Learning About Fashion
Rodarte Spring Summer 2011, photographed at Stanford University for Electric Fashion, the book I wrote with Frederic Aranda.
This morning I was handed a challenge. One of my wonderful Instagram followers asked me if "During this time, could (I) give basic lessons on how to develop an eye for high fashion"? I don't remember ever being asked that. Usually the question is more like "How long have you been interested in fashion"? or "When did you know you loved fashion"?
So how do you develop an eye for high fashion? I can promise you, it doesn't take beauty or dressing well yourself to understand couture. All you have to do is look at who writes the best, most observant and critical reviews to know that beauty and one's own style often have zero to do with understanding fashion. In fact, the pretty girls and boys in their latest Balenciaga, these "influencers" about whom we hear so much, are generally ignorant about style, fashion history and elegance. By the way, Cristobal Balenciaga is most likely rolling in his grave at the thought of these influencers and the Balenciaga tee shirt culture.
First I recommend a book that anyone interested in learning the essentials must read.
Dior By Dior
Christian Dior is surely the most influential figure in French Fashion, which essentially means fashion. And as befits a great man, his modesty and humility shine through. What would Christian Dior have thought of these Instagram influencers? Probably not much.
There are hundreds of books about Coco Chanel. Try The Many Faces of Coco by Lauren Lipton. To learn about Yves Saint Laurent, the first French designer whose clothes I wore and loved, I recommend Jalil Lespart's 2014 movie, Yves Saint Laurent. There are many reasons I recommend this movie over the other (which came out the same season), but first and foremost, the clothes in Lespart's are from the Saint Laurent archives. Chanel and Saint Laurent must be studied assiduously to understand the twentieth century history of fashion. You would do well to learn about Cristobal Balenciaga and the era of women he dressed.
We are lucky enough to be alive in Christian Lacroix's lifetime. My adoration of this designer is well known to those who read or follow me. I suggest that anyone who wants to understand the last forty years of fashion go to Vogue.com and look at every one of his Haute Couture shows from 1987 until 2009.
Left, Spring Summer 2006, Right, Autumn Winter 2009
The work of Lacroix is out of this world. Study the gowns, the accessories, the way the shows were put together. Look at films of the runways from YouTube. Mr. Lacroix gave women poetry and freedom to dream, all based on a strong intellectual foundation.
There is also my book with Frederic Aranda.
Electric Fashion was published in 2015 by Skira. It details how I began my couture collection and includes beautiful photographs by Frederic Aranda. I write about spending long periods with my mother, who also loved fashion, talking to her and watching her dress. If you did not have a mother or older figure in your life to teach you, you can still learn. Remember, the greatest fashion writers are often persons you would not even notice on the street. But their eye for style is unerring. I am tempted to say "You either have it or you don't". However this takes away the idea that we can learn about what makes clothes great. Read the books I recommend. See the movie about Yves Saint Laurent. Study the runways of Christian Lacroix. I am sure you will learn a great deal, and that your fashion eye will expand and you will begin to really understand the beauty of couture.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The human eye is hungry for beauty.
Please take care and stay home right now. I love all of you and I thank you for reading this missive.