The Limits of Globalizing Fashion

July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last week, in a post titled “Fashion is a Melting Pot,” Italian Vogue Editor Franca Sozzani praised the increasingly globalized nature of fashion, alluding to the growing number of non-Western designers participating and gaining respect in the Western sphere. To her, these designers have amassed international attention by incorporating elements of traditional dress from their home countries into a “contemporary” aesthetic. She writes:

“New fashion designers from emerging countries are proposing a new fashion inspired by their country’s tradition, considered not as ethnic element any longer, but as part of a historical know-how, re-adjusted to contemporary silhouettes and therefore wearable in all cities of the world… It’s not the folklore that is exported, yet the culture, the local craftsmanship, the colors and the mood.” [sic] 

There’s no doubt that more non-Western designers and designers with non-Western backgrounds are entering fashion. In the U.S., for example, some of the most celebrated emerging designers are either first or second-generation Asian Americans, like Alexander Wang (China), Doo-Ri Chung, (Korea), Thakoon Panichgul (Thailand), and Prabal Gurung (Nepal). For the past decade, Asian Americans have dominated the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards, highlighting the pivotal role they have had in shaping American fashion. Furthermore, outside the U.S., increasing numbers of non-Western designers are showing their collections at internationally recognized and media-heavy fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. South Korean brands Songzio and Juun J, for example, show their collections in Paris every year and General Idea, designed by Seoul-based Bumsuk Choi, shows in New York.

(from left to right) Wang, Doo.Ri, Thakoon, and Gurung

But amidst increasing numbers of non-Western designers in fashion, the caveat that limits how “global” fashion can become is the expectation that these designers cater to Western design tastes. When describing how fashion will continue to globalize, Sozzani wrote, “The new generations will keep getting here (New York, Paris, or Milan) from different countries and many of them are already studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America.” When talking about non-Western designers, Sozzani equates studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America as progress – steps toward success. While this may be true given the weight and the high caliber of designs schools in these countries, Sozzani elucidates a common practice among fashion people to place more value on studying and working in the West opposed to elsewhere.

The result of placing more value on the West pushes the globalization of fashion in many ways. For one, people wanting to succeed in international fashion feel pressured to study fashion abroad. At Parsons, arguably the most respected design school in the country, 32% of the undergraduate population comes from outside the U.S., mostly from China, India, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. In many cases, only very wealthy international students have the opportunity to study abroad in light of poor exchange rates, expensive airfare, and many colleges’ lack of financial aid for international students. These are very real financial limits for middle-to-lower class designers in the non-West. Furthermore, increased pressure for non-Western design students to study abroad devalues design education outside the Western world, removes talent from the local design scene, and prevents or slows the growth of fashion capitals outside the West.

Another result of constructing a Western-centric fashion industry is increased pressure on non-Western designers to abandon their own artistic autonomy and to replicate designs that already flourish in Western fashion. Last year, I attended Korean-based General Idea’s menswear show at New York Fashion Week. The first half of the collection was a parade of pieced shirts and newsboy looks that struck a striking resemblence to the work of Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, who has been showing his collections in Paris since the 80s. By contrast, the second half of the General Idea show had splotches of paint and large handwritten words scrawled across head-to-toe looks (including bags) á la Stephen Sprouse. The artistic reference was crass in light of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Stephen Sprouse in 2008, which resulted in a line of classic Louis leather bags covered in bright, painted-effect “Louis Vuitton” text. But one has to wonder why a designer who often copies Western trends is one of the only Korean designers who shows at New York Fashion Week. One interpretation is that his aesthetic, though unoriginal, was in line with what the Western design world wants to see.

If fashion wants the globalization process to become more egalitarian, it needs to give more weight to non-Western designers and design schools in the international fashion market. One way to do this is by more actively and thoroughly covering fashion weeks that take place outside New York, Paris, London, and Milan. This would grant local talent more access to buyers, editors, and the general public, thereby increasing their potential growth and making the current, very costly trend of showing in Europe or the U.S. obsolete.

(from left to right) Kawakubo, Yamamoto, and Watanabe

Non-Western designers with international clout also have a responsibility to increase the profile of their home countries. Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Junya Watanabe, for example, have been showing their collections in Paris for almost 3 decades with much critical and commercial success. They’ve become staples for major buyers and editors in the European fashion circuit. Suppose if these designers staged a collective revolt and showed in Tokyo instead of Paris every season. Editors and buyers would be forced to pay more attention to Tokyo as a fashion capital, thus allowing otehr Japanese designers more international exposure.

According to Sozzani, mixing a designer’s culture with that of others “must be true to one’s own history, otherwise, it is just an exercise in style, and ends up being too ethnical [sic] or too generic.” I agree, but what Sozzani doesn’t acknowledge is that in this “globalized” fashion industry, where non-Western designers work around Western expectations, non-Western designers must incorporate a large part of Western history into the telling of their own design stories. It is only this way that their histories will be heard.

The 5 Best Men’s Looks From Paris S/S 12

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

The menswear shows for the Spring/Summer 2012 season just wrapped up in Paris. Here are my 5 favorite looks.

5. Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten S/S 12 (via GQ)

Dries collections always have a softness about them. Even though the venues – parking garages or construction sites – possess a gritty quality, the clothes have a weightlessness, even femininity, that makes me think of dandelion seeds floating in a breeze. And the clothes are always complemented by simple styling. This season the models’s hair was gently combed to the side.

My favorite look from Dries this season is a black double-breasted blazer, white t-shirt, mustard sandals, and wide, flowy pants in red, white, and black stripes. The blazer has a calm elegance in its bareness, and the subtle design element of the one button on a double breasted blazer feels fresh. The pants, though reminiscent of a carnival in their color and pattern, are relaxed and comfortable.

4. Thom Browne

Thom Browne (via GQ)

Thom Browne collections are always a bit bizarre. Watching them is like walking through a row of funhouse mirrors –proportions are often shrunken or exaggerated, and there’s always an element of mystery lingering about. Why, for example, did models come down the runway yesterday with exposed sock garters and shrunken bowler hats? Were they clowns at a child’s birthday party? Did they leave their trousers at the dry cleaner?

Despite the strangeness of Thom Browne shows, they always have a way of pulling me in for a closer look. This happened with a slate striped blazer with bright orange shorts, round sunglasses, and grey suede shoes. I love how the stripes on the blazer, tie, and shorts go every which way, leading my eyes in different directions, as well as the unconventional proportions of the look. The blazer is long but with shrunken sleeves, while the shorts stretch from the knee to the belly button. It doesn’t make sense, but it somehow does.

3. Commes des Garcons

Commes des Garcons (via GQ)

Rei Kawakubo’s work for Commes des Garcon is an exploration of dyads: black and white, optimism and gloom, the classic and the modern. This season Kawakubo explored masculinity and femininity in menswear, creating a collection that contrasted black with hot pink, leather with lace, and blazers with skirts. The collection resulted in conceptually compelling and commercially covetable looks.

The best number from the collection was a hybrid blazer slash motorcycle jacket worn with a hot pink shirt and shorts. The blazer/motorcycle jacket hybrid was covered in a red and black checker pattern that brought to mind images of a Medieval court jester. I could easily see this piece on a k-pop star with a good stylist and a sense of humor. The pink shirt and shorts are a visual shocker, but I like the pop.

2. Lanvin 

Lanvin (via GQ)

I like the feeling of wanderlust in Lanvin’s collections; there is the vague sense that the models are like nomads circling the desert. I find the image romantic – unmoored but unafraid. And despite the luxury of the fabrics, there’s always a prevailing casualness to the overall look. To me, this is where the sophistication of the collections lie, in the idea that you can wear brilliantly crafted clothes and not have to brag about it.

The highlight of Lanvin’s latest show was a shiny, midnight blue blazer with a grey shirt, navy pinstripe shorts, and black leather shoes. What I love most about good monochrome looks like this is that they force the viewer to focus on more subtle design elements like texture and proportion. The blazer was made of a slick material that resembles molten metal, and it changes color with the light. The shirt and shorts have a feminine proportion – long shirt and short shorts – that works harmoniously with the tailoring of the blazer.

1. Junya Watanabe 

Junya Watanabe S/S 12 (via GQ)

Junya’s presentations don’t always scream luxury. The models, for one, are decidedly un-model-y. Each looks like a poorly groomed hipster with a bad hangover and a slight paunch. The clothes aren’t made of luxe fabrics like lacquered reptile skin or vacuna fur, but rather, just cotton or even (gasp!) synthetic fabrics. But despite the lack of glamour and glitz, Junya’s clothes always shine.

This season, Junya, too seems to have been influenced by the farm-to-table movement overtaking Brooklyn. The men’s presentation took place in a garden, where models strolled around in overalls, jeans, patched shirts, hunting coats, and wellies. The highlight of the show was a denim shirt and jeans worn with forest green duck boots, and accessorized with a simple brown belt and a denim hat. Both the front of the shirt and jeans were covered in patches made of different colors and patterns like pale yellow paisley, blue plaid, and white stripes. The stitching around the patches varied as well, from bold reds to ultra-bright whites. I like the playfulness of this look. It’s a little bit country and a little bit hippie, but the thoughtfulness of the pattern combinations gives it a sophisticated polish.

Now Trending: Pattern-Lined Trousers

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The say a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a typhoon in Japan.  If you ask me, a similar theory applies in fashion: a designer designing cute pants in Japan can cause mass sensation throughout the rest of the fashion world.  This season, Junya’s pattern-lined trousers has done just this.  

Junya Watanabe x Levi's (via dinosaursandrobots)

Junya Watanabe trousers (via Farfetch)

Unfortunately, unless you have $500 to spare on pants that will probably out of style next summer, you probably can’t relish in the glory of Junya with this trend.  But luckily retailers are offering versions of the look for less.  The Gap, for example, has created Junya-inspired shorts in various styles.

Junya-inspired shorts by The Gap

More Junya-inspired shorts by The Gap

The look is majorly trending on the streets of Seoul.  I saw this guy last week in Hongdae sporting a version of the patterned, lined trousers.  I would have probably styled them differently, perhaps echoing the nautical theme of Junya’s S/S 11 show, but maybe I should just get a pair of my own.

The Junya Effect in Hongdae (via Stylesight)

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