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Design philosophy

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by pstoller, Sep 30, 2002.

  1. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    I'm picking this up from the "Versace" topic; we started trying to define different movements or philosophies in fashion design, which is worth talking about, but doesn't belong there. We've been tossing a lot of terms around rather loosely, so it's understandable that what we're talking about is not always clear. So, I'm going to take a stab at a "quick & dirty" (or "rough & imprecise") rundown of the historical origin of some of these terms. After we've hashed this stuff out, we may be in a better place to discuss the true significance of a pair of Prada sneakers. [​IMG] As a design movement, Modernism was born at the end of the 19th century, in reaction to the then-predominant philosophy of Historicism in which design slavishly emulated historical models. Modernism flourished in the early- to mid-20th century"”in particular, between the two World Wars. Some of the more familiar Modernist movements are Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Art Deco. Fashion design was not a major part of these Modernist movements, but the wide range of philosophies that fell under the Modernism umbrella is illustrative of the similar range of design philosophies within contemporary "Modernist" fashion design. Arts & Crafts was a reaction against industrialization, whereas post-Depression American Art Deco embraced and elevated industrialization. Art Nouveau was an explosion of curvilinear, hyper-naturalist embellishment, while Bauhaus promoted an aesthetic of geometric purity. Modernism in art was at least as divided, with movements from Post-Impressionism to the Harlem Renaissance, from Cubism to Dada. Similar stylistic diversity exists in Modernist literature, and other fields in which Modernism held sway. I'm not going to delve into the individual Modernist art & design philosophies at this point, but one key thing I want to state is that Modernism is not "modern" in the sense of being contemporary; the movement arguably ended any time from the 1940s to the 1970s. (The Dadaists would say it ended as early as 1916, but they were ahead of their time.) After Modernism came the aptly- (and vaguely-) named Post-Modernism, a mostly negative reaction to the assumptions of Modernism. Deconstructionism properly belongs under the heading of Post Modernism, not Modernism. The original targets of said deconstruction were the philosophical underpinnings of Modernism. I would also classify Minimalism as a Post-Modern movement. So, what we've been casually calling "Modernism" in fashion design is really Post-Modernism. (A real Modernist designer might be Coco Chanel.) It's a pretty safe bet that a good number of successful fashion designers are more familiar with these movements than most of us are; certainly moreso than I am. It's apparent that Modernist and Post-Modernist fashion designers are applying both ideas and methods derived from other arts. The more we know about the history of Modernism and Post-Modernism, the better we'll understand what contemporary designers are doing, or trying to do, or ripping off. OK, let the games begin...
     


  2. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    Just curious as to why you would think that minimalism as expressed by (fashion) designers like Jil Sander would be post-modern rather than modern. I see that the Antwerp Six and would fall into the former category, but it would seem to me that (mature) Calvin Klein and Miuccia Prada and their ilk are modernists. Some designers, Helmut Lang, for example, seem difficult to classify.

    I'm not an expert either. I wish that I had a few years of design under my belt, or at least a better intellectual and aesthetic appreciation of it.
     


  3. ulf

    ulf Well-Known Member

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    Dissecting and intellectualising art and design is very tricky, especially contemporary works. Intentions, ideas and philosophies are often inferred, especially when it comes to individual artists. Do we really know why they do/did what they do/did? (Except for those who talk about and classify their own work? And do we agree with their own assessments?)

    My almost-psycholgist background makes it hard for me to assume anything or express myself with certainty about individual designs. Occupational hazard, almost.

    Modernist, post-modernist, classic? They can be interchangable labels depending on your perspective and the way styles are mixed and (re)interpreted.

    Hindsight is often needed to detect absolute movements, isn't it?
     


  4. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    I wasn't being fashion-specific in categorizing movements. I'm thinking that Minimalism as a movement in music and painting"”the art forms in which it has been most prominent"”is more Post-Modern than Modern. That assessment isn't based on any rigorous study of Minimalist philosophy, but rather on the chronological appearance and ascendence of Minimalism from the 1960s to the present.

    Of course, the fact that Minimalism coincides with Post-Modernism doesn't mean they're linked philosophically. The reductionism that is a primary method of Minimalism seems, to me, to be linked to Deconstructionism. It's hard for me to tell, though, if Minimalism is a "reducto ad absurdum" response to perceived failures in Modernism, or if it's simply the logical extension of the form-follows-function, Streamline Modern school.
     


  5. Joe G

    Joe G Senior member

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    Very interesting topic. And there's very little in your post with which to quibble. (At least, little that my BA and MA in Poli-Sci have equipped me to quibble about.)

    However, I'd put the Central European Minimalists (Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, etc.) squarely in the "modernist" camp. Their less-is-more silhouettes and austere palettes are pure Bauhaus. To me, at least, they are more van der Rohe than John Cage.

    On a more philosophical level, I have a feeling that looking back on today, people will refer to it as "eclecticism" or something like that, because artists and industrial designers (although I am loth to separate the two categories) feel free to synthise new design by borrowing from any artistic movement of the past. Thus do we have the PT Cruiser and the 300M (not a particularly great design, but wildly different from the former) offered by the same company at the same time.

    Peace,

    JG
     


  6. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    It all depends on whether they're doing it ironically; then, it'd be Po-Mo. [​IMG]
    I think much of the current eclecticism in the art and design worlds is a result of the indiscipline of Post-Modernism. It will indeed be interesting to see what sense future generations make of the stylistic hash of fin de (XXème) siècle. It's certainly amusing to note from which sources an individual designer will pilfer from one season to the next, or even within a single collection. In the specific case you mention, though, I think it's a matter of assigning different design teams to capture different market segments. It's like having Björk, Metallica and Missy Elliot all coming from the same record label, or All-Bran and Marshmallow Blasted Froot Loops from the same cereal company: when the corporation is big enough, corporate identity is beside the point.
     


  7. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    I would definitely put Jil Sander in the Modernist camp. She has stated as much. However, Helmut Lang, who has a more "ironic" streak, and often includes decontextualized details in his pieces (parachute straps on a camp shirt anyone?) I would be tempted to put in the post-modern camp.

    I wonder how one might categorize the neo-baroque styles of Dolce Gabbana and the much maligned Gianni Versace.
     


  8. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    Well, I'll take her word for it. One designer "solved." [​IMG]
    I would concur here, as well. I think Lang, though, falls into the PoMo school that seeks to retain what was valid in Modernism, rather than railing against the old guard.
    Dolce & Gabbana, I'd put with the Post-Modernists. A lot of canny high/low art riffing going on in their collections. Versace is an odd one. Gianni's luxe-&-lust aesthetic of blatant excess for its own sake doesn't fit in with Modernism, but neither did its campiness seem intentional, as in so much of PoMo...though he didn't seem to take himself too seriously, either. He was hardly a Classicist. Neo-Rococo, maybe? How about "Hedonism" as a design philosophy? Donatella's near-rudderless, "show must go on" decadence is essentially an unintentional parody of Gianni, and thus can't really be categorized with most other designers of note. (Cavalli, perhaps.) That Versace has been embraced by thug-rappers as an "elegant" alternative to massive gold chains over warm-ups is only too fitting.
     


  9. Renwick

    Renwick Senior member

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    Wow, I'm glad to see so many replies to my question. So how would you guys classify Gucci/Tom Ford. Gucci interests me because a lot of it's designs are more conservative and while others almost touch on the Versace-esque over extravagence ( the oriental and "paisley/floral" pattens of some of their shirts for example).What about Martin Margiela ?
     


  10. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    I haven't yet decided about Tom Ford. He has a sleekness reminiscent of Lang, a sexiness that hints at Versace, an angularity that recalls Prada, and so on, with a killer commercial instinct. I just don't know if he has any sort of personal vision, or if he's simply adept at synthesizing the most immediately appealing aspects of his contemporaries. His range seems to me less a matter of artistry than of the sort of corporate market-share-grabbing I discussed above...which is not to say he isn't a very talented guy. I would say, however, that his best work is at YSL, especially the women's wear, not at Gucci. (That said, Yves Saint Laurent's public rejection of Ford in favor of Slimane fuels my worst suspicions about Ford.)

    Considering how ubiquitous Gucci is, I have very little of it in my wardrobe. Perhaps it's because almost anything Ford does in menswear, somebody else does at least a little bit better. Then again, it might just be because it's so damned expensive, and "cheap" Gucci is as widely bootlegged as Prada black nylon.

    Definitely a Post-Modernist/Deconstructionist, and one of the most gifted. I enjoy the work of the whole Antwerp crowd, but I think I have the most respect for Margiela, although Dries van Noten is close. (I'm more inclined to wear Dirk Bikkembergs, but he's not the visionary his compatriots are.)
     


  11. Joe G

    Joe G Senior member

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    Pstoller's answer is basically the same as mine, although I suspect mine'll be a little bit blunter.

    I just don't think he's germaine to any discussion of fashion as art. Tom Ford is not an artist. He's a marketer, and a brilliant one at that. But he fundamentally belongs on Madison and not on 5th.

    That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's indisputable that there's a Gucci or two in every minor city, but only one Kilgours or Knize in the world. And that's not entirely by the choice of those marques. Indeed, chiseled above Knize's door on Graben in Vienna is proof that they once had a sales outpost in New York. But that doesn't mean that he has any great amount of design talent. If anything, puts him much closer to the designers who work at Gap/BR, H&M, Benetton, or Zara than to a Roberto Menichetti or Helmut Lang. Except that he has a face and the people who work for those companies don't.

    (That said, I've seen some creative an original stuff come out of some of the less expensive stores, particularly Zara.)

    Like pstoller, I can't seem to find much Gucci in my closet despite the fact that it's for sale in every halfway interesting city in the world. A couple pair of shoes, and a single tie. That's all I've ever had. Which brings me to my ulitmate opinion of Gucci. They're mostly a leathergoods company that seems to want to branch out into other things, but doesn't do so with great conviction. No article of Gucci clothing has never grabbed me. Their loafers are absolutely wonderful, though.

    As an aside, doesn't Martin Margiela do Hermes' lines as well? There's another example of a leathergoods company that has branched out into other things. But the difference is that Hermes has consistently put out some of the best, if most shockingly expensive, clothing extant in the last couple years.

    Peace,

    JG
     


  12. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    Yes, he does.

    Another example of a designer expanding a leathergoods company's offerings is Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Jacobs falls squarely in between Margiela at Hermès and Ford at Gucci/YSL, to mostly good effect. Jacobs shares Margiela's respect for the grand old house that employs him: he saves his questionable ideas for his own labels, and does his classiest work for LV. More than Margiela or Ford, Jacobs has made a real connection to the design heritage of the old company in order to revitalize it both artistically and commercially. (Jacobs has something useful to this pursuit that both Ford and Margiela lack: nostalgia.)

    Jacobs is a real designer: his work is usually at least good (though he's had his off seasons, recalling aspects of the 1970s that were best left forgotten), and sometimes exquisite. If he hasn't the conceptual brilliance of Margiela, he's far more accessible, and his marketing instincts compete with Ford's. As with Ford, I think Jacobs is stronger in his women's lines than his men's"”to a greater degree, even"”but his men's clothes at Vuitton are still sharp, especially the shoes.
     


  13. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    I don't agree completely with Joe and pstoller in regards to Tom Ford. After all, although he is known principally for his marketing savvy, Tom Ford was one of the first designers in the 90's to break the stranglehold of minimalism. His early, hyper-vamped women's collections were in stark contrast to the majority of his contemporaries, adhering neither to the ethos of Jil Sander and Calvin Klein, nor to that of Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli.

    And his repositioning of Gucci into a truly global brand cannot be dismissed as an artistic accomplishment. Since Gucci, money has been poured into a number of other brands, none to such effect. Tom Ford's success lay in his ability to discern the heart of Gucci's appeal, draw that out, and synthesize that for a new generation of consumers. I'll admit to being slightly put off by the current ubiquity of the brand, but I'm trying hard to judge Gucci and YSl collections on their own merits, and not let my inner snob take over.

    That being said, I think that Tom Ford's recent menswear collections have been somewhat lacking in originality, and any piece he does have been done to much better effect by other designers (Hedi Slimane's denim jacket comes to mind.) And certainly, Tom Ford has not the creative mind of a Martin Margiela or a Yves St. Laurent. But he is certainly at least on the same level as a Marc Jacobs or a Calvin Klein, and probably has more talent than one note designers like Raf Simons.
     


  14. pstoller

    pstoller Senior member

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    I'll agree about Raf Simons; like Bikkembergs, he's a designer I'll wear because I enjoy what he does within his narrow range, but I don't think that makes him great.

    You've heard me out on Jacobs already; as I noted, Jacobs' strength does not seem to be menswear (as much as I like the LV stuff, I've never been seriously tempted by anything from his own house), so I have to go by observation and the second-hand experience of my fiancÃ[​IMG]e on his quality, by which evidence I would say he has Ford beat, if only narrowly.

    I wouldn't be too dismissive of Calvin Klein. Although he's become better known as a brand name than a designer ever since he went denim-to-skin with Brooke Shields, he's still a talent of great substance. His Minimalism is the end result of a long career of cutting exceedingly well, now boiled down to the bare essentials. Compared to Klein, Sander is a Jily-come-lately to Minimalism...which may be why she sometimes seems to be trying too hard, whereas Klein's work always appears deceptively effortless. In fact, I'd wager that Klein's couture is some of the hardest clothing to look bad in: no mean feat, that.
     


  15. Timothy

    Timothy Senior member

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    If one wants to draw parallels to any movement, it is my idea that very many of today's designers would possibly be along the lines of the Situationists (or at least fit into the Situationist's critique). That is except that where the Situationists stood against capitalism, modern designers instead, by the very nature of their chosen business, stand on the side of capitalism. For a background the Situationists started as a European avant-garde art movement in the late 50's influenced by the Dadaists and Surrealists. To quote Demanding the Impossible: 'At first, they were principally concerned with the "suppression of art", that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. Like the Lettrists, they were against work and for complete _divertissement_. Under capitalism, the creativity of most people had become diverted and stifled, and society had been divided into actors and spectators, producers and consumers. The Situationists therefore wanted a different kind of revolution: they wanted the imagination, not a group of men, to seize power, and poetry and art to be made by all. Enough. they declared. To hell with work, to hell with boredom. Create and construct an eternal festival.'  Now instead of being about the freeing of our imagination, modern designers and the fashion industry seemingly have turned this theory on its head to better ensnare us into the web of the "spectacle". Or as they (the fashion industry) may say it in a more palatable way they feed our collective fantasies through design. Though this is all an obvious affront. Where the Situationists wanted true freedom for humanity, the fashion industry merely tries to sell us a plastic version of freedom, or any other lifestyle choice, in exchange for the very thing we desire. The two labels I think that draw the closest comparison is Diesel and D&G. Take a look at Diesel's recent revolutionist advertising campaign. Where as students inspired by the Situationists were scrawling slogans on walls like FREE THE PASSIONS, NEVER WORK, and LIVE WITHOUT DEAD TIME, the Diesel adds use ones like HOLD MORE HANDS, and LEGALIZE THE THREE DAY WORK WEEK, which is an obvious rip off of the French student uprisings. The amusing thing is that the irony of both these companies come almost full-circle, both with Diesel's Sponsors Happiness adds being a  dialog on the absurdity of advertising, and D&G's This is a Fake D&G Shirt being a smirk at the joke that is brand identity and the fake garment business set to parasitize those brands. Now I would say that out of all designers Raf Simmons comes the closest to actually echoing the Situationists' theme without any of the irony the others exploit. Yet one is forced to question to what extent such a effort can be considered pure. Admittedly this all will seem to be more of a critique of the advertising industry seeing as how the Situationists were not really an aesthetic movement, and it seems this string has been more a discussion of the aesthetics of fashion design, plus the recent history of design.  Though I do feel it fits for it focuses on the deeper underlying issue of what role fashion design, and thus a designer may choose to play in this dialog of commerce we have, through its overall function in our day to day lives. In the end both are focused on the 'spectacle', whether championing for it or against it.
     


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