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On why we like modernist chairs and houses, but classical clothes.

post #1 of 96
Thread Starter 
Foo made an interesting observation that got a bit lost in his overcoat thread.
Quote:
Originally Posted by mafoofan View Post


Let's not get caught up in semantics and word games. The point is that there is an approach to dressing, whatever you want to call it, that greatly values the stabilization of its component forms. That's what I mean when I say "classic menswear" or "classic men's tailoring" or "classic men's clothing," etc. There is often no good reason for why such component forms have stabilized the way they have. Half the stuff we wear evolved because men used to ride horses a certain kind of way. The other half has roots in social customs and court dress that could not be further from today's practical reality. Yet, stabilization has value even a stout modernist should appreciate. It provides a toolkit of components that are pre-defined and that have grounded, predictable meanings. We can learn to "say" a lot of new things just by learning to use those components.

Good modernist thinking is about truth-seeking, objective improvement, etc. In many other expressive forms, such as architecture and art, it's led to significant, even traumatic, change. Yet, in most of those cases, such changes made sense because they were cost-effective. As technology improved, it made sense to build buildings differently. There is no added cost in painting a new, different kind of painting. Yet, here we have "classic menswear," stuck in the mud. Is that an affront to modernism or something else? I actually think it is the latter (here, I think Fuuma would most strongly disagree). Why? Because technology has not provided us with sufficiently superior clothing solutions to make it worthwhile to dump the old norms and their communicative value. If a good modernist should seek to maximize a thing's capacity to function, and clothing is in no small part about communication, then he should also play the conservative every now and then--as significant adjustments to the meanings of things occur over generations, even centuries, not seasons or years. Incidentally, this is why you don't hear about many modernists trying to invent "better" languages.

[...]

As for postmodernists--well, they can go fuck themselves.

It's an issue I've been pondering with little success for a while, and I don't really have much time to elaborate. Someone should.
post #2 of 96
Well... To be fair, I can't stand modernist furniture or housing, but I know I am the odd man out on this forum for that smile.gif

I can absolutely appreciate the modernist ethos of function over form and celebrating that... But at the end of the day, I want my house, or furniture, or whatever to be pleasing to the eye, and too much modernist architecture is not IMO--it's too severe and cold.

I noticed this too, and it is a good topic for discussion. Hope this picks up.
post #3 of 96
Oddly enough pB and I were pming about furniture and briefly touched on modern v. antique.
post #4 of 96

I've noticed this split before, and wondered the same thing. Good topic for a thread; hope it takes off.

 

Personally, I dislike modernist furniture & architecture and have little empathy with modernist art either, so I have little personal/practical to contribute to this thread. The thing is, it's all intellectually coherent, and I can understand its appeal on that level; searching for an objective "better" state is always a tempting pursuit. But I always think, "well, you've made it rational, but really, is that actually better?". My personal answer is often in the negative. Waste, excess, flowery deviation, tangential forays, ornamentation for its own sake, deliberate unfunctionality... these are terribly useful mechanisms for letting off a society's (and an individual's) steam. The need to be correct and to be better is tiring in its earnestness & endeavour; I prefer not to be tired.

 

Anyway, as an outsider looking in on this topic, the obvious rationalisation for sticking with the basic forms of classical clothing (but paring it down) is that it is the practical least-worst compromise when viewed from the perspective of trying to stick to the principles of modernism while functioning in a society that does not implement them fully. It is the best compromise for functionality, if you like. That is not a truly modernist attitude to take, but the iconoclasm required to be fully modernist in dress would take one outside the realm of day-to-day acceptability in many jobs.

post #5 of 96
A simple artistic theory shouldn't be applied to clothing, which is almost entirely a sociological phenomenon. The majority of clothing never has been or will be fully practical. Whilst modernism does touch on this, certainly Loos who has been mentioned elsewhere today, it is not practical for other reasons than style. Clothing has been since it's inception in civilised society a symbolic interface between the user and the viewer. Whilst style is integral to this interaction - it is not the simple basis of the interaction itself...clothing is not merely aesthetic - which is why a theory such as modernism doesn't fit.

Clothing is better dealt with by with more sociological theories such as Iconography and Iconology as it involves the "viewer" just as much as the person wearing them. Clothing itself also has more inherent symbolic values than a simple artistic theory would permit, for it is itself a vehicle of expression - following Derrida it is logocentric. To paraphrase Gombrich all clothing is essentially Classical or Non-Classical, like Foo says, yet there is such a deeper meaning there it is too simplistic to talk about modernism.
post #6 of 96

Posted some pics of my place on the Cribs thread. I was a general contractor and did quite well in the housing boom.

 

I have absolutely no interest in modern furnishings, with the exception of modern light bulbs. My wife and I refused to put stainless appliances in this house when we built it. 

 

I know we're not alone on this; our schtick when we were flipping was turning "modern" condos -- white carpet, white walls, rounded fixtures -- into "vintage" living spaces. Granted, this was 5-10 years ago but I think the sentiment still holds. Someplace I've got pics of our old remods, but basically we did the same thing in each: hardwood floors, smooth walls with a Tuscan-style faux finish, antique-look fixtures, plaster and mud ceilings, country kitchens with colored enamel appliances. I remember we had two couples in a bidding war over one of our units, while there was an identical floor plan available in the same building with no bids at the time. The difference was, the other unit was very modern. Granite counters and sinks, stainless appliances, dark wood floors, white walls, track lighting, and staged with modern furniture. That was "the look" back then -- still probably is now -- but we did very well by avoiding it. I know this is anecdotal but it was repeatable.

 

Also this:

 

"the iconoclasm required to be fully modernist in dress would take one outside the realm of day-to-day acceptability in many jobs." 

post #7 of 96

For my part, I appreciate modern design, but greatly prefer an eclectic mix that builds on a foundation of Georgian/Regency/Directoire style elements. I find pure modernism too austere to be comfortable - better when it is balanced against more traditional or rustic style.

 

I'm deeply puzzled by the argument that art is not a sociological phenomenon, but agree on the acceptability of pure modernist attire. 

post #8 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by aravenel View Post

I can absolutely appreciate the modernist ethos of function over form and celebrating that... But at the end of the day, I want my house, or furniture, or whatever to be pleasing to the eye, and too much modernist architecture is not IMO--it's too severe and cold.

I think many people feel similarly. In Europe, the most coveted residential buildings have long been the old Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau buildings of the Belle Époque. And the New-Urbanism inspired neighborhoods that have sprung up over the last decades are also very popular. These tendencies suggest to me that people's taste in architecture might actually run more conservative than their taste in clothing.
post #9 of 96
One might argue that Brummell was a proto-modernist, stripping away the frippery to emphasize line and simplicity of form.

Beyond that, modernism values function, at least in theory, and the case could be made that the classical form of men's clothes fulfills an important function -- projecting an aura of seriousness and competence -- that casual wear does not.
post #10 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Holdfast View Post

Personally, I dislike modernist furniture & architecture and have little empathy with modernist art either, so I have little personal/practical to contribute to this thread. The thing is, it's all intellectually coherent, and I can understand its appeal on that level; searching for an objective "better" state is always a tempting pursuit. But I always think, "well, you've made it rational, but really, is that actually better?". My personal answer is often in the negative. Waste, excess, flowery deviation, tangential forays, ornamentation for its own sake, deliberate unfunctionality... these are terribly useful mechanisms for letting off a society's (and an individual's) steam. The need to be correct and to be better is tiring in its earnestness & endeavour; I prefer not to be tired.

This is a great explanation of how I feel. The intellectual tyranny of much modernism--trying to be objectively *better*, whatever that means, at any cost--while a fun intellectual exercise, doesn't often yield things that I want to enjoy at the end of the day. It's fine for art if that's your cup of tea, though it's not mine. But I don't want to live in it, or look at it every day. I'd rather get enjoyment as well as function out of my living spaces and furniture, and I don't see anything wrong with something that is pleasing to the eye.

Personally, I have also always been a big history buff, and I enjoy the history of many different architecture and furniture styles, so that's another vote against modernism for me.

Also agree that pure function is not the purpose of clothing. Certainly it is in some types--mountaineering clothing for instance. But that's not what we are talking about. Clothing as iconography is probably a pretty apt descriptor I would say, and in that light, maintaining the appearance that projects the image you want to is important.
post #11 of 96
"there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety"

"all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building"

A.W. Pugin.

Interior of Pugin's St Giles Church.

post #12 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by DocHolliday View Post

One might argue that Brummell was a proto-modernist, stripping away the frippery to emphasize line and simplicity of form.


Dozens of rejected starched muslin cravats does not to me suggest the absence of frippery. Quite the contrary.

There is a puritanical streak in Brummell's dress though, if not in his rakish behaviour.
post #13 of 96
Classic Menswear as we refer to it is about as old as modern furniture. The first modernist chair that I am aware of is the coffee house chair by Thonet designed in 1859. That is about the same time period as the origins of the lounge suit and 30 years prior to the tail-less dinner jacket.
post #14 of 96
I think that not everybody is taken by modernist furniture, though I can appreciate the function over form argument. Somehow, being a history buff, I find fulfillment in opening my colonial chest of drawers and letting my imagination run, and sitting back against an antique chair with a good book.
post #15 of 96
Hmmm. I hate modernist furniture, but love very traditional classical menswear.
Nevertheless, I own a set of eight Thonet Chairs that are well over one hundred years old.
Go figure.
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