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“Nothing is ever really new in fashion… As you go back in time you would gradually find the predecessors of every ‘New’ Look.”
Seventy years ago an estimated 160,000-allied troops crossed the English Channel in an initial D-Day assault on 6th June 1944 from Portsmouth, the preeminent departure point for troops bound for Sword Beach. An attack of which not only paved the way for the defeat of Nazi Germany, but evoked the loss of approximately 2,500 allied troops in the ensue of battle. As the anniversary of the D-Day landings are being commemorated by hundreds of last surviving veterans on both sides of the English channel this weekend, we wanted to take a look at the cumbersome affect of a nation devastated by chaos and mass destruction spanning over a grueling six years of war on the fashion industry.
In an era of desolation and ruin, communities grew to connect in abutment, the populace developing economical measures and thus demonstrating the upmost creativity and ingenuity as a result of the worldwide rationing of textiles imposed in 1940 thus forcing women to dress in a practical and versatile manner, using up as little material as possible and those of synthetic nature, like viscose and nylon. In Britain coupons were introduced where people could exchange clothes for food, with the Board of Trade controlling suppliers and fronting the campaign “Make do and Mend,” encouraging society to recycle clothes and produce makeshift clothing until 1943. Coinciding with this, the utility scheme was introduced, providing minimum quality clothing for a highly unreasonable price. Inspired by the term “old dress, new hat,” women began to make hats from newsprint as well as turbans in 1942, made from veiling, ribbons and other less-restricted materials resulting in the decrease in hat sales. A different story in Paris, women were infuriated by rationing, taking revenge by wearing the most enormous hats, piled with bizarre decoration! People made whatever use they could of materials they could maintain, consequently inventing the “peasant” skirt, a patchwork skirt made from an array of useful materials in terms of fabric and ribbon that was to be sewn together in patchwork squares. A trend featured heavily on the Autumn Winter 2014/15 catwalks by the likes of Phillip Lim, who cartoon brights and whimsical inspiration as opposed to his harsher, streetwise influences. Parisian couturiers presented lines with suggestive titles like ‘False Alarm’ and ‘Attack,’ featuring military jackets and gas masks in the bag while Pierre Balmain presented evening gowns named ‘Occupation’ and ‘Underground,’ – a trend cropping up on the European catwalks this Fall with Fendi’s swish/grandeur combination of heavy duty, stiff wool parkas and army jackets and bomber jacket rendered dresses coinciding with Versace’s upright tailored jackets featuring fringed epaulettes and ceremonial buttons.
Our absolute favourite look of Autumn Winter 2014/15 is that of Zadig & Voltaire, with creative director Cecilia Bönström describing the collection as a “A military winter with a bohemian feel,” encompassing androgynous masculine and feminine clashes of lace, sequins and utilitarian jackets.
Whilst the likes of Lucien Lelong was petitioning against the abolishment of the industry all together in Paris during the Occupation, in Britain, British Vogue was still regularly inundated, though focusing on informing women how to get the “modern makeshift” look as opposed to the next buy, with photographers like Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) making the most out of war scenes in a light humoured, rebellious manner as a source of entertainment, as well as inspiration and respect for the men of Britain at war – as well as Lee Miller, a fashion photographer who focused on women after the war. Amongst a time of desperation and despair, women were still constantly under pressure to look their best at all times in case their husbands were to return from the battle fields, though still undertaking war work which was often incredibly strenuous and dangerous. The Hollywood ‘Golden Age’ stars were therefore tremendously influential, those of which all women aspired to be – Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow and Jean Crawford to name but a few, were actresses turned models for women everywhere, who, before Vogue, drew all fashion inspiration from the Silver screen. Americans were buying haute couture from Paris, replicating and making tons of copies, leading the world into mass production and clothing in standardised sizes, introducing us to the world of ready-to-wear and as Paris lost its position as the epicentre of fashion towards the end of World War II, London and New York designers began to establish opportunities, with American Designers starting to gain confidence therefore putting their name on their designs.
In 1947, one of the most revolutionary lines in fashion history, the ‘Corelle’ line (named from a vision of huge skirts spreading like ‘petal cups’ from fitted bodices) was presented, revealing an entirely new image for women after the war, constituting of full blown hips, neat shoulders and slim waists and contradictory exceeding a vast amount of material and freeing the imagination from years of rationing. Christian Dior was greatly disturbed at the new fashions women sported throughout the war, stating that “everything about their attire spelt misery, suffering and sham – clunky shoes with cork wedge-heels, a fake stocking seam drawn skilfully onto the leg, short skirts with a split, and on top of it all a harsh square-cut jacket.” He wanted to abolish the profound effect the war had on women, emphasising the beautiful femininity and elegance that had surrounding the female population pre-war. Hemlines were dramatically dropped nine inches, made from contrasting, flimsy wartime materials in velvet, taffeta and satin and using hip padding and boned, bustier-style bodices, creating the ‘hourglass’ silhouette with the neat, sloped shoulders featuring in the first collection of Dior’s former colleague, Balmain in 1945. After achieving worldwide population in a very short period of time, this line was deemed the ‘New Look.’ However, such lavish and elegant style did not go opposed, on a visit to the states in 1947, Christian Dior came up against expressive play cards when arriving in Chicago, stating “Christian Dior, go home!” of which he joked “it was as if we had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.” On another occasion, a Dior model was attacked by housewives on the Rue Lepic in Paris. Not phased, Dior’s luxurious and elegant sculpture structures went on to influence countless designers and has since secured the continuation of Maison Dior. Combining Christian Dior’s classic ‘New Look’ and Cristobel Balenciaga’s 1950s ‘Sack,’ such monumental silhouettes have found themselves in the full front of fashion over past seasons, with Proenza Schouler paying homage with preppy crepe jackets and metallic midi’s for Spring Summer 2014.