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.
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)