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We were lucky enough to attend the International Fashion Showcase this week, an annual event, now in its fifth year, which takes place in London alongside London Fashion Week. Its main purpose is to promote the work of talented fashion designers from across the world. At the end of the event, Lebanon were awarded with a trophy for Best Curator, the winner of which was determined by a panel chaired by Sarah Mower, MBE and British Fashion Council Ambassador for Emerging Talent. Last year, the award was won by Columbia.
The trophy has been designed by jewellery experts Yunis & Eliza, who were shortlisted at the 2014 British Fashion Awards in the category of Emerging Designers. The winner is yet to be announced, as this year’s event ends today. Each year, the event picks a different theme, with 2015 representing the concept of ‘fashion on display’.
This week, the International Fashion Showcase (IFS) introduced ‘Fashion Utopias’, with a focus on the historical perspective of utopia and how relevant it is in today’s visions of social, political and cultural development. The event included 15 galleries, 14 of which represented a country and the final one called 'Next in Line' featured designers from 10 other countries. The galleries were open throughout the duration of the show and on Friday there was a separate symposium holding talks by PhD Researchers from Courtauld.
Utopia in Fashion
Utopia is a concept dreamt up by Sir Thomas More in 1516 for the book he created of the same name. It represents the ideal that there is a perfect society, in which we can all live harmoniously and without conflict. The IFS have aimed to demonstrate this year how throughout history, the concept of utopia has driven and inspired fashion design through individual’s desire to create art and fashion that challenges the social, political and cultural norm.
One great example of this is the Czech Republic, where history has been dominated by an ultra-conservative and totalitarian regime. A new generation of fashion designers, now free from this type of ideology, is beginning to challenge this concept through innovating design outside the box of normal behavior; which has been plain black aesthetic and simple shapes. Through exploring their heritage and the cultural traditions of their country, these designers are helping to challenge the societal restraints of the past in order to achieve better harmony, peace and acceptance amongst individuals.
Below is an image of the Czech Republic designs at IFS.
Utopia or Dystopia?
Thinking about how utopia has helped to progress fashion design also bears reflection on whether its antonym is in fact responsible. Lucy Moyse, PhD Researcher of The Courtauld Institute of Art, leads a talk at the IFS as part of their symposium on fashion utopias. She discusses the role that conflict in World War I played in progressing the fashion design of the era.
World War I undeniably created great devastation and conflict throughout Europe, with France suffering from vast amounts of destruction due to almost all of their battles taking place on home ground. Lucy discusses how this conflict led to a Surrealist movement, led by André Breton, which aimed to protest against social, political and cultural values through art and design. Lucy explains that The Surrealists believed the ongoing conflicts were a result of the overly conservative, rational and masculine attitudes of the time, and the resulting protests by them were a challenge against this.
In the case of Paris during World War I and The Surrealists movement, it could be argued that the development of design in fashion was a result of dystopia rather than utopia, since the challenge of an imperfect society cannot exist if society is already perfect. Below is a photo of the designs of Elsa Schiaparelli, who was inspired by The Surrealists movement.
Equally, Filipino designer Thian Rodriguez has used munitions and leather to produce a rather unique range of clothing. In this instance, Thian is living in a dystopia society that involves conflict, the result of which gives him the materials and inspiration to create truly distinctive fashion and art.
National Identity as a result of Utopia
Utopia can be considered a reflection of national identity. In the case of the Czech Republic, the result of a generation born out of a totalitarian regime has meant a journey back to the beginning, with an aim to express the true national heritage of the Czech Republic in fashion design.
Two talks were given on the relationship between National Identity and utopia at this year’s IFS. Elizabeth Kutesko discusses how Brazil’s national identity has been consistently conflicted overtime by the influence of Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. Brazil is another country that suffered from a totalitarian and military dictatorship during the mid 20th Century. Elizabeth revisits the story of how 4 young Brazilian designers were distanced enough from this time to create fashion design that was a true reflection of Brazil’s national identity. In this case, the presence of a more utopian society in Brazil led the way for young designers to create design in line with their country’s heritage and culture.
Utopia as a result of National Identity
The other talk on this subject at this year’s IFS presents a different idea of the relationship between utopia and national identity. Katerina Pantelides speaks about the journey of Russian dancer George Balanchine to New York in the 1940’s. Balanchine’s aim was to bring the Russian art of ballet to American culture. At this point in time, ballet was not a significant part of American life.
Balanchine believed that the traditional qualities of ballet; athleticism, boldness and versatility, all identified strongly with the mythic ideals of American culture. Balanchine’s movement, reinforced through the efforts of dancer Martha Graham (pictured below), helped inspire a new generation of design in New York that incorporated the athletic nature of dance in to their fashion. On this occasion, national identity has helped to develop utopia through fashion, inspiring designers to incorporate previously common notions of masculinity in to womenswear.
Why does all of this matter?
Some might argue that creating a utopia is an impossible task, and even if it were possible, fashion design would not be the way to achieve it. Fashion and the production of clothing are in their simplest form based on an understanding of the needs of humans.
If you look at the development of both fashion and utopia over the course of history, there is a clear correlation between how people feel, behave and belong in society and how people dress. Utopia is all about achieving equality and harmony in society, the achievement of which is possible through two means.
Firstly, at the heart of Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ is the ideal that we can learn from different cultures and traditions to perfect our own. He states that by imagining that another world is possible, we can create it. This concept alone makes London the perfect setting for a fashion showcase based on utopia. London fashion is a perfect example of how sharing different cultures’ influences and ideas has helped to create a better society, as Thomas More envisioned.
Secondly, fashion is the inner expression of every individual. People should feel comfortable to dress in a way that reflects them and their personality. This practice has become increasingly popular in recent years. Equally, throughout the timeline of history, designers have had more freedom to express themselves in their design. The achievement of a utopia is dependent on those in society having the freedom to express themselves in order to achieve harmony and peace.
These are the two ways in which fashion, and more broadly art, can help achieve utopia and the main purpose for this year’s London Fashion Showcase. The three pictures below show the designs of Slovakia, Philippines and Egypt.
London Fashion Week 2016
The International Fashion Showcase runs alongside London Fashion Week, both having ended this week. The purpose of London Fashion Week is to give emerging designers from across the world a showcase to launch their collections. The concepts discussed in this article and the theme decided for the IFS demonstrate how valuable incorporating tradition and culture in to fashion is for the British Fashion Council.
This is one reason why SHERENE MELINDA identifies and appreciates the work of The British Fashion Council, being a designer brand with a cultural influenced style and use of material. The use of material by designers across the IFS reminded us of how unique fashion can be when designers use different materials in a creative way. Next week we will be sharing some of the amazing materials and fashion we discovered at this year's IFS.
In the meantime, if you liked our take on IFS-16, please share this article with your friends and colleagues. In the meantime, please stay up-to-date with all the news from SHERENE MELINDA using the social links below.