The Art of Dressing Up: Couture's Next Big Trend? the Heritage Look. Henry Conway Tries It on for Size

By Conway, Henry | New Statesman (1996), February 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Art of Dressing Up: Couture's Next Big Trend? the Heritage Look. Henry Conway Tries It on for Size


Conway, Henry, New Statesman (1996)


Over the past few years, "vintage" has become the word of choice for fashionistas. What began as an eccentric and endearing English excuse for old clothes has been hijacked by the high street. Which means that couture has had to up the stakes by raiding the dressing-up box that is art history.

At this year's Paris Couture week, the spring/summer collection of John Galliano, designer-in-chief at Christian Dior, frothed with art-historical references. Galliano, whose influences ranged from pop to Rembrandt through empire-line imperialism, described the concept as "Andy Warhol is Napoleon in rags". Meanwhile, Giorgio Armani's very first couture collection (typically more classic) was inspired by the fin-de-siecle portraitist Giovanni Boldini. It's official--historicism is the new vintage.

Allusion to art in fashion is not new. In the 1930s, the Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga popularised off-the-shoulder jackets with wide lapels, directly quoting the 17th-century court dress in portraits by Diego Velazquez. Balenciaga looked to the same artist for the formal elements of corseting, which provided an overture to the predominant silhouette of the 1950s. The taste for knickerbockers and bows in the Fifties was partly due to a renewed interest in the work of the 18th-century British painter Thomas Gainsborough, whose portraits of women in turn illustrate a peculiar episode of aristocratic sartorial historicism: dressing up in costumes that recalled Anthony Van Dyck's portraits of the Stuart court a century earlier. In fashioning themselves in the style of a past age, Gainsborough's sitters were following an 18th-century trend of conscious nationalism.

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The bastion of historicism in fashion today is Vivienne Westwood. …

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