I recently read the New York Times Magazine profile on Stella McCartney and was struck by this passage:
“It sounds incredibly simple, but after more than a decade of dead-serious conceptualism, postmodern irony and Galliano-type showmanship, the fashion industry feels stuck for ideas: designing from life for life — rather than returning to the ’60s, say, or drawing inspiration from the ‘warrior woman’ or some other female fantasy — feels fresh and modern.”
Back in September the New York Times fashion blog was joined by Carine Roitfeld in mourning the decline of controversial figures like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, designers who created wearable, fluid art.
Right around the same time, in its September issue, Vogue carried a glowing profile of Nina Ricci designer Peter Copping and his rustic weekends spent in the French countryside. The piece used Copping’s insistence on having a personal life separate from designing clothes to praise the shift to designers who keep their work in perspective.
This (the avante-garde designer possessed by his or her art versus the ones for whom designing is a day job, healthily prioritized behind family and quality of life) is one of many dichotomies in the fashion right now. In my opinion, however, Stella McCartney has managed the formidable task of representing the best of both perspectives.
I believe that fashion can be art. But I also see the true value of fashion as lying in its function. It functions to allow us to project the versions of ourselves that we most want the world to see. It gives us a way to determine how we will approach our day, whether it be with whimsy or grace or stoicism.
Part of what attracts me to McCartney’s collections is my love for design that makes the most of function, beauty and originality. Having once considered a career as an urban planner, I spent a lot of time reading about how elements of design such as space and accessibility can affect our moods. How innovation imbues design with an innate sense of pride.
Just as important as it is that the clothes McCartney designs are both beautiful and functional, is that they are as Cathy Horyn wrote, ”fresh.” Ours is a culture where we have the ability to access, reference, riff off of, or emulate any other time period and it too often results in our own creative impulses being stagnated by nostalgia.
As understandable as it is to find comfort in vestiges of so-called simpler times, I believe that it’s more reassuring to celebrate what we can still dream up and the potential we have to create things that the world has never seen before. The movement back towards dressing up and valuing personal style exemplifies the symbolic fortifications we take refuge in during tumultuous times, the hope we attempt to imbue our lives with just by dressing to present our best selves. McCartney’s work embodies that.