It could be easy to assume that the fashion industry has not seen significant innovations during the past year since it has been hit particularly hard by the economic climate. But as this year’s nominees proved, it is sometimes under the toughest conditions and in the most unusual places that artists find their inspiration.
The exhibition Accessories and Artefacts: Women’s Lives in Paris 1940–1944 curated by Christine Levisse-Touzé, Fabienne Falluel, Marie-Laure Gutton perfectly captured this by showcasing accessories worn during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Although usually accompanied by the plain and stern garments associated with this time period, the pieces themselves are playful and the materials which they’re made of simple and practical, demonstrating that glamour finds ways to thrive at any point in history.
Designers also seemed to defy recession by finding an escape in fantasy worlds and bringing them back to life through their work. Christopher Kane’s Spring/Summer 09 collection referenced both The Flinstones and Planet of the Apes while maintaining an impeccable construction and more importantly, sophistication.
The late Alexander McQueen left us with nothing less than a magnificent collection entitled Plato’s Atlantis, which portrayed a world filled with colour, intricate patterns, and his sculptural shoes famously showcased by Lady Gaga in her Bad Romance video. McQueen’s show was controversial not just for its content but also for its form as it was broadcast live online, making his designs accessible in an industry known for its exclusiveness to insiders.
Accessibility was also the focus of the Real Girl Lookbook designed by Zowie Broach and Brian Kirby for Boudicca, which presented its designs through a series of rotating stills. The technique is simple yet extremely well executed making it stand out from traditional lookbooks. As distinguished fashion journalist Sarah Mower put it: “This is one of those solutions so obviously good it begs the question of why no-one’s thought of it before.”
This creative use of technology was also palpable in the Madeleine Vionnet, Puriste de la Mode Exhibition curated by Pamela Golbin and designed by Andree Putman, who managed to expertly integrate the carefully selected works of the renowned designer with images and footage of their production as well as with a retrospective of how her trademark ‘bias cut’ had influenced other designers.
Nominees Christophe Decarnin for Balmain and Rie Kawabuko for Comme de Garcons were highly influential not just because of their innovative concepts but because their style was emulated on the high street and endorsed by celebrities. The Balmain Jacket was seen on the likes of Kate Moss, Beyonce and Rihanna, and editor of GQ UK, Dylan Jones described it as “the most influential item of womenswear in 2009”. Rie Kawabuko’s influence was also evident although perhaps in a more indirect way. Her use of green and nude shades proved to be extremely popular in the high street as well as her military jackets, showing her more avant garde work as accessible and highly adaptable.
Other nominees shed a new light into familiar aspects in the industry. Beth Ditto’s designs for Evans moved away from the simple, loose silhouettes usually associated with clothes for plus-size women, and instead used bold colours and figure hugging patterns. The 1988 Goggle Jacket originally designed by Massimoto Osti was given a new contemporary look by Aitor Throup while also increasing its functionality, and Stephen Jones put the spotlight on an accessory that in spite of being overlooked by many, has been a trademark for many figures in history: the hat.