Some thirty years ago on July 22, 1985, Pierre Cardin sent nine young Chinese girls down the runway of his show in Paris, the moment marked the significant changes that had occurred in Chinese fashion and its encounter with the West, as well as offering a glimpse of the future of China’s industry.
The man’s clothes were new – all of them, cheap and new. His gray cap was so new that the visor was still stiff and the button still on, not shapeless and bulged as it would be when it had served for a while all the various purposes of a cap – carrying sack, towel, handkerchief. His suit was of cheap gray hardcloth and so new that there were creases in the trousers.
It’s February 18 1960. Jean Cocteau has just released his film The Testament Of Orpheus. Mme Francine Weisweiller is in it, just a small part, but important nevertheless. Mme is not an actress but the aging poet’s best friend and she plays ‘la dame qui s’est trompée d’époque’ or, in translation, and I fear less smoothly, the woman who found herself in the wrong decade. Janine Janet, the creator of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s surreal window displays, is the costume designer, but Mme wears a trailing white dress by Balenciaga himself, which she paid for. Instructed by Cocteau to take his inspiration from Claude Monet and Sarah Bernhardt, Balenciaga produces exactly what suits Mme best and into the bargain doesn’t sully his reputation. Cocteau describes Mme’s appearance as a ‘live phantom of flesh and bone’.
Buying is much more American than thinking and I’m as American as they come. In Europe and the Orient people like to trade – buy and sell, sell and buy – they’re basically merchants. Americans are not so interested in selling – in fact, they’d rather throw out than sell. What they really like to do is buy – people, money, countries.
For individuals in East Berlin, using fashion for self-expression risked being seen as subversive. As such, attire was purely practical: garments were designed to be functional and durable. Material shortages meant that those individuals choosing to sew their own garments had to be resourceful, with some opting to deconstruct pre-loved garments in order to make new outfits. Despite the German Fashion Institute’s efforts to maintain control, creative fashion was happening on both sides of the wall, with a niche counter-culture movement spanning the early 1980s to November 1989 with the unification of the city. During this time an innovative community of designers who were living in virtual isolation from the outside world, began to create cutting edge couture from found materials and industrial textiles, offering freedom within the bell jar of a socialist state.
Most pockets were originally created to hold a specific item; a timepiece, a shot bird. To use the pocket on many garments forces an unbecoming bulge onto an otherwise flat silhouette, yet pockets were created to hold, to be filled. Historically, fashion has often demanded a sleeker figure, forcing our pockets into a sometime-disuse. Yet, if we have a pocket – and we always have a pocket – chances are we will be compelled to fill it.
In order to transcend shame and to take action in the realm of sustainability, we need support and a collective vision. We know from other domains of shame, for example that of the recovering alcoholic, that the sharing of experiences of shame plays an important part in moving on. Yet shame is often lonely in fashion, as the industry is constituted of strong individuals instead of a cohesive collective. The culture of fashion is not always one that promotes an easy sharing of doubt, fear or inadequacy. Without easily negotiable paths to address them, environmental degradation, child labour and over-consumption risk remaining uncomfortable areas to venture into.