Designer Inspiration

As the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition continues to thrive during its second month at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London, we are filled with nostalgia of the beauty and inimitability of his work. A collection that is particularly poignant is ‘Plato Atlantis’, McQueen’s S/S10 collection that was ironically the final collection that he walked before his suicide in February 2010. Consisting of greens, blues and yellows, the collection was completely inspired by the aquatic, natural world, reminding us of the sincerity yet creativity behind McQueen’s work.
Fashion designers taking inspiration from the cultural and natural elements in the world has been developing constantly since the early 20th century. For example, Pierre Cardin designed his ‘Space Age’ collection in the early 1960’s. This was heavily inspired by Neil Armstrong’s ‘triumphant’ visit to the moon, the Sputnik Space Station in Russia, alongside regurgitated gossip across the globe that ‘the future had begun’. However, Cardin managed to successfully populate this idea through the use of vinyl, plastics and large zips, also elevating the fashion world. This collection was completely due to what was happening in ‘history’ at that time.
Paul Poiret is another prime example of a designer who used cultural influences to inspire his work, particularly through the movement of the Ballet Russes. Poiret was keen to emancipate women and free their bodies of pieces such as the corset, which were causing them internal and external injury. This was frowned upon in the early 1900’s because of the Suffragette movement and the generic anger towards females.  Poiret challenged this anger by exploring the romantic and theatrical possibilities of clothing, he successfully epitomised the kimono and focused solely on ease and comfort for women with pieces such as the harem pant. Yet another designer changing the fashion world forever.  


90s Grunge

Despite its close association with Punk and Hippies, subcultures which were fuelled by music and politics and utilised their dress sense to make strong statements, grunge was driven more by music and self-expression-sadness, giving a voice to Generation X.

Arguably, the most important item of any grunger’s outfit is the oversized plaid/flannel shirt which was worn by every token grunge girl in television programmes during the nineties. They avoided bright colours and instead opted for darker, more earthy hues such as browns, dark greens and burgundy as well as the neutral black, white and greys. These shirts were a versatile piece which were worn either open, layered over a t-shirt or ties around the waist.

As the Grunge subculture was driven by music, band t-shirts were a staple item, especially those of nineties bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. These were paired with baggy, ripped jeans or oversized dungarees.

Despite the androgynous attire associated to the style, grunge girls retained some femininity by wearing cropped tops which showed some of their midriff.

We have Marc Jacobs aka ‘the guru of grunge’ to thank for bringing grunge to the runway with his Spring/Summer 1993 ‘grunge’ collection for Perry Ellis. ‘Two-dollar second-hand flannel shirts were translated into plaid-printed silks, lumberjack thermals were re-imagined in cashmere and Kurt Cobain’s floral granny dress was turned into floaty chiffon, worn with untied DMs or duchesse-satin Converse.’
Grunge fashion remains a popular style choice even today thanks to social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram with ‘grunge’ being amongst the most popular fashion tags.

The Emergence of Hip-Hop

The 1990’s was an interesting, but confusing time for the fashion industry. There were many misconceptions because of the recessionary years of the earlier part of the decade, so people were caught up in the luxury of consumerism and consumption. However, the most influential part of the decade was the fast pace of the music industry.

Genres such as rap, garage, R’N’B and reggae thrived and reached out to new audiences. However, hip-hop music became increasingly popular as the 1990’s surpassed, especially in England’s capital, as it was full of young, fashionable people. Popular hip-hop artists included Run DMC, MC Hammer and Big Daddy Kane.

This music targeted a specific demographical audience and hip-hop music in particular had a generic subculture that surrounded it. When hip-hop went mainstream across Europe and America in 1995, clothing such as baseball jackets, bomber jackets, baggy jeans and tracksuits became popularised casual wear for men and women that enjoyed the musical genre.

We see elements of the hip-hop genre in not only the music industry today, but the fashion industry too.  High street stores such as Topshop and Zara have begun to sell baseball and bomber jackets in order to ‘relive’ the hip-hop era, whilst baggy, ‘boyfriend’ style jeans have been appearing on catwalks from designers such as Junya Watanabe (Ready to Wear S/S14) and Balmain (Ready To Wear S/S14) for several years. This kicked back, relaxed aesthetic has become a stereotypical feature of hip-hop music and the type of fashion that runs alongside it.  Furthermore, baseball hats are worn today by various black American rappers such as Azealia Banks and Kanye West to promote their original style alongside their music, this is mirrored from the 1990’s when artists such as 2Pac and Eminem would wear baseball hats to coincide and be associated with the hip-hop genre. 

Modern Day Mod's

The ‘mod’ subculture dominated the 1960’s. Significant elements of this subculture included tailor-made suits, soul and ska music and motor scooters. However, mods were also automatically recognisable through their aesthetic. Male mods had a ‘smooth and sophisticated look’ that included tailor-made suits, thin ties, cashmere jumpers, Chelsea boots or loafers. Their hairstyles often replicated various 1960’s actors and some men even challenged stereotype by wearing eye-shadow, eyeliner and lipstick. Female mods on the other hand, dressed androgynously, sporting short haircuts and wearing men’s trousers or shirts, flat shoes and minimal make up. Their miniskirts also became increasingly shorter as the era progressed. Female mods were often in awe of slender, mainstream models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, and it was at this time that fashion designer, Mary Quant, emerged, turning the fashion world upside down.

Mary Quant did not just popularise the mini skirt during the 1960’s, she also set the pace by having her own hair cut into an asymmetric bob by Vidal Sassoon himself and producing false eyelashes in long strips which could be cut to custom fit the eyes, many of the female mods loved the false eyelashes and introduced them into their daily routine. Surprisingly, false eyelashes and geometric hairstyles are still popular today.

The mod subculture, however, did not just dominate the 1960’s, it has made several reappearances in the modern day, particularly recurring in high end fashion. This has been documented by designers in catwalk shows. In Celine’s Ready to Wear S/S15 collection, Phoebe Philo has used dark colours alongside androgynous shapes and harsh tailoring. This almost mirrors the way female mods dressed in the 1960’s. Furthermore, Acne Studios took inspiration from the mod aesthetic in their Menswear A/W14 collection. Jonny Johansson has discreetly implemented the key elements with the use of tailored jackets, tailored trousers, dark colours and loafers with chunky socks which look sleek and smart, a stereotypical feature of a male mod. 


Vivienne Westwood and the Birth of Punk

One of the most iconic and influential designers of the 20th Century, Dame Vivienne Westwood, celebrates her 74th birthday this week and in light of this momentous occasion we thought we’d share with you Vivienne Westwood and the birth of Punk Rock.

The British Fashion Designer pioneered the Punk movement - which developed as a reaction to the economic, political and social turbulence experienced in the UK during the 1970s. She was the first to adopt the punk style and was deeply interested in the 1970’s fashion phenomenon, saying ‘I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way.’ 

Along with her partner in crime, Malcolm McLaren (manager of The Sex Pistols), VW opened a boutique at 430 King’s Road in London. Together they began to design slogan t-shirts with shocking messages which were worn by The Sex Pistols and this inevitably led to their prosecution under the British obscenity laws. By 1974, the two deviants had rebranded their boutique to ‘SEX’ specialising in S&M paraphernalia. The boutique became an outlet for VW’s non-conformist creations.

Swastika motifs, shocking slogans, tartan patterns, de-con/re-con and bricolage became part of the Vivienne Westwood-Punk aesthetic as well as tartan or leather skirts and dirty, torn jeans were also donned by the punks. Another staple item was leather jackets adorned with stud detailing.

Originally, the clothing was a symbolic identity for the ‘Punk’ subculture but were soon adopted by middle and upper class teenagers. Punk styles of clothing evolved into a  widespread fashion movement and a statement against those who had not paid attention to the youths in previous years.
Punk soon entered the mainstream and was adopted by other Fashion Designers. Even today, Punk influences can be seen in the work of Designers such as Gareth Pugh, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Alexander McQueen.