Text MARINA CARMIGNANI*
More than in other historical moments, grasping what lies behind today’s vast and varied fashion proposals seems as complex as interpreting other phenomena of our times. Obviously we start from the idea that fashion is a manifestation which tells us something about the world in which we live and about collective attitudes; this means going beyond categories generally used in fashion to emphasize the constant and free search for our identity.
Flowery patterns are proposed across the board from Gucci to Tom Ford, from McQueen to Prada for coats, jackets and suits as well as a t-shirt paired with shorts. Short bolero jackets and tight leather pants by Hedi Slimane, reminiscent of the choice of materials typically used in the 60s by rock stars, offer free combinations, both in substance and form; Lanvin’s elegant dark jacket completely loses its historical significance put alongside short pants that expose bare legs creating a kind of vague adolescent appearance. An elegant and classic Balenciaga or a Neil Barrett zip jacket also appears suitable in combination with shorts. Multiple messages emerge from some of some proposals in the new fashion shows and the common denominator seems to be this modern male figure, youthful almost to the point of childishness, nonchalant, free from references, committed to using the body as a place for continuous creativity.
Flowermania – images from men Spring-Summer 2014 collections – From top left: ANN DEEULEMEESTER, MARC JACOBS, DRIES VAN NOTEN, GUCCI, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, PHILIP LIM, JEAN PAUL GAULTIER, PRADA, TOM FORD.
These images raise some questions. When does the idea of fashion without rules which dominates contemporary research even today come to be? Can we still use a tradition that began long ago as a key to interpretation? At the beginning of the 20th century, male dress looks almost like a uniform, in shape, color and material, after a period based on the representation of precise collective values. The basic pieces, jacket, pants and waistcoat, established in the 18th century, had remained the same for several centuries, though they did follow a path of continuous simplification. The first indications of a different way of conceiving not only clothing but also the individual, emerge in the refined context of the 20th century avant-guard: new themes of informality, the predominant idea of youth, a new freedom of expression in the return to color and in the loss of structure along with the break from bourgeois patterns take shape in a mass of ideas that influence all artistic languages. If their provocative proposals do not have an immediate effect on the fashion of those times, they do create the foundation for future and complex shifts in mentality. Transformations will become evident in the ’60s, that decade in which, thanks to youth movements and new political and cultural phenomena, both men’s and women’s fashion turn to new sources for ideas. They look at what is happening on the street and find new energy and inspiration able to overcome rigid canons dictated by social distinctions and roles that had always guided the construction of the male figure. This is the beginning of that contamination of styles and the tendency toward appropriation that permeate the fashion world even today, the ability to draw with ease from the recent or distant past. The close connection between dress, social role and status is lost and this is of the most significant aspects that the latest proposals from recent fashion shows have in common. In the eighteenth century, the variety of fabrics, colors and decorations set a standard of unsurpassed elegance with various similarities to women’s clothing and this model corresponded with great precision to the male role and life-style within the aristocratic society of the Ancient Regìme.
In the 19th century, the 18th century courtier is replaced first by the Napoleonic soldier model, and subsequently and definitively by that of the bourgeoisie. The new social order, the idea of a life based on work, responsibility and respectability, have a direct effect on men’s clothing which becomes more serious in order to better interpret new collective values. The very few changes in the course of an entire century, affect mainly the cut and chromatic nuances within a narrow range of fabrics and small decorative details such as shirts, ties, gloves and hats. Quality now marks economic differences in a subtle way. The complete disconnection from social roles that characterizes fashion today is linked to a loss of values that in other times were strongly reaffirmed through every artistic language. The idea of community has been replaced by that of the individual with the freedom and limitations that this entails. In addition, we cannot underestimate the importance of the rapid transformations in today’s fashion and the globalization of styles which has opened scenarios that need to be interpreted to help understand our contemporary world.
* MARINA CARMIGNANI is an Art History Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where she teaches courses in the History of Art and History of Applied Arts. Her studies are dedicated to the textile sector, with a particular focus on fabrics, embroidery and lace. Since 1980 she has organized and curated exhibitions in various Italian museums, including Florence’s Bargello Museum, the Pitti Palace, the Palazzo Davanzati Museum where she is still responsible for the embroidery and lace collection and the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan and the School of Burano in Venice. She has taught at the University of Urbino and Polimoda. In 2005 her book “Fabrics, Embroidery and Lace from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau” was published by Electa.