I’m not a person who is interested in fashion at all. I just don’t get it. This is most likely obvious if you’ve ever seen me. If I had to actually dress in a style that wasn’t just “Band-shirts-and-dockers-or-jeans-that-cover-body”, it’d probably be a Film Noirish type of fashion with the fedora and suit and overcoat. But since that takes effort, I’m happy with the BSADOJTCB style I’ve cultivated.
But a lot of people ARE into fashion — and that’s cool. I’m fine with that — different strokes for different folks and all that. But as someone who is so removed from that world (I don’t even find shows like What Not To Wear particularly interesting or enjoyable, let alone the big hit Project Runway), I was surprised to see a throwaway line in this article about Gwyneth Paltrow (thanks to my friend Chelsea, oddly enough, in a conversation that started out about Mel Brooks‘ first film, which I mention solely because it’s hilarious and people should watch it):
Whenever women complain about how sickly skinny fashion models are, magazine editors and designers snipe that models function as clothes hangers, that curves and flesh would distract from the purity of the designs.
While I knew that fashion models were super-duper skinny (how could you not know that?), I had no idea that this was the actual reasoning behind it. I just thought it was our culture’s kind of wacky view of the ideal body image. But after confirming that this was indeed the argument, I was, quite frankly floored. After all, isn’t that basically like saying “I am a poor designer”? Isn’t part of design — in fact, one of the major goals of design — to enhance the functionality of the object? To not only to make it aesthetically pleasing but enjoyable TO use?
There is an art to fashion design, that’s obvious and I have no desire to discount that — but I would argue that, like advertising (which is likewise an artistic endeavor), it’s not a PURE art form. Advertisements can be amazing, admirable, or enjoyable — one of my favorite go-to examples is Stan Freberg‘s Why Advertise On Radio? spot (transcript a page or so down in that link) — it’s a masterpiece of using the mind’s eye and illustrating what radio has to offer… but yet, it’s still there to SELL the idea of advertising on radio. Without that impetus, it wouldn’t exist.
Fashion, to me, is (or should be) the same way; there’s a functionality aspect that NEEDS to be there, in this case, accounting for flesh/curves while still looking attractive. Otherwise, it’s just an art piece — which would be fine, except they’re not CALLING it Art, they’re calling it a design with the idea that you can go out and buy this functional thing for your very own to wear.
I’m reminded of the opening scenes to Who Are You, Polly Maggoo with the metal “dresses”. The dresses undeniably look really super cool, and as art, they succeed — but given that they cut into the skin of the models, as design they fail miserably.
To put it another way, it’s like if Apple made the most beautiful iPod imaginable… but couldn’t figure out how to fit a drive in there, so it couldn’t hold music. As art, it may succeed, but as a designed object, it fails. Real-world iPods, however, succeed very well at design (as least to my eyes) — they are very functional, the design encourages ease of use and music playback and they look really slick and sleek. This is what design is. A useful object that is likewise pleasing to the eye. If one component of the dichotomy fails, the entirety fails — at least as design. A useful but clunky device may still be a marketplace winner, but it won’t win any design contests, and likewise a beautiful but useless object. The skill is in balancing the two.
I’ve always loved dressing my dolls since I was little, and now I dress models and I talk with jewellery designers in London for the fashion shows. Finally — as an aside; if the purpose of the rail-thin models is to not get in the way of the design’s “purity” (even though given the fact that design is about working in the real world, and as such the act of working to keep the “purity” of the design itself removes that very purity), why not put the outfits on identical mannequins affixed to specialized RC cars. That way, there’s no question of whether or not someone got a “superior” model, and the remote-controlled aspect allows people to see the garment in motion (which I would assume is the entire point of the catwalk, as opposed to just nailing the clothing to the wall).
But, as I said before, I don’t get fashion.