Met Gala Theme: What Is “American Fashion” Now?

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In the beginning, American fashion was largely defined by what it was not: European.

As Elizabeth Hawes, a cartoonist turned journalist turned designer who traveled to Paris in the 1920s as a “copyist” – a pattern maker hired to copy French models intended for sale in the American market – wrote in his classic treatise on memory, “La mode est épinard”, one of the greatest successes of the French was to convince the world that their clothing design was the only true design of clothing, their intrinsic know-how in it. essence of chic. Thus began a parade of American designers – Charles James, Main Rousseau Bocher (whose name passed in some way from the pronunciation “Main Bocker” to that of “Man-bo-shay”) – going to Paris to obtain the endorsement. of the Gallic establishment. and thus confirm their legitimacy.

The first designers who made their Americanity into an asset – Ms. McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Rudi Gernreich – did so in part by offering an alternative to the highly structured and class-dependent traditions of French couture, which dictated the style of the head to toe. They used zippers (zippers!), Patch pockets, ponchos; they enhanced everyday materials like denim and gingham and the white shirt. The aim was to offer clothes that could be mixed and matched depending on the wearer and the context – clothes that could free them from the dictates of a single designer or the limitations of costume or the demands of changing several times a day. Later, Mr. Gernreich even released the chest from the swimsuit.

It was then that the sportswear stereotype was born, defined by the ideas of “practicality” and “functionality” and “utility”, which connect with the romance of the pioneer and the self-made. Even then, however, it was too simplistic a generalization. For every McCardell, there was an Adrian, who came from Hollywood lore and had a small truck with basics.

Yet sportswear remained the dominant philosophy, setting the stage for the Battle of Versailles, when Halston (who freed the body even more), Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein triumphed over Saint Laurent, Givenchy, et Al. And they, in turn, paved the way for the generation of big brands that followed – Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan – with an emphasis on minimalism, physicality, and national storytelling. . A fresh wind was blowing in the moldy corridors that Paris occupied in the minds of consumers.

This story is out of fashion. This brought Michael Kors and Alexander Wang (to name just two designers) to Celine and Balenciaga, but couldn’t keep them there, as what was first presented as positive eventually became (at least in the mode) a code for “not so creative” or “not so artistic” or even more pejorative “commercial”.


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