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conceptual fashion, avant-garde, iris van herpen, haute couture, high fashion

“Ugly” Fashion. Is It Really Ugly?

What Is a Conceptual Fashion And Does It Deserve to Be Called “Ugly”

Andrej (Andreja) Pejic for Dazed

«Eeww, how is it possible to wear something like this?»

«This looks disgusting, I can’t even imagine who would wear this on the streets.»

«What kind of weed did designer smoke in order to create something that I can’t even wear put on?»

These and many other perplexed exclamations I – and, probably, you either – may observe in the comments below every fashion show pictures. Bewildered viewers and fashionistas-to-be can’t figure out why that «stuff» (Miranda Priestly is resenting) presented of the runway makes sense to exist, how could appear inside designer’s head, and is it needs to be worried about his mental health or possible drug use that leads to being inspired for creating something like «this» – something beautifully-disgusting and absolutely unwearable. The majority just consider these clothes tasteless that deserved to be worn only by a desperate freak who isn’t afraid to go out like that and earn a status of the urban madman.

In the beginning, when I was younger and was only an outside observer of the fashion sphere, such kind of comments entertained and, honestly, made me laugh (I suppose, at our 14 we all are a little bit of maximalists and divide the world by black and white, by beautiful and ugly, but in some cases, some adults still have their youthful maximalism to be continuously progressed, sweeping aside all possible points of view and opinions). These fashion shows seemed to me as an embodiment of a sick imagination of a psycho escaped from the medical supervision. But subsequently, when I plunged into a fashion business studying, my mind and perception had expanded, I learnt to observe many things from a different angle and the way more logical that it was before, out of prism of «beautiful-ugly». And the outraged comments began to be frankly annoying. What to say – an amateur who consider themselves as style gurus.

As many of you know, fashion is divided into two directions with a distinct view that needs to be followed. Each of these directions has its own approach, business-strategy, marketing, financial investments and, strictly speaking, sphere of influence: haute-couture or high-fashion is an especial world of luxury and exclusivity, where there is no notion of inclusivity that is already spreading over the fashion system, where each piece is an artwork that worths an inconceivable amount of money. It is created whether to be worn by a top-celebrity on the red carpet or to place it into a personal collection behind the unbreakable glass and admire from aside without even imagining to touch it.

And there is a prêt-à-porter or ready-to-wear which we mostly observe and analyse several times a year including autumn-winter and spring-summer, and also pre-fall and cruise collections both women and men that become more common and gender boundaries blurring in recent years. The commercial part of the ready-to-wear fashion is the most significant component of every collection that make it available to sell and produce a profit to its companies and holdings. Yes, there is an inspiration and idea, but they are used in the way to push you to purchase a product and be suitable for everyday life realities.

The only thing being contradistinction of the commerce and a reason for the disturbance of many «fashionistas», thus putting an idea at the head before financial pat is a conceptual fashion. Or, how it may be differently called, an avant-garde fashion. First of all, the avant-guardian designers look for a concept at the head of their brand and a vision of how their clothes need to look, reflecting all their fears, desires, memories, observations, reflexing on times of the modern reality and political affairs, worldwide issues that some people prefer to remain silent of or not to express their opinions too evidently. This is art, this is freedom of thoughts, this is a real-life fantasy, and only after this is clothing.

Hussein Chalayan is one of the most famous avant-garde designers of our times who puts his ideas above the financial well-being of his eponymous brand. His company continues to suffer losses due to low demand of his products among customers, however, he keeps refusing to go to the «dark side» and still plays with his own fantasies, imagining on the topics of everything that inspires him and let him express himself and his life throughout clothing. Chalayan’s works are remarkable and forgettable, his collections make a splash and exhibited in museums as an example of the real high artwork first, and as clothes only afterwards.

One of the most sensational Chalayan’s collections became a collection from 2000 named «After words». During final fashion show that was converted into performance, all models removed covers from the chairs which transformed into dresses and put them on on the runway right in front of the audience. Russian model, Natalia Semanova dressed in a wooden table that turned into a bell skirt. The International Herald Tribune newspaper called this collection a «Masterpiece of modern fashion». The idea behind this performance consisted of Chalayan’s childhood memories when he got used to frequent relocations caused by Turkish-Cypriot conflicts. He wants to invent a house he could wear with him, even on himself. Chair covers turn into dresses, chairs themselves – into suitcases, a table finds its end in crinoline. Performance is more than impressive.

Even earlier, in 1998, he creates a collection named «Between that became the most iconic and memorable in fashion history, lead to disputes and controversial discussions about collection’s concept that almost brought to a scandal. By this collection, Chalayan touches a political issue – Muslim women wearing a burqa. He seeks to force people to think about the internal condition of personality and, especially, about Muslim women’s state of affairs. During the catwalk, six girls appear on stage one after another. The first of them is fully naked, and only a mask covers her face. The second one is covered from head to waist, and so on to the last who’s from head to toe hidden by a long burqa. It’s not an epatage and not a mockery at Islam – an artist pictures up how religious rules and regulations may depersonalise a person.

A major part of garments avant-guardian designers produce and perform on the catwalk isn’t really intended to be worn somewhere on the street. Firstly, because people will point at you, whisper behind you back, giggle, and someone may even call the ambulance and psychiatry special for you. This plot is possible from the aesthetic point of view which regular audience mostly pays attention to, due to a misunderstanding of the garment’s idea that is impossible to wear if you’re not only a freak or a celebrity. Secondly, not every conceptual clothes is intended to become a part of your casual wardrobe. If commercial prêt-à-porter is created to be implemented in real life occasions and pictured for Instagram daily feed, the concept is a field for creativity and experiments.

I mean, experiments take their part not only during the design process as it is (starting from ideas and sketching) but also in the production of the whole collection: researching component, creation of the new innovative fabrics and materials, using of modern technologies and processes that are only being introduced into the production of clothing so far, and it’s not a fact that will be used in development commercial dresses in future. Unconventional cut, striking shapes, fabrics that seem to be woven by a fairies’ squad, 3D print technology, sculptural and architectural implementations, using of glass, polymers, metals, implantation of LED lights inside the fabric’s thread – these and many other processes you may observe mostly in the conceptual designers’ collections. It call you out to examine, to touch (with care), it makes you admire it and realise what designer kept in mind while creating his collection, interpret it your own way and admire again.

Iris Van Herpen, a Dutch designer, is a real-life wizard who develops dressed that seemed to arrive from the alternative universe. In her collections, she embodies images of mythical creatures, fantasy characters, sea monsters from the ocean floor, and many others that cause a genuine delight of the ones who look at all this. Iris tries to adopt ultra modern fabrics and futuristic materials that seem to arrive straight from outer space. Of course, every single work on every collection requires a giant amount of time spent on researches, seeking for new techniques, materials and employees who could incarnate every, even the craziest designer’s fantasy. Her alien dresses are made of through 3D-technologies, laser cut, heat sealing and hours of tailors’ work. The latest spring/summer 2019 collection named Shift Souls has been created in collaboration with a New York-based artist and former NASA engineer Kim Keever, Iris uses a 3D-printer in order to print outline flounces, fold them into cloud-shape forms and supplement it with a hovering edging.

The futurism and celebration of technology at the junction of high-fashion and ready-to-wear, as Iris prefers to describe her works which are already appreciated by celebrities such as Eva Green, Naomi Campbell, Beyonce, Kate Blanchette and Cara Delevingne.

And I’m not sure they consider this as «ugly» and «inappropriate».

What should I mention about Jacquemus who in the beginning of his career under Comme des Garçons patronage produced conceptual collections inspired by his life, summer French coast and his own mother? What about Gareth Pugh and his inconceivable, futuristic and full of epatage garments that are highly likely suitable for filming an indecently beautiful high-fashion horror? The same one and only Rei Kawakubo – Comme des Garçons founder and creative director – who made a revolution in the fashion world? Punk-rocker Vivienne Westwood, dark fantasy king Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen The Greatest who turned a regular fashion show into theatrical performances that had become cult? I may start listing for few hours straight because there’s a large number of designers making conceptual fashion, especially young and emergent ones that have just graduated from fashion universities, have nothing behind but talent and desire to show the world what they worth. And I can’t call their collections ugly or delusional because there’s a big idea behind each of it, there’s a soul which worked so hard, long hours of work and irrepressible creativity that reflexes modern realities. So, in conclusion, I’d like to note that even if you can wear some garment on the street, it doesn’t mean it has no right to exist and, at least, a little bit of admiration.

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