Fashion’s Icon Status

Much has been made recently of whether fashion can be construed as art.

The true answer is within your own eyes, my dears.

The eyes don’t disguise the heart’s sentiments.

Does your heart ask the same question or does it just react to what it is taking in?

While we are having a heart to heart, can I just say that what art is, also varies from art to art and from soul to soul.

Does it matter where art starts and where it ends?

What is clear in this muddle of semantics is that we are all, clearly, romantics – in love with the visual – in one form or another.

What is also clear: given the recent success of McQueen’s Savage Beauty show at the MET (and its planned second coming in London); given that Jean Paul Gaultier took back his words of showing his pieces in a museum by launching a living retrospective in Montreal recently (another show that will be moving on – this one, to Dallas, San Francisco, then Madrid); given the current exhibit at the Museum at FIT, featuring couture and other curiosities from the closet of Ms. Daphne Guinness; what is clear – is our obsession with the ongoing conversation of fashion.

This is an important time in the history of fashion. I’m not talking about revolutionary design – there is some of that – although, which of it filters through the sieve of time to be calculated as actually being revolutionary, it will be interesting to note. The revolution, if you haven’t already been told via tweet, blog, Facebook, txt or carrier pigeon, is because of social media.

We discussed this during Social Media Week Toronto in early 2010 – an annual week of events which I co-organize and co-curate, as part of my other life. In a session I curated, called Having @Style, Social Media and Seismic Shifts in Fashion, Alexandra Palmer, fashion curator at the Royal Ontario Museum talked about the technological shifts that fashion has experienced in history – including groundbreaking ‘apps’ such as the zipper and the button. While the audience looked perplexed as to what these things had to do with social media, I remember thinking that it was only just the beginning.

The fashion industry as we know it, has been completely overhauled with the advent of social media (as it was with the button and the zipper). Or, it is at least, in the process of overhauling, because of social media. It has disrupted, changed, altered-to-fit an otherwise comfortable garment on a straightforward runway. That runway is slippery now, and the heels, along with the stakes, are high.

We have heard of (and are Friends with) designers that would have remained nameless. We have seen style, globalized and Follow that cool kid in Tokyo, along with the luxury label on Bond Street with equal affection – our bonds with both are boundless. We have fashion companies who now need to be media companies. We have media companies that have become fashion empires, and alas, household names from suburbia to the world’s lesser-known fashion capitals. We have millions of new, international fashion enthusiasts – we have consumers of fashion information, not just consumers of fashion products. We have a thousand icons to go with our thousand Followers (who, incidentally, also have icons).

With this consumption habit, there is a new rock star in town: the fashion curator. So, is it any wonder that I will be attending three information ‘rock concerts’ in a span of as many weeks?

The first – is put on by the Museum at FIT in New York, in the form of their annual symposium. This year, the topic is Fashion Icons and Insiders. The agenda includes discussions by The Honorable Daphne Guinness, in conversation with Dr. Valerie Steele, curator at the Museum at FIT. Both women co-curated the current show. Dr. Caroline Weber will discuss fashion icons from Marie Antoinette to Ms. Guinness, and other talks will cover everything from Italian fashion icons to vampire dandies. To me, this is better than being able to sit front row at any current fashion show. I’ll have full coverage of the symposium (which is to be held in early November), after the event.

Daphne Guinness and Valerie Steele at the opening of the Guinness Exhibit at the Museum at FIT on
Ms. Guinness and Dr. Steele strike a pose at the opening reception for the exhibition. Photo by Patrick McMullan.

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto will also be hosting a talk with Harold Koda, Curator in Charge at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Koda, who has co-written 19 books and organized a dozen exhibitions at the MET will be speaking for the first time in Toronto, on The Arrangement: Fashion and the Art Museum.

Harold Koda on
Harold Koda

Staying in Toronto, but going Otherworldly, there is a talk at TIFF  by Oscar-nominated costume designer Monique Prudhomme, who will talk about creating costumes that translate elements from contemporary and vintage fashion, alike in The Reality of Fantasy. It’s part of the programming for the Otherworldly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design exhibit at the TIFF Lightbox, which also includes a guided tour by Sylvia Frank, Director of TIFF’s Film Reference Library, who curated the show.

Lily Cole in Dr. Parnassus on
Lily Cole in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, in a costume by Prudhomme.

Curator is a word I have always related to. While it has become a buzzword du jour, it still has meaning for me. I have always respected the work of curators and try to do some of that in this space. I think the role of curators is even more poignant now – to help us decipher the bits, the bytes, the jeggings, the tights, the wrong, the right, the worthy and the slight.

Look for a curation of the ideas presented at these events, in duration, in this fashion playground.

Images (in order): by Patrick McMullan, courtesy of the Museum at FIT; Koda, courtesy of the Bata Shoe Museum; film still, courtesy of Clothes on Film.

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