Monday, March 1, 2010

The Avant Garde

Viktor & Rolf S 2010

Deconstruction and the avant garde are subjective terms to describe designers that often overlap. Both make more art like creations however deconstruction designers are normally more quiet and cerebral which avant garde designers are more theatrical and flamboyant.

Use of the term “avant garde” was defined in a book by John Berger “Theory of the Avant Garde” in which he isolated the historic era of art politically reacting against systems during WWI & II. This was art work not connected to either academia or the market. The women associated with the avant garde artists experimented with traditional forms of fashion. They considered what they were making as either art or costumes. There seemed to be an understanding of the separation between art and reality which has decreased over time.

Duchamp, LHOOQ 1919 & Fountain 1917

Elsa Sciaparelli, 1937 and Meret Oppenheim, Turkey Shoes, nd.

The term haute couture describes one of a kind designs, typically displaying extreme aesthetics. Most haute couture is just an example of a designer’s talent and is not for sale, however with growing interest from celebrities for black tie and other events, some couture is fitted or duplicated upon request.

French couture is regulated by an industry governing body, the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode created in 1973. It consists of the Chambre Syndicale of haute couture (high fashion), created in 1868. The Federation also has a fashion school, the Ecole de la chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne (created in 1928). Only companies officially recognized by the Chambre Syndicale are licensed couture, which are all French corporations, but designers in Milan, London and NY also use the word couture for custom clothing.

Balenciaga 1967-1968, couture single seam wedding gown

From the end of the war in 1945 until the mid 1960’s most designers focused on mass sales. Creative extravagance was observed in French couture by Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga, and YSL. By the late 1960’s the social climate began to change encouraging more creative experimentation.

Andre Courreges: Born in 1923, he studied engineering then entered fashion in 1965. He came at the right moment of revolutionary thinking and the space age.

Courreges, 1967 & 1966

He claims to have “invented” the mini skirt (along with Brit Mary Quant at the same time, a quantum invention), and the heelless gogo boot. He emphasized synthetic materials and geometric shapes. The design and the presentation challenged the status quo.

Courreges, Qui Estes Vous Polly Magoo?, 1966

Paco Rabanne: Like Balenciaga he came from Spain to France and first worked making jewelry for the design houses. He was recognized for space age costume design for Barbarella. Like Courreges it was his emphasis on synthetics and the new forms they could make that made his work seem ahead of its time from standard designers.

Rabanne, 1967 & 1968

Thierry Mugler: Began as a designer with the first collection in 1973. Has emphasized wide padded shoulders, solid colors, pvc and synthetics. Has inconsistently been able to produce couture in part because of lack of sales but has continued by creating costumes for Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

Mugler, Lady Gaga & 1997

Designers can also create forward thinking, innovative and dreamlike creations, that seek to make fantasy a reality but may not always end up in reality. The challenge of the avant garde is not only in the unrealized future of the designs or the limitations of their wear-ibility but their claim to be fashion rather than art or theater…?

Amaya Arzuaga, Spanish Fashion Week, 2009

Alexander McQueen: Alexander McQueen was the controversial son of a taxi driver and graduate of Central Saint Martins. He created his own line and designed for Givenchy from 1996-2001. His label is now owned in majority stake by PPR Gucci group.

F 2008
F 2009

F 2009
S 2010

Viktor & Rolf are a Dutch design team of Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. They initially worked at Margiela and presented their clothing in art galleries and unauthorized shows during fashion week. They consciously use form as a means of communicating a message and often embellish existing forms.

F 2004, F 2005, SS 2006

Fall 2007

S 2010


  1. Excellent thesis re how power defines fashion & in turn is defined by fashion ... although as Coco Chanel said "Fashion is for people who have no style of their own"

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