From the past….but worth a second look

So I’m perusing around the site and doing some housekeeping, and found this fabulous link I had saved.  At the time I felt this way, but it’s probably more pertinent now. In this article, Armani accused Prada of going after the bucks and forgoing the classic style that the House of Prada was known for.  Sort of as if Chanel decided to chuck the jacket thing and compete head-to-head with Lululemon or Nike.   The house, started by Miuccia’s grandfather and his brother with Miuccia’s mother taking over and then Miuccia, made headlines by going after the Grunge market, instead of staying with the style that her family had mastered.  During the 1990’s Prada had financially extended itself to the point where they had to keep up with the business side or die.  Prada had extended into other fields to make it more marketable in today’s economy.  In a very short time, Prada designs went from the classic to the more modern (if you want to call it that) style of the times and therefore becoming more popular and more profitable.  Prada threw out what had made the house famous and what the house was known for, to a modern look that was not anything close to what they had known or been before.

Here’s the article reporting Armani’s swipe at Prada.  And although this is more water under the bridge, I sorta took Armani’s side in this.  Fashion has always swung from one side to another – it’s the very nature and makeup of fashion;  from androgyny to vive la difference; from pretty to ugly; from frou-frou to tailored – it’s the nature of the beast.  And from the very beautiful fashions of the 80’s.  This is the predecessor of the Grunge and what the Grunge movement was about was coming away from this look and toward something “new” and “different”.  Here’s a little video to bring us back to the 80’s and what designers were showing and even a great Theirry Mugler Vogue Pattern!


Granted there were extremes, but mostly these styles were beautiful, showed the female figure and made to make the customer look pretty – that was the main goal of these styles was to show off a woman’s figure the best way, and sometimes there were extremes – there always are in fashion.

But Armani’s point was that going to an ugly and unattractive style, even if it was a rebellion against the pretty, vive la difference of the 80’s, was forsaking the whole idea of fashion.  That going after this style, particularly when a fashion house had been in existence for decades showing conservative and fairly pretty styles, was prostituting the house and what it was for the sake of notoriety and money.  We see that a lot today in fashion.  The editors, magazines, and social media tell us what is chic and what we are supposed to wear and what we aren’t – whether or not it looks good on you is immaterial.

This reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes and what it really meant.   The enduring message of the story is to use your own judgment.  You really do know what is best for you and don’t be a fashion victim.  That’s a name for someone who followed, religiously, the dictums of the latest fashion rage whether they were sound, flattering or worthwhile.  Consumers today are taught that you must have the latest fashions immediately, even if you knew the style or fashion wasn’t your style or flattering on your body.  Get it NOW and then figure out if you can use it later!  Anderson’s story was not really a fairy tale (starting with….once upon a time and ending with and they lived happily ever after), it’s really a moral fable, as it not only has a point at the end but a very worthwhile message.  Something we seem to have forgotten in this age of fast fashion, that we actually do have a choice and we can actually choose to wait and purchase clothes on a more thoughtful level.

That we know what is good and right for us, is something lost in the perpetual search for the latest, newest and most progressive look.  “New” and “different” are not always better.  Like all trends, determining if it’s your style is something the consumer should decide on his/her own.  When we are young, we are more likely to try all these trends to see what works best for ourselves.  As we get older, we’ve been through a lot of the trends and know what works best for us.  I have been through hip-huggers with bell bottom legs of the 70’s.  They were uncomfortable at best, and when you bent over or sat down, the rise (that part from the top of the pant to the top of the inseam) was never enough to “cover the subject.”  So when the hipsters of Alexander McQueen came onto the scene, I would look at the boot cut of the pant or the yoga cut of the leg, and think, that’s a great look for me, but that hip-hugger rise is for the birds.  I made my pants with the boot cut and with the rise to the waist.  When my friends would remark about my pants and how cute they were, I would show them that they were to the waist and they would admire with envy saying, “Ooooooooo!  I want those!”  Of course, they knew I made my pants and that’s how I got this look

We’ve become so accustomed to ill-fitting, torn, worn-out clothes that we forget what was fashion before Grunge.

Armani for fall 1992 (left) and Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis Fall, 1992 (right)

This makes the point….while Marc Jacobs was doing the first Grunge fashion show at Perry Ellis (which he was fired for and which made his name in the fashion business for the rest of his life as he was only reflecting what was showing up on the street), Armani was showing tailored beautiful clothes.  These were the clothes and types of looks we wore before Grunge took over the industry and consumers were persuaded to wear ugly clothes “because they were beautiful,”  “because it was new,” “because it had been dictated as fashionable.”

Giorgio Armani for Spring 2018 – still designing beautiful clothes.

This was Armani’s point.  All through the ugly fashion phase of the 90’s and 2000’s and even into the 2010’s, Armani still made beautiful, handsome, flattering clothes.  That’s how he was trained and that’s what he knew to do and Prada as one of the oldest houses in Milan, he felt that this was selling their name, firm and their soul only so they could achieve the money and fame they wanted.  Both the fame and money came, but in the end, who really has the better reputation?…. Armani or Prada?  Will Prada turn to another phase as soon as the trend passes?….or will they stay who they are now?….for how long?

What happened in 1992 with Marc Jacobs show was a natural and normal fashion swing – it happens all the time.  However, it is not normal that this fashion fad should last for almost 3 decades.  So what happened?  As these new Grunge styles began to show up in the boutiques and high-end stores in the early 90’s, the department stores and discounters began to notice, “Hey, the features of this movement are ill-fitting, worn-out, torn, too-small, too-big clothing — We can do that at a lot lower cost, faster and have this available for everyone!”  Think of this – the manufacturer no longer had to be constrained by fitting, product endurance or wearability.  They began to realize that they could not only deliver this at a lower price and faster than the high-end boutique, but they could make this into a business model.  As the business side of fashion was beginning to also rear its ugly head (with headlines like “Is Couture Really Needed,” or “Do Couture Collections Matter Anymore?”) people began to question couture or fine sewing (which included fine fitting) value.  Pretty soon these knock-off manufacturers were taking over the business of fashion.  This became such an addictive business model, that soon it filtered up to the mid-level clothing manufacturers into the high-end clothing manufacturers, and old firms that used to pride themselves on well-manufactured and well-fitting clothing went out of business – they couldn’t compete with the poorly-made, much cheaper, more profitable model of the Grunge fashion.

Forward another decade, and pretty soon companies like Nieman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s some of the more upscale boutiques, couldn’t compete with the business model of Zara, Forever 21 and on up to the mid-level department stores of Macy’s, Sak’s and Dillards.  The financial pressure was on to adopt this more lucrative business model.  The well-made turtleneck that does not rip, does not shrink, is not ill-fitting and endures through decades of wear is now selling for $200 at the high-end retailers, when the department stores and fast-fashion stores are selling a similar turtleneck for $7.99.  The consumer can not and does not seem willing to see past the cost of the cheaper garment, so the $7.99 wins over the $200 model every time.  The high-end retailers cannot compete with that huge inequality in price points.  So what do these companies do to stay in business?  They adopt the fast/cheap fashion manufacturing model to stay afloat.

So aside from the original premise that Grunge was a look that was in response to the opulence of the 80’s, which should have normally lasted for a decade or so, it has now lasted almost 3 decades.  This is no longer a fashion trend.  It is now an integral part of the business of the clothing retail industry.  It’s an addictive drug that, to move forward, the retailer will have to undergo serious withdrawal.  The industry knows this, particularly at the education level, however, the addiction is so strong, that to wean off this fast/cheap fashion business model, will take some incredible discipline and total re-education of the consumer.

The last time we had a really really long fashion phase was before and during World War II.  Elsa Schiaparelli was a famous designer of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.  Her designs were considered artistic and experimentally creative.  They were inspired by Salvidor Dali and modern artists of the time.  Her base frame was a slender classically designed garment that she could use to showcase her exceptional pieces or features of her artistic designs.  That classic silhouette became so classic, that it was picked up and by the time war was declared in France and England in the late 30’s, this silhouette that was not only classic but it also required very little fabric and fulfilled the ration needs which furthered the silhouette for 20 years from its original inception.

Left – Schiaparellis from the mid-1920’s and right are wartime dress from the mid-1940’s

Why does this really matter to we sewists?

For one thing, I would hope that we have the choice that consumers don’t have.  And because we have that choice, hopefully we can wear and make what flatters us the best, EVEN when the styles that are touted as being “in” or “fashionable” like the Emperor’s New Clothes, we don’t have to wear that style – we can make what really looks great on us.

For another, we can begin to set a trend that is more in line with what clothing should actually be.  To go back to basics (of what shelter, clothing, and food should provide):  It should cover our skin. It should protect us from the elements: rain, sun to an extent and temperature.  It should flatter us.  It should make us feel good about ourselves.  It should reflect who we are.  These are all lost in the maelstrom of this out-dated, addictive business model.  Grunge is no longer a fashion trend.  It’s the heroin of the clothing industry that prevents the natural change and movement of fashion to move onto other ideas and hopefully better solutions to clothing.

The most important factor that is preventing fashion retailers from moving off the Grunge trend is the financial expense to the consumer.   I purchased an Yves St. Laurent top in 1989 for $189 then.  Today the cost of that garment would cost $365.  That’s a huge jump for consumers to grasp much less plunk down their hard-earned bucks to purchase.  It may be in fashion but frankly, the consumers’ perspective of clothing prices have been so warped that this sort of warped low-expense of clothing is expected by the consumer.  To pay the price, which reflects the same increase in groceries and gas prices, seems outrageous.  The big huge question in all this is: how will RTW, fashion industry and retailers re-educate the consumer that they need to pay 96% more for their clothing.  That’s a lot of re-education and a dramatically huge jump in pricing.  What can the fashion industry offer that would be worth a 96% price increase to the consumer that they would feel compelled to pay that increase for clothing?  That’s the challenge facing today’s fashion industry.  This means totally changing the consumers’ mindset.  That means being able to sell the top they used to buy last year for $35 will cost $68 next year.  That’s a huge bump.  But we sewists?…..well the cost of making that garment well, probably costs $50, and remember this will last for 10 years.  So we’re ahead of the game.

Not only do we get to go far in advance with our styles and stay up-to-the-minute (and sometimes even anticipate fashion trends), but we also do it without the sticker shock that the regular consumer will have to suffer.  I’m not sure that Armani could see this far into the future about the effects within the business of fashion of this Grunge trend.  What he did know is that quality is really the more economical purchase and the quality garment is also a pleasure to wear and to be seen in.

  1. Fascinating, and very enlightening! I had not thought of the business of fashion in this way; I only knew I was confused and frustrated. Vive’ la sewists!

  2. I very much enjoyed this piece. Well thought out, reasoned. I came of age during the 80s, and endured grunge. By 2005, I was sewing again, because I wanted classic, well made, well-fitting clothes that made be feel like I could soar.

  3. Thanks so much for articles like this! I have always loved classic clothes and
    sometimes wish I could be “trendy” and dress more like my friends, but I
    know what looks best on me. Being able to sew has allowed me to study
    what is available from designers, and do my best to create my version.
    I don’t have places to wear gorgeous clothing like I once did, but I
    still long for beautiful things. The demise of the physical fabric store is
    depressing too. On-line is time comsuming and a lot of sewers STILL need
    to touch and feel and buy on the spot and carry that treasure HOME!
    Few things in life are that exciting!! Love love love gorgeous fabric.

    • Yeah, Armani knew what was coming and had been schooled, like so many of the old masters, to make the female body look attractive, not the other way around. I like the way he phrases what a lot of us have known – that pretty is pretty and it will always be fashionable and pretty.

  4. Thank you for this article! Now I know I’m not the only one who has been frustrated shopping in stores, boutiques, etc. Sewing can be frustrating, but at least I know the money I’ve spent was for good fabric and the person making the dress, etc., may be crazy (me), but not motivated by making me look either like a hooker or a 95 year old woman – unless I’m in the mood for that! Creative, well made and my ideas incorporated. Aaaaahhhh, that’s good.

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