Fashion. That thing we follow like religion and that revises on the bi-annual whim of a higher designer deity. However, are these fashion gods omnipotent? Do the designers really run fashion anymore?
In the early twentieth century, it was French society women at the Longchamp racecourse who really set the trends. Out of this was born the innovative designer, the very first being Charles Frederick Worth and Jeanne Lanvin, and most with traditional backgrounds in tailoring or dressmaking. The greats have been numerous, famous and as diverse as Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Coco Chanel and Stella McCartney. The geographical origin of these creative creatures was naturally Paris, and subsequently Milan, New York and London. They became a secretive and strangely coherent community, mysteriously showing similar trends each season despite a lack of correspondence, and they lived life through the medium of Vogue. By the millennium these fashion genii were deciding the adornment of every individual and determining the look of every decade.
However, a new twenty-first century way of running fashion has arguably overruled with the advent of internet opening up fashion archives, blogs, images, writing and collections to the masses. The designer rarely exclusively dictates fashion for the average person anymore. There has been a backlash, almost, against appearing too trend-led, indeed quirky and unique dressers are now revered. The designer reign is to some extent over, and the new republic constitutes individualistic street style, fashionable trendsetters, and importantly the old style icons who still influence modern tastes.
Maybe it was the vintage craze. Or maybe, it was the economic downturn that sent us running for the familiar comforts of home-cooking, country walks and classic, elegant dressing. The point is, twentieth-century style icons command with their timeless fashion sense more than ever before. We now seek the long-lasting, good quality and versatile pieces that these women originally pioneered. Lauren Bacall, the first, with her sultry film siren glamour has inspired our love of the feminine, flattering forties and fifties silhouette. Marilyn Monroe came next. Her plainer pre-stardom days are evidence for the fact that red lipstick, bleach blonde hair and attention to cultivating the ultimate hourglass figure can indeed maketh the star. Sixties icons Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy Onassis have spawned the most passionate rehashing. Hepburn’s pearls and Little Black Dress combo is a timeless classic, while her Capri pants are seen everywhere from Dover to the Riviera. Onassis embodied the style of the wealthy American East Coast with her blow-dried hair, bug-like sunglasses, pea coats and shifts. Brigitte Bardot’s big backcombed hair is perhaps more evocative of our era than her own, but she was a poster girl for the always envied, effortless French style. Finally, Bianca Jagger’s glamorous tailoring, depicted famously by her white trouser suit at her wedding to Mick, demonstrated that androgynous sharp lines and tailoring were becoming a perennial factor in a women’s wardrobe. Designers are as much influenced by these women as anybody, and by their own admission reference them in their own collections with complimentary regularity.
While these women provide inspiration to an extent, the Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr generation require their short attention spans catered to by a series of present day trendsetters. Through fame, photo opportunities and immaculate self-styling well-dressed celebrities propel key items, unseen on the catwalk, into fashion mainstream. These items become covetable and fashionable because of the relative accessibility of the actress/ singer/ businesswoman in contrast to the alien-like model on the catwalk. Fashion is a lifestyle few of us can live in, but trends are a practical slice of the desirably au courant. The queen of the present-day trendsetting elite is undoubtedly Kate Moss. The pioneer of festival chic, Miss Moss has singlehandedly put skinny jeans, denim hot-pants for daytime, blazers and trilbies into the nation’s wardrobes to be complemented with blunt fringes and smoky eyes. Sienna Miller has won almost as much kudos with ‘boho’ chic; her achievements are the revival of pixie boots, gladiator sandals and tailored harem pants. More recently Alexa Chung, so cutting edge that a Mulberry bag bears her name, made androgyny cool and raised the previously debatable fashion credentials of loafers, brogues, nautical stripes and satchels. The Parisian chic girls Clemence Poesy, Carine Roitfeld and Emmanuelle Alt are almost as much of a defining force. Although none of these women yet warrants the title of style icon (used far too casually these days!), they have done an incredible amount to alter how we dress.
Street style has therefore evolved into the new catwalk. Deliberately individual and self-stylised outfits can evolve into sub-trends and even inspire designers who take to the streets will brainstorming their next collection. Pages and pages of fashion magazines and numerous websites have been dedicated to compiling images of city goers in wonderful outfits. Photographers and retail buyers travel to places as diverse as Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sao Paulo to source original looks. Images are distributed rapidly and extensively via the internet, while the popularity of blogging means the importance of street style has no limits. Indeed, almost every appearance-consciousness twenty-something now has a patch on WordPress, Blogspot and Lookbook.
And therefore I ask: how many designer-instigated trends do you actually see anymore? Yes there will be monochrome checks and striped skinny trosuers galore this summer, but the old favourites, skinny jeans, leather bikers, brogues and aviator sunnies et al will be there for the umpteenth time I’m certain.