Fashion Editor Cathal O’ Gara discusses the purpose of fashion and the place it holds in modern times.
Often, when discussing the next fashion issue’s objectives with fellow CT journalists, I am put forward the questions: ‘what is fashion?’ and ‘what makes one individual chic and the other eek?’ My general response of nonchalance seems to neither inspire nor clarify their inquisitive minds, and so, I have taken upon myself the task of providing an insight to the ever mutable fashion-world.
For centuries, if not millennia, societies have fashioned garments and other adornments as an indication of rank, gender, wealth and personality. Fashion is a kind of free speech which encompasses clothing, beauty, hairstyles, accessories, jewellery and much more. What we wear, how we style ourselves and how we adapt and innovate our outfits provide the exterior world with an idea of what personality lies beneath the costume (not dissimilar to how cover letter represents the main objectives of a CV). Fashion is an iconography which visually communicates an individual’s personal sense of identity, or at least how they desire you to perceive them.
But, you ask, what’s the purpose of those insane Haute Couture outfits? (I’m still waiting for the day when an Aisling descends the metal staircase of Coppers adorned in an ensemble of diamonds, gold lace and a two-foot headpiece portraying their dislike of the norm.) Of course we all know how clothes have the utilitarian function of providing warmth or aiding modesty, however, in today’s globalised world we are always expecting and wanting that something more: the new, the nostalgic, the innovative, the artistic, the original, a sense of liberation. Whatever it is that you search for when shopping for a new outfit, the likelihood is that you’d place fashion over function any day.
This is where Haute Couture comes in (and before you say it, no, it’s purpose isn’t to torture anorexics or give Karl Lagerfeld an excuse to dress up). New materials and fabrics are initially expensive and exclusive. The affluent and ardent world of couture showcases a demonstration to designers and fashionistas on how these fabrics and finishing techniques can be used to create clothing, as well as providing inspiration for colour palettes. It’s a well-known fact that the saying ‘black and navy don’t make gravy’ originated after the disastrous Parisian fashion show of 1988 which resulted in Anna Wintour hurling yesterday’s Bisto all over the runway (the gravy diet was all the rage in the 80s).
Gravy aside, these couture designs aim to capture an artistic impression of the zeitgeist. When the recession hit we saw a surge of timeless colours such as browns, blacks and navies dominating the market. At present, there are innumerable trends invading high-street stores allowing the consumer to mix and match designs to suit their own personal flair. Magazines no longer serve to provide a feeling of admonition when you see that jacket you bought weeks ago on the cover of Vogue, but rather to inspire you when shopping for a new wardrobe, whether it’s raiding your grandparents’ attic or mauling the sale-racks on Grafton Street. Never before has such creativity been born from such a dismal era.