Chanel, Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Prada, and others, why the fascination with these designers?
Is it just about wearing the "name"?
It is only about "showing off" and letting people know that you can afford it?
Are these brands about representing a particular lifestyle?
Why do so many people go mad for designer fashion?
Having been a person who almost NEVER purchased designer clothing or accessories and pretty much swore them off saying that people who wore such items were desperate for attention, I have changed my tune now that I took the time to immerse myself in some history of these mega-brands.
I have always been a lady who could look like I spent a fortune on clothes, all the while having a poor man's budget, so I never considered buying designer clothing in the past.
Even when I made some money I would buy middle of the road, and quality fabrics, but never designer items. I learned at a young age that styling was everything and looking chic had little to do with a huge budget.
During the last six months I spent numerous hours learning about the beginnings of some crucial designers the world has embraced and still reveres. Between reading about them and talking to my neighbor who used to be in fashion design in L.A. years ago, my thoughts about fashion and designers has changed dramatically.
After researching Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel's early years, I couldn't help but relate to her Catholic roots and the fact that she lost contact with her father at a young age. I didn't grow up in a convent, but I did yearn to be a nun when I was young, so I thought she was fortunate to be able to grow up there, after she became an orphan. The convent gave her a strong work ethic; I have to assume her desire to create elegant and modest clothing was influenced by everything that she experienced in her life, including the nuns.
Coco had most meager beginnings; this combined with a strong will and tenacity built Chanel in the early years. She was a worker and she toiled diligently.
Coco's intense passion for all she did and her desire to make women "comfortable" in their clothes changed everything for women. She hated the tight corsets and when the war made it difficult to obtain quality fabrics, she used cheap jersey and made women softer clothes instead.
She designed clothing that women could put on themselves, because before that time, the rich women had maids to dress them. Sure, Coco's soft, loose-waisted designs were laughed at in the beginning, but most great ideas are mocked at first. I think it has to do with people and their fear of the new and unknown.
Imagine if Chanel had not changed clothing for us back then. We might still be wearing corsets and considering removing ribs to look even thinner in the waist. Today, plastic surgery is like the modern day corset.
In the Coco Chanel movie with Shirley MacLaine, there is a story of a time when people walked out and rejected her collection. They made fun of her and called her collection "granny". She insisted on doing another one, and went against all odds. By that time she was forced to sell the business and her financiers wanted her to retire and step down. She refused and insisted on showing another collection.
At the end of the movie she shows that collection and when I saw it, tears began to stream down my face. I was swarming in emotion, both from knowing how hard she had to fight to get to where she was, relating to that completely, and then seeing the actual clothing that was so incredibly gorgeous. I couldn't help but cry.
The clothes were just so elegant, beautiful and modest. I sat there stunned. I also thought I must be mad because I was crying over clothes on a Paris runway (in a movie no less), post WWII. "What has happened to me?" was my only question.
There is a phrase, "Chanel is forever", and there is a reason for it. Time listed Coco Chanel as one of the most influential people of the century, in their top 100.
For me, after learning about Coco Chanel, I felt like I related to someone in the world in a most profound way. I really understood her because I lived through some things that she did too. When her ideas were being opposed, I knew what that felt like. I know what it means to have ideas and have them shot down immediately after exiting my mouth.
I guess I can say I fell in love with Coco Chanel after seeing that movie. One woman... ONE woman who made such a difference in how we dress ourselves. And the legacy continues.
Today in the luxury market, Chanel is moving quickly, both vintage and new. I found this out during the last few months as I opened myself up to purchasing pre-owned Chanel clothing and accessories on eBay, Etsy, Malleries, Far-Fetch and other small vintage web stores.
I was surprised that there were so many collectors out there buying designer pre-owned clothing, shoes, jewelry and other accessories. I would find items and consider buying them, and then go back the next day and find the item had sold. The luxury market moves quickly and right now it is swift. That has been my experience after watching it closely at those sites for a few months.
I also fell in love with the story of Christian Dior, a shy man who as a young child, marveled as he watched the women in their dresses; he said he remembered hearing them swish when they walked by. He was an incredible artist and his utmost passion was designing beautiful and elegant clothes for women. An architect by trade, he understood construction and was able to create amazing fashion using those talents.
When Dior introduced "the new look" in Paris post WWII, it changed the face of fashion and revived Paris as the fashion capital of the world.
Yves St. Laurent was the sole designer in the house of Dior after Dior's sudden and tragic passing, just ten years after introducing the 'new look'. Dior had contacted Yves St. Laurent's mother and told her she wanted her son to be his successor. She was surprised he told her that because no one knew of anything being wrong with him at the time. Shortly after he told her about wanting Yves to be his successor, Dior died of a heart attack.
Brilliant is putting it mildly when I think of describing what Yves St. Laurent was able to create during his reign. Just spectacular, a true artist who was born to dress women.
Looking at fashion from a purely artistic point of view, and putting other controversies about the fashion world aside, I have to say that I spent the summer of 2012 being in awe of these three designers and it made me want to wear their clothing.
I wanted to wear Chanel, Dior and Yves St. Laurent. I began to search for vintage items made during the years, when they were alive.
Collections of clothing and accessories are being released during estate sales and many make their way to the online stores I mentioned above. After searching literally THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of listings for months, I finally located a Chanel necklace from 1970. That means this necklace was around when Coco was alive.
I pretend that Coco actually held it once, nodding and agreeing that it was spectacular, because it is a couture piece.
After discovering the largest vintage store in Italy, A.N.G.E.L.O.S. at Farfetch, I located a Christian Dior suit. It is from the 60's, so that is less than a decade after Dior passed. The suit is turquoise velvet and was designed by Yves St. Laurent.
I had to have the Dior suit when I saw it, and only because it was Christian Dior. If it was a velvet suit from Target, I wouldn't want it at all. I now need some depth and a little history behind those items that are clinging, draping, layering, and adorning my person.
My point is, I totally get it now.
After spending the last decade of my life searching for the spiritual side of things, and now being able to see the Creator in just about everything (and/or acknowledging that my short-sightedness prevents me from seeing this reality), I can honestly say that I see something deeply spiritual in the designs of these artists.
It is not just about materialism, even though it appears on the surface that designers and fashion are exclusively that.
Here are a few spiritual (and fun) insights I came up with:
I have often said that I don't follow trends. I dress in whatever I want and that is true. But I also had to admit that I'm most certainly affected by trends, and I buy into them too. If I buy anything new in the store, I am buying a trend.
I do buy new garments every season, even if just a few things, I will buy something. So I buy the trends even though I have incorrectly believed all these years that I don't follow trends.
I am affected by the colors of trends too. For example, we all know mustard is a hot color for Fall. I first saw mustard at Net-A-Porter and now I must have mustard. If I wear something mustard with something vintage, I am still following right along, all the while telling myself I am super unique and different by not following trends. :-)
I'm greatly affected by fashion trends and had to admit it.
The other day I took 10 minutes to watch the Fall runway collection from St. John and afterwards, I have to be honest, I wanted those new and beautiful clothes. For someone who claims to not follow trends, or who never cared to wear designer anything, I have to laugh at myself now.
The truth is, to keep any outfit fresh, there has to be something relevant from today to keep it there. Whether it be a new shoe, or jacket, color or even accessory, something from the here and now makes it appear new and connected, and in the moment.
It is impossible to look "dated" when crisp and current elements are added to an already existing outfit.
I'm afraid I have become a pre-owned designer snob this summer...
Weekly, I search high and low for pre-owned and vintage designer items I can purchase for the same price of new clothing manufactured in China.
Almost everything I have purchased in the last six months has been pre-owned.
My wardrobe is now so pre-owned that if you look up "pre-owned" in the dictionary, you will see my face pointing to my stuffed closet.
The hunt is truly fun for me. Most of the items have been worn only once, because I learned that rich people and celebrities are constantly shopping. They don't want to wear the same thing twice, so they sell their clothes through dealers on eBay. They want to remain anonymous, and many times the money won at auction is given to charity.
It is a win/win: I get great items at a ridiculous discount and the clothes don't end up in the landfill. This is as green as it gets.
It does take more time to shop this way...
Hunting for pre-owned clothing and accessories is not like going to a big department store and finding racks and racks of garments, but when you find something you like, and that is your size, you know you have scored. It is a great feeling to procure something designer and vintage, and it makes the garment or accessory even more special.
Something else you should know about designer items...
Designer clothing and accessories retain their value. They can be heirlooms and some brands are in great demand, decades later. The vintage market has gone mad recently, so I believe there will always be a desire for such items. With dressing getting more personal and individual, designer clothing, shoes and accessories are a good investment (in my opinion).
The history behind the designers is rich and contributes to the value of the brand.
I spent my summer being open minded to an industry that I did not previously understand and was basically intimidated by. Now I understand a 'tiny' bit about some history of the brands I mentioned. I enjoyed discovering what I did and look forward to procuring more vintage, designer treasures and learning about the history of other designer clothes too.
Ironically, I attended my first live runway fashion show (charity event) on August 19, 2012. My daughter was a model and the show was just around the corner, in a home. I took photos and as I stood snapping pictures of the women and seeing all their smiles, I thought for a moment that I had missed my calling in life.
That little fashion show was the most fun thing I had been to in such a long time. I was ear to ear in smiles, I absolutely loved it. I had to laugh at myself because I enjoyed it so much.
Last week I read that the anniversary of the death of Coco Chanel was August 19th. It has been written that a person's soul is near to us on the day they pass. I was wearing Chanel shoes that day, her infamous black toe-capped heels, so even though I didn't know it at the time, I had a piece of Coco with me when I was snapping photos on that runway.
A GIRL SHOULD BE TWO THINGS: CLASSY AND FABULOUS. - COCO CHANEL
ELEGANCE IS REFUSAL. - COCO CHANEL
FASHION FADES, ONLY STYLE REMAINS THE SAME. - COCO CHANEL
IN ORDER TO BE IRREPLACEABLE ONE MUST ALWAYS BE DIFFERENT. - COCO CHANEL
Thank you for joining me today.
See you next time as I continue to Style Higher™.