Thought of the Day

I don't believe in morality, but I believe in ethical conduct as set out by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Ethical conduct = a way of behaving that respects others’ right to be happy".

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Golden Age of Couture @ V&A

the golden age of couture, pioneered by dior's *new look*, is homaged this season at the V&A. it is unmissable if you are in town.

during the war, most designers emigrated to the US and all the fashion houses of paris got dispersed. the nazis introduced the textile rationing system, and milestones of fashion, such as dior, balanciaga and schiapparelli, had to resource to dolls, placed in theatrical settings designed by eminent artists like jean cocteau, to show their creations. after the war, dior introduced grand outfits and revisited lady suits as a contrast to the rigidity and sobriety of the war time. metres and metres of fabric were needed to make one ample skirt, and tailleurs lost their boring look to become a celebration of the woman, who had proved to be a tough and indispensable asset of the hard times.

digression: whereas dior enjoyed continuity throughout, in '69 balenciaga decided to close his boutiques. he described his job *a dog's life!*. in '87, however, la maison revived as a ready-to-wear label. nowadays, balenciaga, bought by the gucci group and led by nicolas ghesquière, is one of the most successful enterprises and well-known for its statement bags and famous testimonials, or muse, i should say.

the exhibition started with some unique pieces from dior's controversial *new look* collection. his opulent skirts were criticised in England, were the rationing system was still in *vogue*.

the second room was arranged as a paris district with a high concentration of couture houses. the projection of catwalks and fashion shows from the '50s/'60s were the zenith of this room: to see these magnificent gowns coming to life through curvy and sensuous bodies was a mesmerising experience. i would have watched those footages for hours.

the third room showed how fashion photography gained importance in the fashion industry, and models the status of divas. cecil beaton's shots could not miss in this parade of beauties in fabulous frocks and, sometimes, unusual or even dangerous settings.

in a past not too far, women (of a certain social class - certainly not my grandmothers) used to get changed at least four times a day: they had a day dress, a cocktail dress, a pre-evening dress and the evening dress. chosen samples of this escalation of elegance were displayed in the *climax* room. i could not avoid to feel nostalgic. how could i feel nostalgic of a time i was not there, of an age so alien to my life style, when at the most i used to get changed to go to church in my sunday best? it is unnecessary to sport four dresses in one day and clearly a waste - granted - but i think of it more as a testimony of the care women had for their body (a sacred shrine) and image (their dignified persona could be extremely sexy without uncovering a slice of flesh). trends have drastically changed: even at the highest level versatility is nowadays a must: my friend, designer at ferre', told me that at their fashion-storming sessions, they keep being reminded to create night&day clothing, whenever possible.

how could such an array of pomposity be concluded if not with the most inspiring legacy of our times: the grand, irreverent and unique john galliano, who, after YSL and Ferre', amongst others, has been reining la maison dior relentlessly for the past ten years, as well as running his own label (galliano) since '84. hard worker, eccentric, a well of creativity and an obsess with detail, galliano was born in london from spanish parents. his english academic upbringing and hispanic roots were the winning binomial combination: his collections always bear a awe-effect and arise diverse reactions. the pieces that concluded the V&A exhibition were *loosely* inspired to the royal family. breasts deceitfully popping up from too tight corsets, over-the-top decorations and flashing colours were both provocative and ceremonial. i overheard someone labelling them as *vulgar* - they were missing the point. in fact, they were missing one crucial concept: irony. and it is with irony that his *french revolution* and *madame butterfly* collections are also infused with breathtaking results.

acknowledgments: i need to thank superqueen for being the best source of admirable fashion articles this post cross-referred to.

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