By Rachelle Younglai
Less than a week after planes smashes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, runway models had American symbols all over their bodies, faces were painted red white and blue and out on the streets people draped themselves in flags. Fashion was used everywhere to demonstrate solidarity against terrorism.
To many, fashion is a reflection of society with designers simply responding to social and political climates of the times.
“Fashion is one of the first indications of social change,” says Sue Barnwell, a Ryerson professor who specializes in the history of fashion costume and design.
She says the 1970s British punk movement was another revolutionary time for fashion. The country was facing high inflation and mass unemployment, and people reacted to economic ills by tearing up their suits.
“The punk movement made us rethink what fashion was about,” says Barnwell. “It made us rethink established status symbols.”
But although revolution, by definition, is any fundamental change or reversal of conditions, most fashion pundits take a revolution in fashion to mean creating new pieces of clothing. And like every other art form, it seems we’ve reached a point when almost everything has been done.
Throughout Toronto, piercings, tattoos and multicoloured hair are commonplace. Fashion has appropriated every imaginable culture, with saris, kimonos, and chun sams not only popular but available in mainstream shops like Le Chateau and The Gap.
So at the beginning of the 21st century, can there be new directions in fashion? Is it still possible to revolutionize style?
“It will always happen that people will design things that have been done before,” said Joyce Lo, a recent graduate of Ryerson’s school of fashion. Lo and her partner – run their own line, Wolves.
Lo says that even though fashion will continue to rely on the old in the creation of the new, there will always be some aspect that makes it different.
Susan Langdon, executive director of Toronto’s Fashion Incubator, believes designers can still create revolutionary designs.
“We are only limited by our imagination – designers have proven their cleverness,” she says.
Ryerson fashion professor Peter Duck says new technologies and fabrics play a part in the creative potential of design.
“If you said five years ago a man would wear a stretchy suit to work, people would say no, and now designers such as Harry Rosen carry suits with lycra in them,” says Duck.
The fact that even Bay Street business-men are loosening their ties, indicates that people are yearning for something different, something that sets them apart from the crowd.
The desire for individuality – a hard thing to achieve in a time where retail stores are ripping off street style at the speed of light – brings them to stores like The Underground at the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets. Here vintage clothing is reworked to create original pieces. Store design Karen Dagg, a graduate of Ryerson’s school of fashion works amid heaps of colourful sweaters, wooly scarves and blankets.
The smell of must lingers in the air and a constant cloud of dust from the vintage clothes has Dagg sneezing and sniffling. But it doesn’t bother her because she feels lucky to have full artistic license over her creations. She was unsatisfied at her previous job as a design assistant for a company where her work consisted of copying other people’s styles.
“It was so boring,” Dagg says, but admits that staying fresh in the industry can be tricky.
“There’s a fine line between selling something and selling out.”
And for designers and consumers who crave originality, walking that line requires a constant experimentation with anything that will challenge the status quo. Even if it means tearing up their new stretchy Harry Rosen suits.