Monday, February 9, 2009

Revolutionary Fashion

Hussein Chalayan, Airmail Dress, 1999 Private Collection
From the Paper Dress Exhibition next at MOMU in Anvers (March 12 - August 16, 2009)

Yesterday as I rewrote my artist statement on my website, I was trying to figure out why I am intrigued by fashions as disparate as 18th century French gowns and 1960 paper dresses. It struck me that both were revolutionary fashions in that they mirrored times of political and social upheaval.

The paper dress phenomena of the 1960s could be considered as revolutionary a fashion step as the adoption of the muslin chemise by Marie Antoinette in 1780. They are both:
* semi-transparent
* slipped on over the head
* lightweight
* easily torn

But more importantly, these garments are representative of a huge shift in how women perceived themselves.

In the 1770s, there was literally a transformation in silhouette. The bejewelled and decorated court gown with paniers and stays gave way (over time) to the more natural shape of the soft unstructured muslin chemise. The powdered hair and rouged face was replaced by loose unpowdered hair and a natural visage. These changes in dress mirrored the growing unrest in the populace against the ancien regime, the American revolution, and the proposed ideal of a natural existence as proposed by such philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In the 1960s, there was a transformation of women from a highly structured girdled attire (think of the Dior look) to the more shapeless A-line shift in the form of a paper dress. This evolution in style coincided with the sexual revolution and the entry of women into the workforce.

"Souper Dress" Paper Dress (1966)
photo from The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute

Perhaps this is a simplistic analogy but I do find the comparison provocative.

To my 18th century fashion fans, forgive my parlay into contemporary fashions. I promise to get back to historical fashion very soon and am reading three books simultaneously to deliver more material (Madam Campan's Memoirs, The Art of Dress - Fashion in England and France 1750-1820, and Secrets of Marie Antoinette).