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What is taste. Taste is cultural phenomenon that is based on the choice in cultural method and reference. It is an ideology and not just purely aesthetic, even cultural social and political processes can create it. Taste and consumption can be connected together because the choices of consumers in the market are directly affected by the taste for certain types of products or clothing. The relationship between taste and consumption is however more complicated than a direct chain of events in which taste creates demand that, thus creates supply. Taste has been studied in many scientific fields, especially within the fields of psychology, economics and sociology. Gijs Bakker said that taste is an individual choice, which has nothing to do with good or bad taste. So what are the influences of taste? To explain such influences, I shall use high fashion as the backbone for discussion.
What is haute couture? In French, Haute couture means High fashion. Haute means 'High or elegant' and couture means 'dressmaking'. But the term 'haute couture' not only means "high dressmaking" or "elegant dressmaking", the term "Haute Couture" represents and consists of exclusive business of designing, making, and selling custom handmade women's clothing (David Johnson, infoplease.com). Haute Couture is the top of the fashion market because the prestige commands the highest prices. Designers will use the expensive materials like Toile and definitely pay attention to the details to make high-quality dresses for their consumers. It is a time-consuming work because the dresses are usually hand-stitched. High fashion is always a pioneer on their design process and idea in the fashion industry. Nowadays, the examples of famous couture houses that are considered as high fashion are Valentino, Lacroix, Chanel, Balmain, Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent.
The price of a simple blouse could cost from about £10,000 to £40,000. Sometimes the price would even get higher! For example, a Chanel suit that was sold in the year 2002 had cost £20,000; also an evening frock cost £50,000 in the mid 2004. Due to the craftsmanship, services, originality of the design and the finest quality of superb materials, it is very hard to accept the price by those people who can't afford it (Pauline Weston Thomas, fashion-era.com). Nowadays there are only around 2,000 women are buys couture clothing in the world, 60 percent of them are Americans, and only 200 of them are regular customers. Designers will always loan clothes to celebrities or well known people for publicity. After World War II, it was the golden age of high fashion, there were around 15,000 women wearing couture. (David Johnson, infoplease.com). Although it was the golden age of high fashion, but yet the market was very small so that the designers had to be forced to use their prestige to help sell other products, such as cosmetics, perfume, and their ready-to-wear lines (David Johnson, infoplease.com). In this essay, I will argue that major economic and social changes have been important factors that influenced the taste in high fashion.
World War II was one of the factors that had the greatest influence on haute couture in the 1940s. The war had brought many restrictions on it. During the war, the need for parachutes and other materials had caused the low supply in nylon fabric. Not only that, the Nazi forces also occupied the primary couture design center that is Paris during that time. This occupation had caused the couture houses to be unable to do business therefore many people were looking for new designers at other places instead of Paris. By 1947, the couture houses in Paris were still continuously dominating the high fashion industry after it had reopened. After the war, designers started using new fabrics. Women were encouraged to become homemakers after the war. They were moving out of the workplace, and the Western countries were also encouraged the feminine and ornate fashion. (www.ladyjojosboutique.wordpress.com) Dior stated that: "War had passed out of sight, and there were no other wars on the horizon. What did the weight of my sumptuous materials, my heavy velvets and brocades matter? When hearts were light, mere fabrics could not weigh the body down." (Christian Dior, 1947) The short skirts and square shoulders (Fig. 1) were replaced by the Christian Dior's "New Look" (Fig. 2). It included sweeping longer skirts, fitter waist and rounded shoulders. "I wanted my dresses to be constructed, melded upon the curves of the feminine body, whose sweep they would stylize," stated by Christian Dior in his autobiography.
Fig. 1 The fashion during World War II
Fig. 2 The New Look
Once the New Look had appeared, the designs of Dior were very influential in the decade which refers to the silhouette of broad hips, small waists, and breasts pushed up and out rounded shoulders (Fig. 3) of the 50's style.
Big day for fashion designers: Christian Dior (Jan. 21, 1905 - 1957), was an influential French fashion designer, who despite his short life did more than anyone to revive fashion after WW II with his modern New Lookâ€¦ Photo: Suzy Parker in Christian Dior, 1952 http://adrianasassoon.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/christian-dior1.jpg?w=720
Fig. 3 The style of Dior of the 50's
The emergence of Hippies culture in 1960s also influenced the design of high fashion. The Hippies rebelled against the established institutions and also criticized middle class values. The trend of Hippies look (Fig. 4) was popularized by mainly musicians, such as; Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and the Beatles.
Fig. 4 Hippie looks
As a youth movement, the ideology of Hippie started in the United States; it was a protest against a society that was increasingly becoming conformist and restrictive. Finding their own ways and their own meanings to life were the aims of the Hippies, which were focused on going back to nature and freedom. As cultural anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world, indeed it's the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead, 1964) The styles and cuts of the fabric of their clothing reflected their thoughts; even the fabrics were natural fibres like hemp and cotton. The Hippies used their clothes to express their individualism. The spirit of youthful exuberance inspired forward-thinking high fashion designer. They began designing mini-skirts and pantsuits because they saw the creative and financial potentials in the youth market. For example, the Safari jacket of Yves Saint Laurent (Fig. 5) from his Rive Gauche boutique.
Fig. 5 Yves Saint Laurent The Safari jacket 1967
During the 1980's there were great economic growth and prosperity. It was a period of wealth, excess and desire. Many women had entered the workforce and some have been moved to higher positions. The office clothings that women usually wore had made them feel uncomfortable, impractical and insufficient due to being in the business industry. This causes men's styles of clothing to become very popular among women.
"Women value unique products and brands that they can use to define their individuality. Females actively seek new styles and fashion trends to a larger extent than men. Women are more sensitive to clothing needs and possess a greater clothing awareness than men." (Adjei, Griffith & Noble, 2006, p.177)
The large shoulder pads and tailored suit pants were created stronger silhouette of women in their new success. One of the examples is Giorgio Armani's Power Suit (Fig. 6). As fashion editor for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times Magazine Carrie Donovan said that, "Giorgio Armani was the first to float the idea. When the Milanese maestro of the tailored suit decided to soften his precise shapes a few seasons ago, he also began paying special attention to the blouses that accompanied them. Adding details like delicate collars or a bit of draping, and making the blouses from semi sheer silky fabrics, he started a trend that has bloomed into an American fashion statement." (http://garmentozine.com/tag/giorgio-armani/) Armani's suits were applauded by executive women in the 1980s as a method of casually asserting their status and talent, because of their high quality materials, beautiful tailoring, and comfortableness. Shoulder pads increased the sizes of shoulders. Besides that, they also wore the extend pants and tight skirts that waist and hips were trimmed in. These can help them to conceal their femininity and thus having the ability to defeat men in the business world.
"The term gender can be further developed with the terms gender identity and gender role attitudes. However, to simply measure sex cannot be a guarantee of capturing gender identity or gender role attitudes. Gender identity can be explained as to which degree a man or a woman identifies with masculine and feminine personality traits. Gender role attitudes refer to differences regarding the responsibilities, roles, and rights of men and women." (Fischer & Arnold, 1994, p.163)
http://garmentozine.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/armani1988.jpg?w=500 C:\Users\User\Desktop\Visual Culture\Detail of collections 1980s KCI Digital Archives_files\207_l_AC10191.jpg
Fig. 6 Giorgio Armani's power suit
In 2000s, natural disasters prompted human to accept that the earth was sick. So, the eco-friendly concept has been used in high fashion to improve the health of the environment. In the mid-late 2000s, recycled vintage clothing styles from 1940s to 1980s and also ethnical clothing such as fake furs were predominant in this decade. The fashion industry has the biggest support on the eco-friendly fashions. Designers started using the organic fabrics such as wool, organic cotton, soy silk and bamboo. (http://stylechicago.com) Linda Loudermilk was the pioneer of the green fashion movement. She merges the skills of high fashion and environment awareness with the materials made from sasawashi, bamboo, sea cell and soybeans. Linda Loudermilk urged that: "Look for three-dimensional designs and fabric embellishments, unusual insets fashioned from vintage laces and trims transform frocks from classic to collectable. Venture beyond the plain and simple to luxury-eco artistic designs that usher in a new era of environmentalism fresh from an artist's palette of sophisticated styles." (Michael Lackman, 2005) Her fall 2007 collection "Too Hot to Handle" (Fig. 7) was a corn fibre volume coat with wood pulp leggings on the left and Japanese rice paper ice blue-falling floor length train coat on the right. It was inspired by icebergs, the "rock stars of nature." Nature is the inspiration for Loudermilk. Her adroit design turns the funk into stylish punk and it all goes back to the nature. Her official websites claimed that: "We aim to give eco glamour legs, a fabulous look and a slamming's attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool." (http://www.lindaloudermilk.com)
Fig. 7 Linda Loudermilk Fall 2007 Collection
In conclusion, high fashion is the sign of wealth and elegance. Major social and economic changes are important factors that influenced the design concepts and taste in high fashion. One of the best ways for designers to predict trends of high fashion is perhaps to understand the key events of a decade. Fashion reflects society. "Fashion is always of the time in which you live." quoted by Coco Chanel. Some events will change the style of high fashion, but some will impact on the usage of materials in design. Similar to a piece of artwork, the designs of high fashion are the artistic expressions of designers. It represents the social symbol through its cultural connotations. I believe that high fashion will always be the pioneer in the fashion industry.