1 October 2015

Still Standing

Autumn/Winter 2015

How do we define quality where clothing is concerned? Long lasting, careful construction, and use of nice fabrics? Assuming that definition covers some of the major bases, are we actually educated enough as consumers to recognise quality or do we buy into the perception of quality? Question the buying habits of most people, whether it comes to food, clothing, furniture, or even healthcare, and the automatic (and unfortunately, usually erroneous) assumption is that price is an indicator of quality. "If it costs more and looks more polished, it must be better quality". That goes for everything from the packaging of the product, the products that surround it, and the store environment as a whole (one of the reasons Louis Vuitton has never released a perfume is that they are militant about brand control and hate the idea of their products being sold in any old boutique, especially on shelves next to 'lesser' brands of perfume). It is not just in fashion where the idea sells more than the actual product itself, but fashion is perhaps one of the best examples of this trend.

For myself, I think the level of quality I look for is dependent on the specific garment and intended use - there is no fixed ideal, but I think some sense of quality obviously has to be considered alongside aesthetics. I am one of those rather pedantic shoppers that will inspect seams, turning garments inside out in the changing room, and really trying to get a feel for the garment before I even try it on. Quality is to me a fluid concept, but I do expect a minimum standard of workmanship for whatever I intend to buy - if it does not function in the manner I intend to use it, regardless of how beautiful it is, I would rather look elsewhere. That is not to say there is no room for beautiful fragile garments, but even so, I would rather not buy something with glaring issues (there have been a few Rick Owens pieces I have seen in the past that looked like they were made by a drunk bandicoot with a point to prove, given that shoulder seams were almost guaranteed to pop on first wear...and one rather terrifying experience where I actually tore a garment when trying it on).

The cut and construction of a garment actually interests me far more than the colour and pattern - how it fits the body, how it moves with the body, how it comes to life when worn. Clothes are meant to be worn, and the body is a dynamic setting, so for me the most interesting garments are those cut and constructed with this reality in mind. We all know what something as simple as a white shirt is meant to look like, but there is something magical about finding a designer who cuts a white shirt that feels right on your body. On the hanger two different white shirts may look roughly the same, but try them on and the difference can be night and day. It is the reason I love Yohji's work as much as I do, because the cut is so wonderfully clever in just about any garment you happen to pick up, let alone wear. On the hanger, or in front and back runway images, you only ever get a basic idea of how the garment looks. The magic is in the way the garment fits and moves, and for that, the pattern cutting is where the secret lies.

Social media is a wonderful thing, as is Instagram (heck, I have posted an image every single day this year), but it has certainly highlighted the trend towards mobile phone friendly collections - clothes that look good on Instagram and in front-on catwalk images. Rei took this phenomenon to its comical conclusion with her Autumn/Winter 2012 superflat collection, but the trend continues with no signs of abating. You only need to look at contemporary streetwear trends with basic garments dolled up with random text selling like hotcakes and filling up your social media feeds. I have nothing against text or images on clothing, but I do believe the garment itself has to be good enough for you to want to buy without the text or image in the first place (same thing with colour and pattern actually). This is where quality comes into play, and not quality in terms of the garment being indestructible or made of baby cashmere, but a garment that is interesting and well made before you even come to the bonus of an added decorative element (of course at its best the decorative elements are not an additional bonus, but an integral part of the garment's design).

For me Yohji's Autumn/Winter 2015 collection was a defiant return to classic Yohji. After a few seasons of more colourful and laid back looks, Yohji suddenly emerged as Dr Frankenstein. Here he was energetically tearing up and sewing together images from his past, but instead of some exhumed monster, what he revealed was something thoroughly suited for the present. Out of the embers of the past something beautiful can arise, and Yohji knows that more than most. After all, this is the designer whose approach is to walk backwards into the future with an eye turned to the past. But what stands out most to me about this collection is how thoroughly inadequate catwalk images are. These are clothes that deserve to be seen in person, on the body, and in movement. The quality of the clothing is in the construction, and that is something difficult to convey in flat images, especially given how complex these garments are. If anything I think of these runway images as teaser images, something to whet the appetite and draw the eye before you go and actually see and try on the clothes in person.

I can see these, I can try these on, but fully understanding the technical brilliance of these garments eludes me. As much as I have tried to read up on pattern cutting, drapery, and the technical side of making clothes, there is only so much books and video can teach you. I fully intend to take some classes on pattern making and basic clothing construction as soon as I am able to. Not necessarily so I can make clothes, although that could be fun to try, but more as a means of gaining a greater appreciation and understanding for what I am actually seeing and trying on. If you are interested in something you should try to understand all aspects, allowing you to cultivate a more in-depth awareness of the subject at hand. And, to be honest, I think it will definitely help in my search for understanding what quality actually means to me.


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