today? 'Cause we're not necessarily gonna walk around with that ruff. But what can we pull away from that that might be a cool detail.
Well if you downsize it considerably, I would think something like that would be really nice on a dress that's very plain.
Yep because she has a lot going on everywhere. But if you had a little black dress and it just had this little ruff, that could be great. And also thinking about different places to put that ruff. So for instance, to think of a simple black dress and having the ruff just around the wrist. You know that whole idea of the ruff. And what about for the Renaissance? Anything?
Well you really look at his face. And clearly the artist put this together in a way that makes us look at the face rather than necessarily noticing all the details of the garment. And I think that's an important part of the black hat.
Well I mean this could play into the look that you're creating. You know, that look for the model.
The other thing I see in there is to me that just says velvet.
This is a very wealthy person.
All right. And this I love because they were making fun of fashion in this picture, which I love from the 1700s because the fashion is, on the left this is the style of the day. And they're asking, does it relate to different body types. Does this fashion really really work? All right, so I thought it was kind of fun in that. But what do we see here that might be a bit of fun from an inspirational point of view? Anything? (audience members murmurs) (laughs)
I'm having drag queens in my show. Men look amazing in clothes. It just makes me, reminds me of that.
I know a guy that looks better than me in makeup.
Well I mean, that could be a fun thing to pull out of this. Putting different body types or different genders in clothing so mixing it up to see things in a different way. And here we have the 1800s. So anything here besides the corset?
I would say just the level of very soft romanticism with the draping of the skirt and the soft color palette used. It looks really nice.
Definitely. So here "The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions." And that's very important moving forward here. And this is just a portrait of Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered the father of contemporary fashion. And this was about mid-1850s. I just like to put him in there 'cause he's kind of the start of it all. At least from a contemporary standpoint. And these kind of wrap up the end of that period. So the 1800s. And it brings us to the corset. And we have one example of a corset right here. And I have kind of a key question for you ladies in the room and that is why is the corset still a popular fashion item? History shows that we spent so much time trying to get women out of corsets, or women wanted to get out of corsets. So why are we going back to corsets? And I have to start with you Ryan because you make them. So why do women want your corsets?
Of course it should not be uncomfortable, that's the thing. Everybody thinks it's so uncomfortable. But if it's made properly, it actually feels really nice. When I cinch the girls up that have never worn them before, they're just like, ooh this is nice. It's almost like being hugged. (laughs)
I like that.
Plus it gives you the most beautiful shape. And you can shape it any way you want. You can give yourself a conical shape, an hourglass, pipe stem, any way you want.
Yep. And I think that's key too, perspective. Because we do have this historical idea about corsets being uncomfortable and cinching. And they were, the original ones I'm sure.
Some of them are uncomfortable.
But I think today, they can be interpreted for a modern audience, which would be really great.
I think also it's because today it's a choice.
Back then it was not a choice.
That's a good point. And one of the things that I speak to when I talk about corsets and undergarments is that throughout history, we've always had undergarments that completely change the shape of our body. Back then it was the corset, but today it's two things I tell my students. It's Spanx and it's the gym. So either we actually recreate our bodies with the gym or we use some helpful devices. Oh and what are, can anyone think of another item that we might sacrifice a little comfort for because it looks good?
[Audience Members] Shoes.
(laughs) I knew that was gonna be the answer. Definitely. And again, that's something that is not about necessarily practicality. It's because it changes the silhouette and it changes the shape of your leg and things like that. So just something to consider. So we're wrapping up the 1800s. A couple more questions about what fashion can do because in these periods, these things were happening. So what kind of fashion is liberating women today?
Lycra, stretch fabric, yes.
Well the key there is knit wear. We use knit, we're so used to knit wear. Whereas most clothes before were all about structure. Having these fitted garments. And now we can have fitted garments that give us a little ease. And then we talked a little bit about this with the gender. What role does gender play in fashion? At this point, you wanna think about what women's fashion might pull from men's fashion or from other things because I think the flow goes in one direction a little heavier. So I think women are much more open to adopting men's details. I don't think it goes back the other way as much. Maybe a little bit with color. But when it comes to fashion, I think we can pull a lot of different things, including gender, into the equation. All right, so here we're looking at history from a completely different perspective. Instead of asking what item do you see, what detail you see. You can still definitely do this with early fashion. But this is the first time it starts to get sort of contemporary and modern. And one of the keys to remember, especially in the 20s, is why this was so exciting, and the whole idea of the flapper and bright young things. And does anyone know why it was so, that period of history was so vibrant?
After the war, changes in social mores and all that.
And the loss of so many young people, it made life really vibrant and exciting. And we have this great quote from Elsa Schiaparelli. "In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous." So pushing the envelope. So thinking about that in terms of the times we're living in do we want a little comfort? Do we want a little excess? How do people feel at any given time, are things that you can pull into your ideas for a collection. I'm just gonna go through a couple more. And it kinda brings us into the, one of the things about the 20s was the IT girl, sort of Louise Brooks. So does anybody have any IT girls that inspire them today? Like women that are out in the public eye who inspire you from a fashion perspective? [Audience Member] Beyonce.
Beyonce. (laughs) Any others?
I think actually Interestingly enough it's a lot of celebrities who aren't necessarily in the fashion scene. But like Rihanna that's always doing very bold, kind of outrageous fashion choices and thinking outside the box.
Yeah, and thinking about movie stars in particular, thinking about how they might work with a stylist to make those bold statements, to get noticed. 'Cause everyone's vying for screen time. So a lot of times you can find an IT girl that you follow. And this is another thing that you can follow on social media so that you can keep up on what's happening with that evolving look. And then also, because we talk about the 20s with the pretty young things or bright young things, thinking about who are the party people? What's the sense of how people celebrate? What environment is it? When I was a teenager working in fashion, it was all about disco. And yet, there was a whole other component in our classrooms where students were so anti-disco and it was all about hard rock. So both those elements are happening at the same time. So find out who you're connecting with in terms of celebrating and the reason for dressing up 'cause that could be a great resource as well. We pull through to the 30s. And the 30s, I picked this image because we have Jean Harlow, movie star of the era. And the key to this period is that fashion, when it's collected about the 30s, it's always really glamorous and shiny and glossy and flowy. Truth of the matter is was the Great Depression, right. So we have to realize that this becomes the go-to. It becomes the fantasy. A lot of times fashion can be used for that. So how does fashion allow you to escape? So what kind of things make you feel like you can be other than? You know I always think of cosplay, when you dress up in costumes to kind of get away from life and play. And I just love the terminology, costume play. Where just by the virtue of dressing up, you can be someone else. We work into the 40s, and here two contrasting examples. During the war, utility wear. And then we have after the war, again sort of an explosion of fabric and color where we get to feel free and we want to kind of sort of push back against the austerity. With these two we wanna think about, what are some of today's fashion uniforms? What are our go-tos? For me, I have dozens and dozens of versions of my work shirt, my jeans, and my sneakers 'cause it's my go-to where I feel comfortable. So you wanna ask yourself, maybe not just for yourself, but your customer, what are their go-tos. And then why do you push the envelope fashion-wise? Oh sorry when do you push the envelope fashion-wise? Curious, when do you guys feel like you kind of have permission to dress up and push the envelope a little bit? Any particular instances?
I do specialize in costuming and cosplays so all the time.
Mostly at convention season, but anytime.
Well that's a great example, conventions. You know you have this platform where you can go play. So that's a great example. Any others?
So when I work with clients, I like to be pretty much invisible because I feel like it's important for them to be the center of attention so I wear a lot of black and just try to kind of disappear though. Sometimes I'm more successful than others. So just black head to toe, not much in accessories, and just stepping back.
I mean that was kind of like the old ateliers where everyone wore a smock. It didn't matter what you were wearing because it was all about the client and the clothes. All right. So now we're just gonna go into sort of more contemporary. And here you wanna look for symbols of the era. And we're gonna also talk about sort of subcultures, adopting rebel cultures. 50s and 60s. A real sense of propriety in the 50s. More about youth culture in the 60s, right. Here we have the 70s. Definitely a lot of strong prints. This picture doesn't tell the whole story, but color as well. And other things about this that are kind of interesting, especially with the woman on the left is the influence of menswear. A lot of unisex happening at that time. And then this sort of harder edge in the 80s. This is definitely more of the rocker, rather than the disco. And then the 90s are a time where we start to see a real mix 'cause we have fashion icons like Princess Diana. But then we have grunge and home of grunge. So the startings of that where it was a push back against that. And then the last one here on the right is just this collage. It's kind of collage dressing where things that you normally wouldn't put together, you put together and make your own statement. And again, have fun and play with it. After we see that, from sort of a contemporary standpoint, let's talk about today. So who might be some of your favorite designers?
[Audience Members] Karl Lagerfeld.
Karl Lagerfeld, okay. Any particular line that he designs 'cause he designs a lot of them?
He does a lot of different things. I really like the Chloe, the more youthful things. But I think he just nails everything. Just everything he does is perfect. (laughs)
I'm sure he'd be glad to hear that.
To me, just about everything is a work of art. And I really, really admire that.
I don't know if anybody would really know about mine. It's from RetroFolie history. She is a corsetry. She takes her own patterns every time and takes art from history and stuff and makes it into the most amazing things I've ever seen. History corsets, RetroFolie. She's amazing.
And that's really nice 'cause that's so industry specific. 'Cause they don't always have to be a big name designer. It could be someone who's working in your city or working in a specialization. And that person, you just have an affinity for. You wanna ask yourself, where did you find them? 'Cause I haven't found your resource. But now that I know, I can look something up. So you wanna think about that process of discovering these designers if you haven't kinda found your idols yet. And then you all spoke a little bit about why do they speak to you. What about them. So we said McQueen with a sense of arch.
Jay, I wanted to jump in and share some from the folks at home. Esther Yes Farhana says, Tracey Reese, her Plenty line. And Anna Sui?
Anna Sui, yeah. I love Anna Sui. And Fashion Times says, I always love Betsey Johnson.
Betsey Johnson is a perennial favorite.
You gotta give her credit for those cartwheels at the end of the show. Just love her. (laughs)
And one more coming in from Candy J. Thanks for joining us in the chat rooms. Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, and Jeremy Scott.
All brilliant designers. And there's so much to choose from. And you can also have a really unusual mix of designers that speak to you. For me, when people ask me who my favorite designers are, I always kind of have a mix of historic, designers that are more from the history of fashion and more contemporary. But they really speak to each other. Mixing someone like Madeleine Vionnet, who is all about the bias cut from the 20s and 30s. And then we go to someone like Issey Miyake, who does similarly innovative things with fabric and movement and flow. So you can have a real mix of designers. You don't have to stay in one little realm. And then also asking yourself on a regular basis, 'cause we all tend to do it, is what eras of fashion do you romanticize? In my classes for the past five years or so, I've been seeing so much from the 80s or even the 70s. And the funny part is that it's all an interpretation. The actual bell-bottoms were huge. Most people would not actually wear them today. But we call them bell-bottoms and they're a variation, they're an update. And it also speaks to the fact that nowadays, we can romanticize a lot of different periods and mix it up. There's no one way to look today. You can have a whole range. Our next segment is about subcultures. And I love this quote because Bill Cunningham is a photographer for the New York Times and he could not be the sweetest, gentlest person. And he's in his 80s. If you ever see the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, it's just such a treat. He speaks to fashion as the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. Now we can consider that kind of our uniforms and things like that, but there are also people who will take it a step further and have a sort of sense of rebellion. And here we have some examples of that from your recent history. We have sort of the punk rock, skateboard culture, goth. We have the Lolitas. And again, there are so many variations. I really invite everyone to explore this because there are going to be elements from all of these that you can relate to and sort of see how you can either stay in that culture, speak to that culture in your designing, or kind of incorporate it and bring it and deliver it in a different way to a new audience.