Issue 3 Out Now!
All illustrations from L’Officiel 1924
The 1920’s. Finally, we made it
The 5th season of Downton Abbey which has just begun airing on PBS finds the Crawley family and servants in the year 1924, a time rife with change, a time when modernism ran rampant. It manifested in literature, in art, architecture, in industrial design, graphic design, photography and, of course, in fashion. The waist was dismissed, assigned to hover abstractly over the lower hip like a vestigial limb. The bosom was banished. Although a mere hint remained it was never obligatory. Western culture’s fashionable body, having been engineered to suspend from either the waist or the bust for hundreds of years, relocated to the shoulders. Common to most modes of dress found outside of Europe, this particular fashion innovation hadn’t been seen in Western costume since the Middle Ages, and more distinctly, the fall of Rome. It is why Diana Vreeland once proclaimed the 1920s as her favorite decade citing that it was the first time in history women wore their hair short. The first time their ankles were revealed. It’s the time of the Bauhaus, of Man Ray, of Jazz and Chanel. For women’s dress it was an utter schism.
The beauty of Downton Abbey is that it’s allowed us to follow fashion from the sinking of the Titanic through a World War and into the world of tomorrow — all chronicled through a fantastically written, superbly acted, lavishly produced and exquisitely costumed soap opera. And now with the 5th season beginning the timing couldn’t be better for fabulous 1920s styles to go on display every week for the next two months or so.
The ‘20s is one of the most misunderstood decades. It is consistently butchered and shortchanged, scantily summed up with something vaguely flapper-ish. But the ’20s saw one of the most radical shifts in dress of the last 300 years. While dress reform was already underway by the time Paul Poiret was ruling fashion in 1909 it wasn’t until his success that fashion was challenged directly. Poiret offered revolution in the guise of the exotic. His interest in global dress provided vivid contradiction to the status quo (his innovative though eccentric Harem pantnts were highlighted in Downton Abbey season 2). But World War I brought on many changes and Poiret could not follow up on the modernism he instigated. Credit is given to Chanel for inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe though it is likely her then rival and now virtual unknown Jean Patou who was a more impactful designer. Regardless, both of them made extremely modern, cleverly engineered and flawlessly styled sportswear — obliging the demand for a more active and confident means of dress for even the most fashionable woman.
The effect is not unlike what designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and Phoebe Philo have been getting at in the last couple years or what Armani has been proposing for the last 40. As a sportswear revival goes underway, led by likes of The Olsen twins and Christophe Lemaire, Downtown Abbey offers itself as a compelling series of fashion plates granting a detailed and insightful peek into one of the most exciting and eternally relevant eras of fashion.
“Life is, in itself and forever, shipwreck”
Before Simons did sneakers for Adidas. Before he did suits for luncheons for Dior. Before Raf Simons stopped having diverse castings. Before he was name-dropped in rap songs. Before he was fashion celebrity elite. Before all that he was doing some of the best collections of his career. There was a string of them, all tremendous and all even more so years later. Within the time he relaunched himself in 2001 to when he took on design duties at Jil Sander in 2006 sits a considerable body of work that stands today as one of the greatest dissertations on menswear of the last 30 years. One collection that feels especially worth revisiting is Autumn/Winter 2004-2005. Now as performance wear has entered not only the common lexicon of everyday dress but fashion as well, now as youth subcultures have gone mainstream, Simons’s ideas come full circle. Avant-garde in the truest sense, the collection could be shown and retailed today and it would still give most designers something to ponder. Some call it his “surf” collection, inspired by the technical wetsuits of surfers as well as their more casual non-sporty dress: tailored jacket worn over a neoprene body suit, hoodies worn as dramatic capes. In a world of cyber terrorism and technology attached to the very core of our daily experiences, it’s as if Simons recast the surfer as modern shaman. The effect is almost spiritual, monkish, a fitting follow-up to his abstraction of Hare Krishna and south Asian spiritualism the season prior. Ten years after the fact you wouldn’t mind if some of these ideas could be made viable again, by him or anyone else.
Editor’s note: I’m not privy to the original soundtrack but I like to pretend it could have been Orbital’s remix of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme from the movie “The Beach.” Try it for your own enjoyment.