Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fashion as Art

The iconic creations of Judith Leiber are "no mere bagatelles."
A native of Budapest, Mrs. Leiber learned to make bags in the ateliers of Hungary during World War II. After moving to America, she rapidly made her mark: In 1953, she designed a glittering pink purse for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower to wear at Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural ball.

Ten years later, she founded her own company then marketed it aggressively—sending a Leiber bag as a gift to every First Lady. Nancy Reagan was a fan, as was Barbara Bush, who came to her showroom. For Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Leiber made a bag in the shape of Socks, the White House cat.

In 1993, Mrs. Leiber sold her company, which had grown into a $24 million business, and her brand name. New Judith Leiber bags continued to be sold, but were no longer her personal designs.

The Leiber bag obsession is a mystery to some. "I can't fathom the average young woman working a crystal asparagus purse into her outfit—and I know I wouldn't spend two months salary for a purse shaped like a Dachshund," says Jessica Misener, 26, editor of Lovelyish, a fashion blog for young women. "They can barely fit an iPhone."

For those interested in New York Fashion Week, the WSJ also reports on the view of fashion as art. To quote:
Fashion allows individuals to create public images for themselves and to enjoy the pleasures of imagining those images. Against both custom and classicism, fashion reminds us that the pleasure of novelty is a human universal, both served and intensified by modern commercial culture. Though the fluctuations of Western dress date to the Middle Ages, fashionable variations become more frequent and less predictable as societies move away from inherited status and customary authority toward the fluidity of markets, social equality and republican government. The recent return of big shoulders to women's clothes is thus a tribute not merely to the 1980s, the 1940s, or men's suits but to the creative dynamism of an open society.
In its broadest and deepest meaning, fashion specifies no medium. It refers to any aesthetic change for its own sake. Painting and sculpture reflect changing fashions. So do music and dance, poetry and prose.
Fashion simply means that "something is now more attractive than what was previously deemed attractive," writes the Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson in his 2000 book, "A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change." Camel-colored clothes look perfect this fall, while two years ago, purple was the color of the moment.

This fickleness makes fashion suspect. To rationalize it, two centuries of intellectuals have agreed, with slight variations, that fashion serves a basic purpose: to signal and enforce social status. Fashion was equated with conspicuous consumption and represented envy, snobbery and waste. The lower orders copied their betters, and fashion changed as the upper class sought to separate itself from its less prestigious imitators. Styles of music and painting might evolve in pursuit of truth and ultimate form, but the fluctuating styles of skirts or sofas were seen merely to entice the gullible or put down the hoi-polloi.


Julygirl said...

I agree, to most of us fashion is foolish, but to me it beats the everyday American style of t-shirts and jeans, or sweat pants. Fashion is wearable art, and some can pay a higher price for art than others.

Alexandra said...

I really like that purse. Just beautiful! You can really see the almost medieval Hungarian influence.

I see fashion as a form of art, especially fashions of other times and cultures which reflect their culture and traditions. I like it - lots of style choices, colors, fabrics, and opportunites to choose clothing that flatters your particular figure, level of modesty, and lifestyle. I like changes too - it's fun to mix it up a little, or to return to past styles(nostalgia). "Whatever the theory of the moment, the pleasures and artistry of fashion endure."

Stanley Lieberson the sociologist needs to research something else - he doesn't get it. He intellectualizes it too much. He lumps clothing in with a sofa. I think his point was color, but furniture definitely reflects our shifting cultural trends. I'd like to see a picture of his interior design or clothing(giggle).

An interesting article! Thanks for sharing.