Global Fashion That Changed the World

4789_mode_eine_kurze_geschichte_engl_umschlag_final_RLBy Jennifer Croll

 

[Editor’s note: With permission from Prestel Publishing, the following passage is excerpted from Fashion That Changed the World, a new book about just that.]

 

Fashion Week Internationale, a VICE web series hosted by a fearless ex-model turned journalist named Charlet Duboc, takes viewers backstage for fashion weeks in far-flung, sometimes dangerous locales: Islamabad, Tel Aviv, Medellin, and Lagos are just a few. Gritty and revealing, the show offers a glimpse of the passion felt by people around the globe for expressing themselves through style. And it’s true: there’s more to fashion than just what’s on offer from Western designers—though most international fashion has yet to break through on a global scale.

 

When it comes to non-Western fashion, Japan is in a category by itself. Daring and avant-garde, its influence on worldwide style over the last few decades has been immense. It all began when Japan was first exposed to Western fashion during the radical modernization of the Meiji period, which lasted from 1868 to 1912 and triggered Japan’s own industrial revolution. By the end of the Meiji period, the Japanese wore Western fashions as a symbol of their new modernity and economic prosperity, while expanding trade inspired the West’s interest in Japanese aesthetics (a trend called Japonisme). Japan faced further exposure to Western styles in the aftermath of World War II, when America had a heavy hand in the country’s postwar administration.

 

 Tokyo has an international reputation for its wild street styles, including Lolita fashion.

Tokyo has an international reputation for its wild street styles, including Lolita fashion.

 

In postwar Japan, youth culture (see “Fashion Sub- cultures”) and ready-to-wear clothing thrived, and Japanese street style began to appear. This environment proved the perfect breeding ground for the new wave of Japanese fashion designers. First among these was Kenzo Takada. Takada moved to Paris in 1964 to establish himself in the world of fashion—which was to be the path of most Japanese designers in his wake, due to the lack of fashion infrastructure within the country (see “Fashion Capitals”).
 
Kenzo founded the House of Kenzo in 1970, and his first store, Jungle Jap, made waves with its colorful, original designs. Other successful designers followed during the seventies, notably Issey Miyake, who later became known for his inventive pleating, and Hanae Mori, the first Asian woman inducted into the Fédération française de la couture.
 
While the Japanese fashion of the seventies made remarkable headway in the Paris fashion scene, what came in the eighties was truly revolutionary. Two designers in particular were the genesis of what was to be a radical shift in aesthetics: Rei Kawakubo, with her line Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto. Both showed in Paris in 1981, shocking and provoking the fashion world with their blatant disregard for anything fitted or pretty in pursuit of something altogether more artistic.

 

Both designers steeped their work in shades of black and used uneven, torn, deconstructed shapes that many deemed apocalyptic. Yamamoto’s and Kawakubo’s influence can be seen in some of the fashions of the grunge era, as well as in the work of the avant-garde Belgian designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, and Martin Margiela. Both Kawakubo and Yamamoto continue to reliably produce edgy, sometimes shocking fashions, while newer design- ers like Junya Watanabe (Kawakubo’s protégé) experiment in other ways; Watanabe is a virtuoso with technical fabrics.

 

 Tokyo has an international reputation for its wild street styles, including Lolita fashion.

Tokyo has an international reputation for its wild street styles, including Lolita fashion.

 

At the same time as Japanese couture was taking over the West, Tokyo’s street style was coming into full bloom. Starting in 1977 and ending in 1998, the area around Tokyo’s Harajuku Station was pedestrianized, the perfect place for youths to hang out and flaunt inventive fashions.
 
By the nineties, Tokyo had an international reputation for its wild street styles, and there were several different sartorial subsets, including (but far from limited to) manga-influenced styles, cosplay (costume play), and the gothic Lolita, which featured little-girl cute outfits in funereal black. The worship of kawaii, or cuteness, is an enduring feature of Japanese street style. Some Japanese designers have translated Harajuku street fashion into higher-end style, most notably Jun Takahashi with his label Undercover, while Nigo’s coveted line A Bathing Ape concentrates on more casual streetwear.

 

Fashion is typically fueled by a growing economy— the birth of the Western and Japanese fashion industries were both the result of the Industrial Revolution (see “Couture”). Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of promise in the nascent fashion industries of today’s emerging economies, which are encapsulated by the convenient acronym BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (though African fashion is by no means limited to the continent’s southernmost point).

 

Manish Arora became known as ‘the John Galliano of India’ for his wild fashions

Tokyo has an international reputation for its wild street styles, including Lolita fashion.

 

Brazil evokes nothing more strongly than frolicking on a beach with a caipirinha, and the country has long been associated with swimwear and beach apparel; perhaps its best-known brand is Havaianas, colorful flip-flops that first became popular in 1962. But as the country has grown more prosperous, it has yearned to brush off a bit of the sand. As international luxury brands have proliferated in the shopping districts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the country has tried to escape its reputation for simple, sunny attire: Gloria Coelho and Alexandre Herchcovitch are good examples of Brazil’s growingly sophisticated edge.

 

While Brazil bucks tradition, India, for the most part, embraces it. Designer saris are big business, and the ever-growing fashion industry is heavily influenced by the glitz and glamour of Bollywood: big-name designer Manish Malhotra caters largely to the Bollywood crowd, and his looks are decadent and steeped in Indian history. One designer to break through into the global market is Manish Arora, who has been nicknamed the “John Galliano of India”

 

Manish Arora became known as ‘the John Galliano of India’ for his wild fashions

Manish Arora became known as ‘the John Galliano of India’ for his wild fashions

 

for his colorful, over-the-top designs that integrate traditional Indian beading and embroidery. Arora’s international acclaim led to a brief role as creative director for Paco Rabanne between 2011 and 2012. Despite its recent hunger for designer goods, China’s homegrown fashion scene is still growing slowly. China was, of course, for many years the hub of world clothing manufacture (Bangladesh is poised, these days, to take its place; see “Fashion Ethics”)— but despite the in-depth knowledge of how to cut and sew complex fashions, most design has always been done in other countries. In the last few years, however, some promising designers have started to emerge, like Qiu Hao, who won the prestigious Woolmark Prize in 2008.

 

Russia’s domestic design scene remains small, but its influence on global fashion trends has spiked sharply in recent years as the country’s rich have become dramatically wealthier. Russia’s moneyed fashion lovers have started buying up couture in jaw-dropping quantities, and savvy designers have begun to pander to their tastes.
 
Some of these rich Russians have become style stars in their own right, such as Ulyana Sergeenko—a much-photographed Russian billionaire’s wife who recently started her own eponymous couture label, which debuted in Paris in 2012. Africa’s influence extends far beyond South Africa; the continent has long been a source of inspiration to many designers, though the influence of African- born designers isn’t as acknowledged. And yet, two Northern African designers are verified fashion royalty: Yves Saint Laurent (born in Algeria) and Azzedine Alaïa (born in Tunisia).
 
The two some- times display evidence of their birth in their designs, such as YSL’s African collection of 1967 and Safari jacket of 1968, and Alaïa’s African-inspired sandals of 2010. But as Africa becomes more prosperous, it is beginning to move beyond the influence of these two heavyweights. One of the first of the new African designers was Malian Lamine Badian Kouyaté, whose line Xuly Bët shook things up with its colorful punk/African fashions in the nineties and was rewarded with an ANDAM Award in 1996.
 
A more recent example is Nigerian Amaka Osakwe, whose line, Maki Oh, uses hand-dyed African textiles to create refined, feminine dresses and skirts that have been seen on people like Solange Knowles and Michelle Obama. Designers like Osakwe have piqued significant interest in the continent’s fashion industry, spurring events like Africa Fashion Week, which has taken place in London since 2011, and fashion magazine Arise, which documents African fashion.

 

Congolese sapeurs invest shocking quantities of money into tailored suits from well-known Parisian designers.

Congolese sapeurs invest shocking quantities of money into tailored suits from well-known Parisian designers.

 

An interesting sidebar on the burgeoning African design scene is the ongoing subculture of the Congolese sapeurs, the dandies of Africa. The existence of sapeurs (whose name comes from the acronym SAPE: La Société des ambianceurs et des personnes élégantes) can be traced to France’s colonial influence in the early twentieth century, when residents of the Congo were exposed to Parisian fashion. Mostly working-class residents of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, sapeurs invest shocking quantities of money into tailored suits from well-known Parisian designers, often in bright colors, pairing them with smartly coordinated hats, ties, and pocket squares: this peacocking elevates their lives above the squalor and poverty of their homeland. Their styles have become so known worldwide that the sapeurs no longer simply take inspiration from couture, but rather inspire it: mostly notably, Paul Smith’s 2010 women’s collection mimicked the looks worn by many of the sapeurs documented in the book Gentlemen of Bacongo by photographer Daniele Tamagni.
 
There are many more countries that would love to show off their designs on the world stage, as revealed by the growing number of international fashion weeks (Fashion Week Internationale just captures a handful of these). A quick Google search reveals long lists of fashion weeks happening every month of the year in places as diverse as Dar Es Salaam, Kiev, Fiji, and Goa. Whether they’re recognized abroad or just domestically, these fashion weeks are evidence that even in a world dominated by Western fashion, people want to flaunt their own style, whatever its roots may be.

 

Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary “Le Smoking,” 1967. / Photo:© Reg Lancaster / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary “Le Smoking,” 1967. / Photo:© Reg Lancaster / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

 

Jennifer Croll has written for a bunch of great publications like Nylon, Adbusters and Dazed & Confused, and she also appears in the book Women in Clothes. She lives in Vancouver and also in her head.