Youth and innovation, the eternal analogy. When in the late 50s haute couture started to lose its supremacy, it was because the young changed the rules of the game. Street style had made it into couture for the first time, and also for the first time, tables had really turned, putting designers, the youth and avant-garde movements on the same page. This is the starting point for “La moda imposible” (Impossible Fashion), the current exhibition in the Museo del Traje, in Madrid, which showcases the innovation and renovation of the last five decades.
It all started when Mary Quant opened her first boutique, Bazaar, in 1955, feeding the mods and other London subcultures with her easy to mix and match garments, a complete antithesis to couture. Five years later, the new generation of Parisians were all over Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic last collection for Dior, “Beat”, with head to toe black and unorthodox materials. Courrèges, Ungaro, Cardin and Rabanne followed and became the archetype of the Space Age, covering bodies with unthinkable materials such as plastic and metal, transforming the wearers into futuristic warriors ready to fight a war against conventionalism.
Come the 70s, the emphasis was put into meaning and communication, triggered by the emergence of urban subcultures. Some of them followed fashion, while others rejected it and aimed to use textiles and materials as a way of achieving social exclusion. Boutiques like Sex (renamed Seditionaries in 1977), owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, helped to define the punk movement and share its elements not only with London, but with the world. This was the birth of anti-fashion, with a batch of Japanese designers carrying the flag. Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo brought a new vision to Europe and the States, based on traditional geometrical proportions, not dictated by gender or body shape, and dusted with a heavy dose of intellectualism. It can be seen in pieces such as a Comme des Garçons parachute-rucksack dress, with a bag at the back “for decorative purposes only”.
But if there was an epicentre of cutting edge renovation during this decade, it was Italy, where fashion was equated to art. This was done in the most diverse ways, with brands like Missoni and Fiorucci playing with colour, Roberta di Camerino focusing on the meaning of garments, Pucci experimenting with psychedelia and Capucci and Krizia developing new shapes and materials, to name a few.
It is no paradox then that two Italians were the kings of the 80s, even though each of them stayed on the opposite side of the spectrum. Armani and Versace dictated the major prêt-á-porter trends of the decade elevating it above couture, which was making a comeback thanks to names like Moschino, Lacroix, Gaultier and Mugler. Fashion became plural, readily available for everyone, and made it further than just clothes, inundating films, music, food and a large array of products. Excess in every sense.
This excess was contrasted by the 90s minimalism that planted the seeds for more radical approaches, such as the Antwerp Six, lead by Margiela. Their design was a melting pot of Japanese intellectuality, Italian strategy, British pragmatism and French craftmanship, that can be seen in pieces like an upside down cotton jacket with hooks, by Margiela.
In the 00s the boundaries continued to diminish as designers persisted to reach the impossible. Technology became part of clothing with the work of Helmut Lang and Chalayan, while Galliano made his own recreation of history, McQueen’s vision provoked extreme reactions and Lagerfeld reinvented Fendi using polyurethane to build their iconic leather jackets.
With four main sections, Materials, Colours, Structure and Message, the exhibition is an outstanding trip throughout five decades of reaching the unattainable.
La moda imposible (Impossible Fashion) is a temporary exhibition of Museo del Traje that will run in Madrid until the 16th of June.