What is Fashion Design?

Fashion Design, unlike other disciplines of design, Architecture notwithstanding, presents itself as a sort of paradox. In our current circumstances where it is common for the word ‘design’ to be elided, the phrase is worth scrutiny.

Wedding Dress (2000) Yohji Yamamoto, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

To answer the question – what is Fashion Design? – it is necessary to realise the underlying oppositional characters of both words. Design, stemming from the Middle English root designen, literally means to designate but is taken to signify a deliberate attempt to ascribe a function to a correlating form. Design is inherently historical, not only because it embodies a constant desire for improvement, but by situating a particular Design-ed object in the narrative of greater accuracy of form/function. It is possible to speak of a history of Design, where forms are given greater articulation while at the same time dissolved of their original associations with other spheres of meaning. In Design, we find an outlet for the translation of desire into function into form. It is not surprising that the Bauhaus movement, so inextricably linked to the other Modernist art movements, has come to typify Design.

Fashion on the other hand, in our context, is largely a postmodernist idea. It derives from the Latin root fatio – to make – but has been largely emptied of its original meaning. Indeed, fashion today denotes the vocabulary of signs in all the human senses that conjures desire. It is, however, not an amorphous desire but a desire centred on the now. It is a process that is fundamentally aesthetic that affects all spheres of the arts under the sign of the New. Fashion practices a certain historicism that is ahistorical. It searches through the ages for refinements of styles, creating pastiches, representing what had gone before in a spectacle that is our contemporary desires reified.

A distinction should quickly be drawn here between Fashion and Dress. Dress is a conscious modification or extension of the human body by the individual and Fashion is but one among many of its assignation. The practitioner of Fashion Design must recognise that she deals with three different spheres – Fashion, Design and Dress. She must meet the demands of Fashion, which is inherently postmodernist in its tendencies, through the modern approach of Design in treatment of a very timeless Dress – itself a subject worth deconstructing.

The contradictions between her goal (pastiche, representation, vision, schizophrenia) and her means (definition, creation, synthesis, paranoia) are played out upon the human body and it is from this rich field that the Fashion Design-er works her craft.

(Photo Credits: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)

This entry was published on May 26, 2010 at 10:38 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “What is Fashion Design?

  1. miss c on said:

    I like the part about distinctions between fashion, design and dress. Is it really “postmodernist” though? I’m taking a Modern art course now, some things got me thinking.

    Fashion taking themes out of their original context, whether cultural or historical) were already present in the modern period. Manet in the 1860s painted this one woman (in our terms called a model now) he nicknamed Mademoiselle V. in the costume of an Espada (Spanish bullfighter), and in Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe, the men are wearing Spanish hats. Back then this Spanish fad started with modernization, industrialization, the beginning of fashion plates, factories, capitalism and transportation routes opening up, but maybe “postmodernism” is already in the modern. I would argue that Fashion in our sense, is still modern. But fashion has always existed. The artists of long ago continually tried to trump each other in terms of style and subject matter. Then maybe some king or emperor comes along and changes the way he looks, and people worship him, so they change also. Design is more postmodern, and a-everything since it just looks to fill a desire of the present or the future. Then Dress is the aesthetic, the layering on top. Even Japonisme for example, was inspired because when the Japanese opened their trading routes, the wrapping paper, which the Japs thought were worthless, was noticed by the French, who liked the prettiness. So maybe, people just do whatever they can because it looks nice and they like it.

    Only those who go farther than the modern act of blurring the lines between cultures and historical styles and principles, to focus on anomalies, a-concepts will that be postmodern… When nothing becomes everything. Clearly lots of designers are still modern, they are inspired by their holidays or other countries, their experiences (e.g. DVF, Givenchy, Rodarte, Dior) but some like Margiela, CDG, Viktor and Rolf come real close. I kinda like the “postmodern” and “modern” designers side by side. They make life interesting. All the more to critique about whether their designs are too borrowed or too unborrowed.

    This guy, Charles Baudelaire, a writer on Modern life, who championed Manet, apparently invented fashion as we know it – the idea of marketing, magazines, and seasonal styles. Would be fun to check out.

    Here’s his food for thought: “All fashions are charming, or rather relatively charming, each one being a new striving, more or less well conceived, after beauty, an approximate statement of an ideal, the desire for which constantly teases the unsatisfied human mind.”

    Anyways, hope you’re enjoying your summer! Well i’m here doing summer classes. First year was a kind of sick but fun hell. Call if you wanna go for some food or something! I tried Garrett’s, very addictive…


  2. lick on said:

    lu gong simi… simi postmodernist simi correlating form? SIMI BAUHAUS MOVEMENT? SIMI FOOT RATIO? your FOOT LAH! what english root? you talk nonsense lah NONSENSE!

  3. saythefword on said:

    hi lick! lu si xiang? wa wu si mah sioh, wa pengyou wu tam po siao eh. bor sioh dio wa lang eh reader mah ahneh passionate. gamsiah hor.


  4. lick on said:

    simi lu si xiang? simi sioh. talk engrish la!

  5. saythefword on said:

    le eh hokkien mm si jin power eh meh? anyway, good to know you checked back. i’ll get parsons boy who wrote this to reply to you.

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