Beyond the Bubble: Figuring Out Fashion

by Andrea Nease | 1/19/15 6:04pm

I find myself glancing over fashion week highlights each year and thinking, who would wear that? Why would someone design that? I wouldn’t be able to fit through a doorway if I tried wearing that dress.

I’m always left wondering — why does runway fashion seem so...impractical?

I do not think there is a fashion designer out there who would argue for their lines’ practicality. The designs exhibited in shows are supposed to be risky and eye-catching. Fashion week would lose its appeal if models flaunted camisoles, khakis or everyday sundresses. With big names like Marc Jacobs, Versace, Fendi and Prada producing pieces of every mismatched color, pattern and style — fashion week is anything but boring.

Josh Patner, a former assistant of DKNY founder and designer Donna Karan, noted, in an interview with “Slate” magazine, that clothes and fashion are very different things. I think Patner has a point — maybe fashion week seems so impractical, crazy and sometimes even ugly because we’re looking at the pieces simply as clothing when we should be looking at them in the context of fashion as an art form.

Clothing should be considered material practicality for everyday individual use. Clothes keep us from being naked — they protect us from the elements and provide us with pockets to put our cell phones in.

Fashion, however, is an art form. It is the expression of an individual through pattern choice and stylistic design, and how these elements combine to influence the ways in which a piece interacts with its environment. Fashion utilizes the runway as a canvas for the expressions of its designers’ ideas.

Fashion weeks are essentially times for designers to release their most recent fashion concepts to entertain both the public and the press. Due to the impracticality of many of the pieces showcased, retailers are not looking for what would sell on the racks when watching runway shows. Instead, retailers are looking for designers that catch the attention of the press and make a splash, because a well-received fashion show can correlate with a high-profit brand.

Even if a designer does not receive all positive attention for a new line, there is little cause for concern. A poorly received fashion show rarely incurs any major repercussions for the designer or the fashion line. This lack of repercussions most likely fuels some of the incredibly outrageous pieces seen on the runway. Taking risks is more often rewarded than not, so most designers turn up the crazy when it comes to fashion weeks.

I used to view fashion week as simply a money-making venue for designers that operated something like this: a designer hires models, books a venue, sends the invites. Then, critics, reporters and retailers, as well as highly-enthused fashionistas, attend the show and, for the price of an entrance fee, leave with celebrity Instagram shots or paparazzi pieces with titles like, “Paris Hilton Flaunts Major Cleavage at Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week.”

But I was wrong.

Fashion weeks are similar to the openings of new art exhibits. First off, the shows typically do not have entrance fees. They are not put on for retailers to find new rack styles, but rather to introduce the works to which the designers have dedicated their creativity for the past several months. Just as artists invest in gallery shows to potentially garner interest and buzz, designers invest in fashion shows.

Without fashion week, in fact, designers may never have a chance to share their art, since the main definitive end to a line’s production is during a runway show. It marks the end of a seasonal production and creates a space for fashion outside the context of clothing.

Milan’s men’s fashion week is coming to an end, but its implications are holding strong for me. I used to laugh at the silly articles about clothing that models were flaunting and wonder why Vogue was raving about these horrendously impractical designs, but now I understand. Fashion week is not for clothing. It may be for business at its most primal level, but it is ultimately for the sake of fashion as art.

Stop looking at fashion week as outrageous and pointless -— it is not only how famous designers such as Ralph Lauren or Louis Vuitton thrive, but it is how the designers behind the brand showcase their intellectual stakes in fashion and turn the consumerism they perpetuate into an art and entertainment twice a year.

If the idea of fashion peeks your interest, Dartmouth Fashion Council may be the group for you. Whether you would like to read their blog, attend meetings or simply enjoy their annual spring fashion show — I hope that you look at fashion a bit differently going forward. Remember: clothing is what covers your naked body, but fashion is an art that uses the body as its canvas.