I’m sure there’s lots of us that on any given day don’t give much thought to the mechanics involved in the world around us. By this I mean the way things work - how they’re made, built or fabricated. We take for granted that the tall building where our dentist’s office is made to bear the weight of all the floors, or perhaps our favorite pair of sneakers and the way they cradle our feet perfectly. Someone indeed designs everything that we see, touch, or purchase. From architects to aviation engineers, these people have a single-minded passion, to make things better, stronger, and in some cases, more beautiful than they were before. In recent years, I have attended numerous retrospectives of fashion designers, wherein we the public are allowed into their process to help us understand just why their ideas were the cream of the crop. Famous names like Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Alexander McQueen have been celebrated for their contributions to fashion and the influence it still holds for us on what we choose to wear. Learning about fashion design and in particular the people behind the designs is a great way to increase your knowledge of style and put it to work in your own life. Recently, I went to New York City to view the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Who was Charles James? Why are his designs held up as pieces of art? Those were the questions I asked myself as I entered the museum on 5th Avenue at 84th street on a gorgeous sunny afternoon a few weeks ago.
Charles James was a British born fashion designer who was considered a master of cutting, (creating the pieces that when sewn together create the garment) with a focus on highly-structured gowns and evening wear. He was known by the wealthy socialites he dressed and made acquaintance with as “America’s First Couturier.”
A couturier is a person who makes original garments to order for private clients. He was primarily self-taught by trial and error as a young man, but had a keen interest in the way things are put together. When I gazed upon the first part of the exhibition, I immediately drew the parallel to architecture, in that the dresses were displayed without mannequins and seemed to stand up on their own! Numerous quotes attributed to him were sprinkled throughout the Anna Wintour Costume Center, and the Main Gallery on the first floor of the museum. They gave insight into his strength of conviction, and need to create perfection in his designs.
“Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in a language. A good design should be like a well-made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time.”
“Fashion, after all, is magic and miracle…intended to bestow proportion and beauty where both have been lost or faded with the years.”
“I don’t think you can ‘feel’ fashion without being exposed to imaginative and fashionable people.”
You don’t have to take a journey to New York to get a feel for fashion, but having a frame of reference for those ideas that have trickled down to us in one way or another is as easy as going to your local library, or just doing an internet search.
Shopping and supporting our Goodwill Store & Donation Centers is all about ideas: how to utilize what we may have, and how to make it work for you and your style. In the end the more you know, the more you’ll be able to make smart fashion decisions all the while supporting our mission to help those less fortunate with our job training programs.