Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the emperors' new clothes

dior's infamous "bar suit", balenciaga's architectural masterpiece
in the golden age of couture during the years that followed the second world war, two designers, each with his own distinct vision and interpretation of beauty, gave birth to the century's two most distinct schools of fashion. with dior, the romantic, idealized version of feminine beauty interpreted through his classic "carolle line" (better known as the "new look") which he unleashed to an unsuspecting public in his debut collection in 1947 became the dominant force throughout the late forties and most of the fifties. the most important look from that collection was the infamous "bar suit" which emphasized the hour glass shape with its nipped in waist, narrow shoulders, accentuated bust, padded hips and generous a-line skirts that demanded yards and yards of fabric in a time when europe was still dealing with the rationing of materials due to the world war. dior brought back the fantastical element of fashion. using it as a medium to express the longing of women to return to their most feminine idea after years of drab government imposed utilitarian wear. although first met with hesitation by the fashion press for its deemed insensitivity for the war efforts, the "new look" however, was already a trend that was beginning to take shape in paris as early as 1945, with designer jacques fath already playing with the proportions and shape which would ultimately be perfected by dior not only through technique but also a sense of timing. dior continued his reign as the undisputed king of french fashion for a decade until his untimely death in 1957. in the decade he designed, he continued to play with various interpretations of the new look, all the while maintaining a highly sophisticated vision for the women of his day that influenced other parisian designers at that time. most notable were pierre balmain, robert piguet, jean desses, and cristobal balenciaga.

cristobal balenciaga, is in many ways, the first true conceptual designer. using technique to push the boundaries of fashion and explore shape and form during an era of intense conservatism and eventually radicalized and changed the way women will forever dress. the spanish born designer used his heritage as a major source of inspiration. drawing influences from the image of the infanta, to bull fighting costumes, the spanish artists goya and velasquez, and a deep relationship with his catholic faith. he channeled all these into an exercise in purity of design. while dior entertained fantasy, balenciaga's main pre-occupation with fashion was to achieve simplicity through complex construction. being a deeply religious man, he believed that god can be found in beauty, and to achieve beauty one has to achieve divine purity. it is this quest for purity that he constantly strived to perfect his craft. of all the couturiers, excluding perhaps chanel, balenciaga was one of the most technically gifted. he cut his own pattern, sewn his own creations and fitted them to the models himself. during a time when the feminine form was being exaggerated, the spanish designers began exploring shapes that moved away from the body. using the female form as a beginning to build from, not the end of the process. although he too fell under dior's magic in the beginning, he eventually started moving towards the opposite direction of the new look. the fabrics the designer used were almost more masculine, robust and stiff enough to achieve the architectural appearance of his clothes achieved through the brilliance of his tailoring. one only has to look at the sleeves of his creations to witness his obsession with technique. in 1968, balenciaga retired from the fashion world, forever closing a chapter in fashion history. fortunately his immense influence continued through the talents of courreges, ungaro, and givenchy. the new crop of designers who through the knowledge they acquired from balenciaga, became legendary couturiers in their own right. even dior acknowledged the spanish artist's immense talent when he declared him to be "a master for us all".

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