I cannot tell you what my favourite dress is, because I can’t decide. Some are favourites for sentimental reasons, others because they make me feel amazing and some I will probably never wear but are favourites in a purely aesthetic way; little works of art by favourite designers. I am perfectly happy that I can’t decide, and I intend to keep it that way. The hunt for the ‘favourite’ or ‘perfect’ dress is what keeps a vintage-girl going.
The other night I briefly attended a belated launch and signing for the book My Favourite Dress, based on the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile museum a few years ago. It’s a lovely, gorgeously-made book, don’t get me wrong. But, to me, it is very indicative of why I, for the most part, dislike the fashion industry. With a few exceptions, mainly the non-designers, the contributors picked the safest pieces they possibly could. I saw more interesting garments at the event itself. I should point out emphatically that this is no criticism of the people behind the book, it is a criticism of many of the designer contributors.
I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m probably not going to give a rat’s behind about what dress Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan has decided is their best EVAH, since I find them amongst the dreariest of designers at the best of times, but this was a perfect opportunity to prove me wrong. Honestly, with a platform to prove once and for all that you might just possibly be a Good Designer – despite a career built on producing the safest of the safe, you really ought to be showing me the most idiosyncratic (or, at least, technically brilliant) work of art you ever committed to fabric. Even Galliano chose a yawn-worthy piece, which came from a collection I otherwise adored so much I clipped photos to put in a scrapbook.
Of course it’s entirely subjective; I clearly have a taste for the showy and flamboyant. But it does stem from the same tendencies which lead to endless seasonal articles in magazines and newspapers about ‘timeless elegance’ and ‘effortless chic’ which usually means a little black dress or a simple cotton shift. And beige. Possibly the most offensive thing the fashion world ever gave us. Yeah, we know they’re timeless and whathaveyou but they’re just as dating and have a similar shelf-life to a frilly nylon hostess dress.
Gazing across rails in charity shops, I get a distinct sensation of ‘yuck, that is SO 2003’ when I see a boring black corset dress. Which is really no different to the sensation of ‘yuck, that is sooooo Seventies’ we might once have felt gazing upon rails of Varons, Ossies and Gibbs. But in 20 years time, when people are starting to crave that ‘noughties’ look, I doubt they’ll be picking up plain black corset dresses. In the same way that a plain black Ossie ‘Model T Ford’ shirt dress is less desirable than a ruffled, brightly-coloured, Celia-printed chiffon. I can’t imagine Ossie or Bill Gibb ever picking out a simple black shift as their favourite dress.
I suppose my point is simply that too many modern designers play it safe. You can see this in most of their collections anyway, but the point is proved by the fact that they’re so damn lousy at picking a decent example of their own work. You get the feeling that they were thinking too much about ‘posterity’ rather than having any particular emotional reaction to a piece, which was meant to be the point behind the whole exercise. Pick something which actually stirs your soul, not something which you think everyone else will like.
Of course, the world would be a very dreary place if we were always running around in PVC mini dresses with bacofoil trimmings; as much as it would be if we were following the Generic Fashionista’s definition of ‘effortlessly chic’ and ‘timelessly elegant’ all the time. I must confess, and pre-empt anyone who might remember such things, to having used both terms to describe vintage pieces, but I’m more inclined to use them about a dress with the most momentously huge sleeves or the most extravagant ruffles known to man. To me, that is chic and elegant.
Ahhhh…subjectivity. How I adore thee.