Wednesday, August 28, 2013

British Style Genius: Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look

Following on from my review of the film 'In Vogue: The Editor's Eye', this is a review by my dear friend and fellow freelance writer Ol Marin. 'British Style Genius: Breaking the Rules - Fashion Rebel Look' will also be screening at ACMI as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Click here for more details. 

Side note: Ol Marin and I are currently working on a new website, which will focus on fashion in film and our local Australian fashion industry. Its arrival is imminent, so watch this space!

Image VIA here.


“On and of the catwalk they made an art out of being outrageous and their style legacy was to give fashion rebels everywhere the courage to wear what they want.”

British Style Genius is a series of 60-minute documentaries produced by the BBC where each examines British style from varying perspectives. Anna Gravelle’s documentary Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look (2009) is the third episode in the series and perhaps the most provocative.

The term ‘punk’ is a perplexing one to explain, especially when its origins and representations are debatable between Londoners and New Yorkers of the mid – late 70’s. For some, the ‘punk look’ will signify something as simple as sporting studded belts and torn t-shirts – an assessment devoid of any cultural and artistic consideration. Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look pays due respect to the sub-culture of punk via the oeuvre of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen, treating it as something more than a fashion statement – an attitude, a form of expression and essentially, a way of life. 

Effectively what Gravelle does is take her audience on a journey through a particular timeframe of fashion. She begins with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s business venture from 1974 to 1976, a boutique called Sex, which was notorious for its bondage-inspired attire and shock value t-shirt prints. “We struck gold with fetish wear” states McClaren. The designs for Sex gradually migrated to the past for inspiration and 1950s pin up clothing – leopard print, torn skirts and Tarzan – would motivate the idea of distressed knitwear. As Westwood describes the dynamic behind her infamous pirate trousers, “It looks like you’ve shit your pants”, it becomes evident that her and McClaren’s main objective was to stir convention and rebel by means of a “confrontational street style”.

But the partnership between Westwood and McClaren would cease to flourish as punk style became mainstream. McClaren describes with great sorrow the day that Diana Spencer purchased a ‘balloon shirt’ from the store, signifying a certain seal of approval that did not sit well with McClaren – a man who never strived for general acceptance or admiration. It then became clear that the two designers had different creative visions, as Westwood began to move away from the punk style that her and McClaren revolutionised and concentrate more on creating a concrete label for her pieces. From this point onwards, Westwood would adopt specific features of 17th Century styles and re-structure them to suit modern standards of dissent through fashion. The corset is just one example of Westwood’s evolving projects, which has been re-created time and again by many designers globally, including John Galliano.

Galliano credits Saint Martins School of Art in London for his innovative and bold style, explaining how he was “encouraged to move into different departments” by his teachers who celebrated anarchy. Like Westwood, Galliano cashed in on the idea of fetishized garments, from “naughty French maid” to Geisha-inspired tailoring, thus giving birth to the bias cut slip dress – a silk number that would become a staple LBD-type item in every woman’s wardrobe throughout the 1990’s. These concepts were part of a collection he designed in 1994, when his company was in “dire financial straits” as Anna Wintour explains. Galliano and his assistant Amanda Harlech personally drove the clothing, and the headpieces designed by milliner Stephen Jones, to Paris Fashion Week. There, they were showcased in an abandoned mansion belonging to socialite São Schlumberger and modelled by famous supermodels of the time that agreed to work for free. Although Galliano opted for the cheapest material – black lining – and a minimal aesthetic, the collection was success, providing him with the necessary financial backing he needed. With its cabaret look à la Liza Minnelli, one could pinpoint Galliano’s ode to theatre – something that the “enfant terrible” Alexander McQueen often incorporated as a characteristic in his own shows.

One of the first images that appears in Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look is that of a model clad in a pure white dress splattered with an array of grotesque-coloured paints at a live show. This was Alexander McQueen – hard-edged, provocative and transgressive. He shot to notoriety through his AW 1995 collection, Highland Rape, which was negatively criticized at the time for its violent depictions. But McQueen, who states at the beginning of this documentary, “I suppose I’m a designer with a cause”, opted to portray a historic metaphor for the bloodshed between the Brits and the Scots on Highland territory. He further shocked audiences with his ‘bumster pants’, which as one critic noted, was scandalous at the time but as soon as Britney Spears wore a pair, every girl on the Tube had their thongs exposed.

If we explore closely the life and work of each of these designers, we will come to the realisation that they were not just fashion designers, but pioneers, inventors, visual architects, concept artists and most importantly, dreamers. With any luck, Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look, will abolish the ignorant opinion that many people have towards fashion on the catwalk. Bringing to light the fact that not all of the creations are made to be worn on the street. They are pieces of art deliberately exaggerated by artists to emphasize the concept behind each collection, to fight for a cause and make themselves heard.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...