Published: November 28, 2000
Changing Styles Examined in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) celebrates fashion from the past 100 years with an extensive exhibition presented in four parts over a two-year period and featuring more than 130 costumes from LACMA’s outstanding permanent collection.
The Twentieth Century witnessed exceptionally rapid and radical changes in women’s dress. “,1900-2000″examines how changing styles in fashionable dress mirrored changes in society and particularly how fashion both shaped and reflected each decade’s feminine ideal. Each of the four rotations will encompass selections from the entire century.
In the first years of the new century, rigid corsetry, opulent textiles, and lavish decoration primarily followed the taste and values of the preceding era, when the function of a woman’s clothing was to reflect her husband’s or father’s social status and display his material wealth. As early as 1906, however, under the influence of the innovative Parisian designer Paul Poiret, fashionable women adopted straight, high-waisted gowns that changed the silhouette from a full, curved “S” shape to that of a narrow column, inspired by the classical world.
The Jazz Age of the 1920s brought a new model of femininity – a youthful androgyny achieved through straight lines – that flattened the bust, hid the waist, and slimmed the hips. French designers, Gabrielle (“Coco”) Chanel and Jean Patou were the most prominent exponents of this look, so appropriate for the active lifestyle of the modern 1920s woman. Other couturiers like the Callot Sisters, Jacques Doeuillet, and Madame Paquin were noted for their short beaded evening dresses that sparkled on the dance floors of jazz clubs and speakeasies, where respectable women drank and smoked in public for the first time.
Bias-cut draping and clinging fabrics transformed the straight, boyish styles of the 1920s into the body-conscious fashions of the next decade. Two of the greatest exponents of 1930s glamour were the French designers Madeline Vionnet and Alix Gres. Hollywood promoted this new ideal of femininity with seductive stars such as Jean Harlow and Claudette Colbert. The decade that began with the Depression ended with the threat of war. In an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future and the rise of fascism in Europe, fashion became increasingly tailored – often with military detailing – and therefore more masculine. Women were psychologically being prepared for war.
World War II determined the course of western fashion for nearly the entire decade of the 1940s. Paris lost his supremacy as the world style leader and, because of severe restrictions imposed on the apparel industry by the governments of Britain and the United States, function became fashion’s focus. Influenced by menswear, the spare and tailored silhouette with its broad padded shoulders and narrow waists and hips were essentially frozen until the late 1940s. Concurrently, the burgeoning textile industry of southern California provided fabrics for West Coast sportswear designers of fashionable, comfortable, and easy to care for “playclothes” that were marketed on a national scale.
Christian Dior’s “New Look,” with its “wasp” waist, full hips, and long skirts, dominated post-war fashion. Weary of the wartime menswear look, men and women welcomed the return of the hourglass figure – a shape promoted by Hollywood sex symbols such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. At the same time, the neat shirtwaist dresses of TV icons Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson were a uniquely American interpretation of the “New Look.”
Fashion turned in an unprecedented direction in the 1960s. Style cut across classes, streetwear influenced haute couture, and designers took their inspiration from teenagers. A “woman’s place” in society was challenged as feminism became a viable movement. The tumultuous social and political changes of the decade were symbolized by divergent trends and styles, from the elegantly architectural lines of Valentino, Norman Norell, and Balenciaga, to the visionary fashions of Rudi Gernreich, Yves Saint-Laurent, Emilio Pucci, and Geoffrey Beene. A renewed interest in world cultures, coupled with the “anything goes” aesthetic of the hippie movement, made eclecticism a dominant fashion statement.
“Anything goes” continued as a motto into the 1970s. Self-expression became the most important faction in fashion as designers found inspiration from a wider variety of sources than in any other period in the century. Regional dress influenced Saint-Laurent, Ralph Lauren, and Issey Miyake while a crafts revival shaped the work of Zandra Rhodes and Mary McFadden, who created timeless, limited-edition fashions with a one-of-a-kind look. Feminine “granny” dresses contrasted with the loosely relaxed masculine look of “Annie Hall,” all of which helped to create a silhouette that was as individual as the woman.
In the 1980s, concern with the self gave rise to a new model of femininity based on the desire for physical and economic empowerment. The “superwoman” was symbolized in fashion by exaggerated, padded shoulders and narrow waists of “power dressing” by designers like Thierry Mugler and Patrick Kelly, and in the body-baring fashions of Halston and Christian LaCroix. At the same time, Rei Kawakubo, Miyake, and other Japanese designers involved in “deconstruction” were revising perceptions of the body and challenging previous conceptions about the nature of fashion.
In the final decades of the Twentieth Century, fashion became highly commercialized and globalized: mass produced and mass-marketed clothing of chain stores and designer’s boutiques spread across the globe. Multinational corporations bought up most of the high-fashion houses in France and Italy, making their profits on ready-to-wear clothing, accessories, and licensing; designers were no longer dependent on sales from their couture lines.
Herve Leger and Yoshiki Hishinuma, for example, created interesting garment with technically innovative fabrics, while Rei Kawakubo manipulated the natural shape of the body by adding unexpected sculptural elements. Others, such as Azzadine Alaia, Jean-Paul Gualtier, and Yohji Yamamoto, reinterpreted the traditional in new and startling ways. As the century closed, fashion welcomed contradictions: looking modern meant retro femininity, dressing down became dressing up, and simplicity merged with opulence.
“, 1900 – 2000,” installed in four rotations, opens December 14 and remains on view through January 6, 2003.
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