Friday, July 16, 2010

The Evolution of Fashion

The other day I was reflecting on the evolution of fashion and style and decided to do this blog post. As with science and technology, we’ve made a gigantic leap in the evolution of fashion throughout the 20th century. I thought it would be wise to start at 1900s.


This was still the time of Edwardian corsetry and hourglass figure designs. The decade was coined as the Belle Epoque and French fashion houses lead the way. Paul Poiret was among most notable designers of the time.


Women started to experiment with softer and more fluid silhouettes. There was a big craze of Orientalism, brought by the Ballet Russe production of Cherezade. Harem pants and kimonos were in. Isadora Duncan in her floating dress personified the decade on the picture above.


Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the Great Gatsby - the movie.

Paul Iribe's illustration of Jeanne Lanvin with her daugher, which eventually became Lanvin's logo.

1920s would have to be my favourite period in fashion. It’s also referred to as the Golden Age of French Fashion. Just picture the dreamy flapper outfits in the Great Gatsby - the movie! Around this time women started sporting short bobs (as pioneered by the great Coco Chanel) and above-the-knee skirts. Many have traded their Edwardian corset for a more androgynous look. Chanel, no doubt, emerged as the innovator of the decade. She introduced the little black dress and was the first one to widely use jersey material in clothing. At the same time, Jeanne Lanvin launched her label, which was to become a fashion powerhouse. Her signature designs were bright floral garments, abundance of embroidery and beading.


Gala Dali wearing Schiaparelli's iconic Shoe-hat

This was the time of the Great Depression. Naturally, women and men became more frugal and modest with their garments. Nevertheless, two women dominated the fashion world: Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeline Vionnet. Both ladies brought back romantic and feminine looks. Once again, the skirts dropped below the knees and beautiful evening gowns were the most coveted objects.


Dior's New Look

During the WWII many fashion houses closed down, including Chanel. Perhaps the most hideous trend of all times surfaced in the form of the Zoot suit…Marlene Dietrich was among few brave women who adopted the Zoot suit and male tuxedos.
On a positive note, Christian Dior introduced the New Look – full skirts and tiny waists were very en vogue.


Iconic Bettina blouse by Hubert de Givenchy

A lot happened during this decade. Among many influential designers who rocked the fashion world, were Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Interestingly enough, Mademoiselle Chanel made her big comeback in the 1950s, by introducing the tweed suit, to-die-for costume jewelry and most important of all, the quilted chain bag, aka Chanel 2.55.


timeless kaftan by Pucci

YSL's safari jacket and le smoking

If Paris alone was dictating the fashion trends throughout the century, it was no longer the case in the 1960s. This was the time of Biba (Topshop of the decade) and flamboyant Pucci designs. If before what you wore spoke of your social status, now – young men and women were free to experiment with more affordable fashion.

One Frenchman made a big mark during this time: Yves Saint Laurent revolutionized the history of fashion one garment after another: his safari jacket, pea coat and le smoking – all proved to have major staying power.


Sonia Rykiel's body-hugging knit dress & signature stripes

1970s, also known as the “me” decade was all about rebellion and individual expression. This, no doubt, was propelled by the war in Vietnam. It mobilized young people around the world to unite in protest, which was reflected in their choice of clothing. The key trendsetters of the time were Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo Takada, Halston, DVF and the queen of punk herself - Vivienne Westwood. In many ways I see Sonia Rykiel as a woman who shook the fashion world in no lesser way than Coco Chanel. It was Sonia who championed the all-black look, colourful knits, long boas and rhinestones. She taught women how to have fun with fashion.


Alaia fitting Grace Jones

Among the most prominent designers of the decade, I would have to name Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaia. I remember my mum rocking in one day in a blue sharp-shouldered suit by Mugler. Even as a kid, I was very impressed. While Mugler's models looked like they belonged on the set of Star Trek, Alaia was all about simplicity. He was also the first to widely use lycra and viscose in his breathtaking designs.


CK One ad campaign

Gianni Versace's 1994 ad campaign

This was the time, when I officially plugged in to the world of fashion. I can write a lot on this decade, but will narrow down the list of designers who’ve inspired me and many other people around the world: Gucci, Prada, Versace, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, and Donna Karan. All with very distinct aesthetics, these Americans and Italian fashions houses were making major waves. This was also the time, when it no longer mattered to be en vogue and to blindly follow the trends. You could channel baroque opulence of Versace, CK’s minimalist silhouette or Kurt Cobain's grunge look - whatever rocked your boat.


Halston Heritage 2010 Collection, and Halston with Marisa Berenson in the 70s

To me personally, fashion evolution in the 21st first is somewhat of a conundrum. If there is one trend I can single out in the past 10 years, it would be the tendency to recycle. Consumers are recycling Vintage clothing, fashion houses are recycling their previous collections, fashion editors are recycling trends from the past three decades. Just this year we saw Moschino copy their 1980s gold chain blazers, Halston re-launched Halston Heritage label, and Balenciaga brought back the original accentuated shoulder designed by Cristobal in the 1950s. I can only think of Asian American designers, lead by Alexander Wang and Peter Som, who brought an element of novelty in the past years.
I was trying to come up with explanations as to why this is happening and realized that there is no one answer. Is it because in our global economy, world wide web and fashion media saturation we are exposed to too much information and it stumps our creativity and uniqueness? Or is it because being creative and innovative in fashion is high risk and not commercially viable. Or is it because there is so much creativity out there, it’s hard to single out one key trend and the leading innovators. It's difficult to come up with one groundbreaking idea which will shake the industry. And perhaps, this is the time of true individualism, with all the mini trendsetters and micro trends mushrooming in all corners of the world. I don’t know the answer, but I do know we live in some fascinating times…

I'm still secretly hoping that when we are done recycling the past, the next Coco Chanel will be just around the corner :).



  1. Love it darling :) Very interesting, x

  2. thank you! glad you found it interesting :)

  3. Very informative - interesting the way fashion is a reflection of external factors. Thanks for the insight :)

  4. Wonderful post. Love the information and your thinking.