Fashion Statement: Jean Muir

“The clothes in themselves do not make a statement. The woman makes a statement and the dress helps.” —English dressmaker Jean Muir, who died on this day in 1995.

Photo: Jean Muir and her designs, photographers unknown. To read more fabulous Fashion Statements, click here. Read More »

A Collection Fit for a Queen. Literally.

On this day in 1947, fashion lovers and critics gathered across the pond to view the British spring collections. In the middle of a dreary and cold London winter and after the end of a long and devastating war—not to mention wartime clothing rationing—the fashion elite was ready to be wowed and inspired; in short, they were craving something decadent. Britain’s premier designer to the stars, Norman Hartnell, did not disappoint. He took a cue from style predecessors Paul Poiret and Leon Bakst, and played to Western society’s ever-present love of the “exotic,” (i.e. nonwhite clothing, colors and cultures.) His instincts were on the money: Hartnell garnered the first spontaneous applause of the week with a bronze, billowing harem-style evening gown. The harem style had earned mainstream popularity after Bakst’s use of the look at the turn of the 20th century, but had not been widely seen since Poiret’s Russian collection of 1911 (an extravagance likely closeted due to World War I), and its fanciful nature now again appealed to a weary nation. The applause may have been somewhat surprising to Hartnell, given that he had sent many of his 20 looks down the runway unfinished. (The model for the two-piece harem dress had the added job of informing the guests that her blouse would have an embroidered neckline when it was finished.) As any fan of Project Runway knows, hastily stitched together pieces can lead directly to “You’re out,” but Hartnell had a good excuse. The rush job was caused by a much more important task than completing a spring collection: He was simultaneously designing the travel wardrobes for the queen (who most of us knew as the Queen Mum) and her two princess daughters, 20-year-old Elizabeth and 17-year-old Margaret, for a Royal Tour of South Africa. Read More »

Galliano Makes a Splash in London

Oxymoron aside, there were two main streams flowing through the avant-garde looks of the ’80s: One was an angry rejection of all things fashionable, and wanted to chew them up, spit them out, stomp on them, then stomp on them some more. This was Punk. The other was an ebullient rejection of that rejection, and sought to seize fashion and elevate it to new, bizarre and theatrical heights. This was called Romantic. Out of the latter movement came one of Britain’s national treasures,
John Galliano, who celebrated his breakout London show on this day in 1987. The young designer had debuted here two years earlier, but unlike his previous show, where there were only a few in-the-know friends in attendance, now there were important editors and buyers. Where there was wine from a jug now there was champagne in crystal flutes. Where there was what must have been a splitting hangover to show for it, now there was also a hangover, but something new on his shelf as well: Britain’s Designer of the Year award, which he received in a ceremony the following night. It would be his first of four.

The Brits were on the forefront of the Romantic trend, showing up at the clubs dressed in elaborate, historically-inspired costumes, with an oh-so-’80s dash of New Wave androgyny mixed in. And thanks to a budding MTV and its early desperation for Read More »

The Musician and the Designer: Bjork and Alexander McQueen Create Magic

What defines the relationship between artist and muse? And how are those boundaries altered when the roles are interchangeable, when the artist becomes muse and vice versa? Observing the longtime collaboration between musician Björk and designer Alexander McQueen, it’s hard to say who influenced the other more often and at what times. But the conversation began on the subject when Björk released her fourth record, Homogenic, on this day in 1997, and her image on the album cover received nearly as much attention as the songs inside. The elfin chanteuse fans loved was obliterated, replaced by a fierce snow queen styled in a nebulous blend of intergalactic references and historical costuming. With her insect-like contacts, Leia-on-steroids hair and geisha gown of armor, Björk crossed over into a new genre, a league of otherworldly, high-fashion aliens that sanctioned the very few: David Bowie, Grace Jones, Siouxie Sioux, Klaus Nomi, Laurie Anderson, Marilyn Mason and some others. (Comparisons of Bjork to Lady Gaga are moot: Gaga’s outrageous Read More »

British Vogue Debuts. Thanks, World War!

Boy, nothing cramps a girl’s style like a German submarine blockade. In the 18 months following February of 1915, U-boats had been sinking an average of 300,000 tons of allied shipping per month. Any merchant vessels found in British waters were under direct threat of attack as World War I raged in the Atlantic. That meant that among a great many other lacks, British ladies were not getting their Vogue subscriptions. Fine, the publisher said. If we can’t get it across the pond, we’ll just have it made over there, and on this day in 1916, British Vogue was born.

Since its launch in 1892, the New York–based parent magazine had become, in the words of publisher Conde Nast, “the technical advisor—the clothing specialist—to the woman of fashion in the matter of her clothes and personal adornment.” It delivered first sketches and later photographs of the latest styles coming out of Paris, who was wearing what in the Hamptons, as well as the styles that high society British women picked up on, barometers of good taste that they were. And of course, there were loads of ads. Read More »

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