/Designs to Last – The New York Times

Designs to Last – The New York Times

In vogue, do all roads lead to France?

That’s the apparent conclusion as designer after designer decamps — even simply briefly — to Paris from New York, London or Tokyo. It’s as if the one method to be taken severely is to present within the French capital (the newest instance: Telfar Clemens), as if being part of the grand finale of ready-to-wear month is the final word signal that one has arrived.

Now, two French-fashion exhibitions in New York are analyzing a number of the causes.

“Paris, Capital of Fashion, at The Museum at FIT, focuses on the spare-no-expense, shade-drenched explosion of finery that took off within the Ancién Regime (from the 15th to 18th centuries) and hasn’t stopped since; “French Fashion, Women, and the First World War,” on the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, depicts how the French vogue trade persevered amid hardships and, by warfare’s finish, gave the rising trendy world a fairly good thought of how it could costume.

“Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain” is the properly-identified remark by Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who first organized craft employees into strictly regulated guilds that fended off imports. It was all about “shaping France’s identity and giving France a cultural and economic importance on the international stage,” stated Sophie Kurkdjian, co-curator of the Bard exhibition.

The FIT present paperwork “how Paris acquired and retained its standing as our foremost vogue capital,” in accordance to Valerie Steele, the museum’s director and chief curator. The show within the first gallery depicts France “inside a world context, in dialogue with different vogue capitals,” she stated — partaking in savvy enterprise ways which have lengthy included not simply organized French labor, however the co-opting of overseas expertise.

So determined was the French cult of the designer to perpetuate itself that, as this exhibition shows, it accomplished the impossible: life after death. Sometimes even long after the deaths of their founders, the houses continued to be animated by new talents such as Claude Montana at Lanvin and, now, Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy.

In the exhibition, to show transitions at work, a black lace and silk dress by Chanel, circa 1926, is next to a 1986 black silk crepe evening dress with embroidered trompe l’oeil jewelry by Karl Lagerfeld, one of Chanel’s successors; and Pierre Balmain’s spring 1954 ladylike Psyche haute couture dress in embroidered lace and silk satin is partnered with a fiercely modern fall 2013 evening dress in beaded black and white raffia and rhinestones by his current successor, Olivier Rousteing.

The idea behind these pairings? “Famous names of fashion can be forgotten unless the name of the house becomes associated with an illustrious successor,” Dr. Steele said.

Wartime fashion evolved slowly but expeditiously, removing layers and excess for easier wearability as women of all classes went out to work while men fought at the front. Restrictive high waists and narrow hobble skirts were replaced by looser skirts, suits and — shock — trousers and overalls, along with easy-to-wear calf-length dresses, like those in the exhibition designed by Callot Soeurs, Poiret, Lanvin and Vionnet. Pockets, previously separate items worn under or over dresses, were incorporated into designs, and many of them enlarged — sometimes immoderately.

No-nonsense men’s suit-style uniforms for women appeared; an army ambulance driver’s outfit, made in England in 1915, has a fitted jacket but a full skirt. The time was ripe for Chanel and her pared-down men’s wear-influenced styles, such as the 1916 V-neck, sailor-collar silk jersey blouse, its defined waistline cascading into loose pleats, and a 1917 hat, devoid of any frippery save ribbon trim, on display.

In the exhibition’s book-length catalog, Dr. Bass-Krueger’s essay, “Fashion, Gender, and Anxiety,” notes that Frenchmen, especially those at the front, often didn’t welcome the new directions in fashion. Satirical cartoons, postcards and articles — many on display in the exhibition — show how clothing was used, Dr. Bass-Krueger said, “to unmask deep-seated anxiety about what was perceived as a widening rift between men and women over the course of the war.”

The soldiers objected not only to the emerging androgynous designs, but even mourning dresses — seen everywhere following the deaths of more than a million French soldiers — were scorned, the essay noted. (One of the exhibition’s wall labels states that young widows were viewed as “suspiciously ‘available’ and too knowledgeable about sex.”)

But after the war, according to Dr. Bass-Krueger’s essay, “as the black dress evolved into a fashion statement in its own right, the seductive tones of the widow’s dress became its main selling point.” Coco Chanel, for one, took note. Enter the LBD. The deformalization of dress had begun.

A central idea of the Bard First World War exhibition, said Dr. Bass-Krueger, “is that what we wear tells the story of our times, from the tailored-suit wearing midinettes who went on strike in May 1917 asking for higher pay and a half-day off, to the overall-clad munitionnettes who replaced men in the factories. This narrative continues up to the blue jean and t-shirt-wearing youth at the Global Climate Strike.”

The “Paris: Capital of Fashion” exhibition runs through Jan. 4 at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue at 27th Street; “French Fashion, Women & the First World War” through Jan. 5 at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, 18 West 86th Street.

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