Just in case you were wondering, there is a way to wear love. The hope for it. The pining for it. The thrill of it.
But no, not the loss of it. Nor the heartbreak of it. Are you kidding? That wouldn’t move much merchandise. Sweats, a T-shirt with a tub of ice cream on it and a necklace made of spoons? What about a black shift with a strategic cut-out where your heart used to be? That might be cool, but it wouldn’t work well for the launch of a clothing line around Valentine’s Day, would it?
Prabal Gurung, one of the current darlings of the fashion industry, is launching a new collection inspired by the idea of love for Target stores in the United States next week. “ It’s inspired by a girl’s journey,” he explains to me in an e-mail interview, “through the different stages of love and the clothes she wears during each milestone – from the initial first crush all the way to the engagement.”
Uh huh, went my head. Sure, some of the pieces in his line are bright and floral – a bouquet from a suitor, in essence. Cute. And, yes, the skirts are short and flirty. But why can’t a designer ever say what was really on his mind when he was creating a new collection? Why not just come out and say: “Look, I was under some pressure to do this rite-of-passage thing by creating a line for a big-box retailer that was cheap and cheerful, not too difficult to understand and appealing to the masses. We all want love, right? Ergo, you will all want my $20 top. Or so I hope.”
Instead, we get designer babble. “I am a definite romantic, and wanted to create a collection that reflects the cinematic experience of falling in love,” Gurung wrote in his e-mail. What the “cinematic” experience of falling in love is exactly I cannot tell you. He was proselytizing. I was meant to simply be a breathless devotee.
Not that I want to pooh-pooh “inspiration.” As a free-floating thing, it is much more pleasant than, say, anxiety. Or free radicals. And everyone needs it, including weekly newspaper columnists. It’s just that, sometimes, its manifestations can be a bit goofy, bogus or little more than a marketing ploy, as though someone has grabbed it out of the air for no particular reason other than it sounded good.
Some designers proclaim to have been inspired by historical eras, famous people, emotions, art, even books. In 2009, for instance, a men’s-clothing collection by the New York-based design duo Shipley & Halmos was inspired, they say, by Ayn Rand. “Life must be a straight line of motion from goal to further goal,” their invitation read, quoting from The Fountainhead. (Shipley & Halmos obviously take their inspiration very seriously, having reportedly once gathered their design staff in a darkened room to repeatedly play Deep Purple’s Child in Time for two hours in order to “summon a deeper,seance level” of ideas.)
Gurung’s fall 2011 collection, meanwhile, was inspired by Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations . The runway models weren’t, as one might presume, covered in cobwebs or wearing ancient, mouldy wedding dresses. Rather, we were meant to imagine the beautiful red dresses that comprised the collection as indicative of some kind of heartbreak. (Gurung clearly has a thing about love.)
And then there’s Sonia Rykiel, nicknamed the Queen of Knitwear, who has written novels, some of them erotic. ( Casanova Was A Woman is, she explained, a story with three characters: a man, a woman and a sweater. It involved jealousy.)
Of course, some designers’ inspirations are refreshingly pragmatic. Aside from the eco-influence of her late mother, Stella McCartney has said that she is inspired simply by the ease and look that most women want in order to lead their busy lives. And I loved the simple, poetic inspiration for her fragrance, Stella: It was designed to reflect her English heritage, so she gave perfumer Jacques Cavalier an old photo of a rose in full bloom, the idea being that it was at that moment of perfection between beauty and fragility, just before it would start to fade. To me, that says everything about the way many women really think about their physical selves, waiting for their full, natural bloom into effortless womanhood and then mourning it, wanting it back, as soon as it passes its peak.
Like that phenomenon, a perfect inspiration is undeniable somehow, impervious to cynicism, moving in its truth.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the “conceptual” inspirations behind many fashion collections is that they take their cue from modern, conceptual art, which asks the viewer to understand what it is trying – not always successfully – to represent. Fashion has long been considered art, after all. They’re often echoes of one another. Yves Saint Laurent, who had an extensive art collection, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, famously designed a dress that was an homage to Piet Mondrian. It was a marvel of textile design that perfectly captured the artist’s flat, colourful style on the canvas of the human form.
But sometimes, just as a piece of Jeff Koons art can leave you rolling your eyes or scratching your head, so, too, can a fashion inspiration. My Flake Alert goes berserk.
That’s what I felt when I saw Yoko Ono’s men’s suits with the hand print over the crotch; a new, all-white one for women features a mesh hole at the lower part of the buttocks, all the better to show off your perfectly toned cheeks and a sexy thong, if you wear one. Both are subversive comments on what we think clothing should hide (or not), experiments in what we will accept as clothing just as her other work is an experiment in what we will consider art.
And consider one of the inspirations of Karl Lagerfeld. His whitehaired cat, Choupette, is so precious to him that she has two maids. “She’s really a stunning beauty. Her eyes are blue, blue, blue, blue, blue,” he recently told Harper’s Bazaar. “And also her movement is so beautiful.”
Okay, Karl, I thought. You’re a legend, so I’ll try not to laugh.