''The Old World''


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Posted by HSG on May 23, 2005 at 22:16:50:


We have all watched the fashion industry experience an unprecedented surge of creativity in recent seasons. Fashion is drawing on pre-modern styles in a hundred different ways--from peasant to gypsy to vintage designs--and transforming those sources of inspiration into new and original creations.

Fashion is currently experiencing something very much akin to a Renaissance, and surely this art form has never before found such a successful way to reconcile public desires with artistic innovation.

We discussed one of the these developments in a recent essay titled "Step back in time," which noted the introduction of vintage-inspired apparel at Torrid.

But this trend is more than a mere diversion, and is part of a broader cultural movement.

Take note, for example, of two promotions that appeared just last week--one at Catherines.com:

and the other at Kiyonna.com:

Consider the text:

"Old World elegance."

"Old World charm."

When was the last time anyone made favourable references to the "Old World," in popular culture? When was the last time that mass-marketers realized that invoking the qualities of the "Old World" would help them connect with the public?

For decades, popular culture has been obsessed with the "new." "Out with the old, in with the new," was the common wisdom. Artists dismantled, defiled, and deconstructed the past, and focussed narrowly on the present.

But you can only "shock" the public so many times before it becomes numb. You can only be avant-garde for so long, before the avant-garde becomes the rear guard. Even the freakish loses its novelty after a while. Even ugliness becomes boring. Alternative becomes mainstream, which in turns becomes dogma. And sooner or later, one has shattered so many values, and destroyed so much tradition, that there is nothing left to shatter, and nothing left to destroy.

And then what?

Then--we have the aesthetic restoration.

Then, paradoxically, the "old" becomes the "new," because artisans realize that the "old" is the one avenue left that has not been explored, in living memory--the one vein that has not been mined.

And as they tap it, they discover that this vein is rich with ore.

* * *

We should be clear about what this phrase actually means. The "Old World" is not a physical place, such as contemporary Europe. Nor is it a present-day culture, anywhere on this plant.

Rather, the "Old World" is an ideal, a world-view, a state of mind. The phrase actually refers to what the Old World was, before the last war blew it to bits, and obliterated much of its heritage--both through physical devastation, and through wilful cultural eradication (which is a tragedy that took place on both sides of the Iron Curtain).

It is the "Old World" that the throngs of immigrants who came to North America after the last war carried with them, preserved in the museum of their hearts, and passed on, intact and undamaged, to their children.

And the qualities that this Romantic ideal of the "Old World" bespeaks are artistic qualities--beauty, harmony, poetry, elegance, craftsmanship, and a complimentary relationship between the feminine and the masculine, between the Beautiful and the Sublime.

Is it really any wonder that today, after a century during which the "Old World" and its attendant qualities were all-but-eradicated from the common memory of humanity, and a world of soulless, utilitarian modernism was imposed in its place--after the cultural famine of such a barren age, is it any wonder that, today, our society is hungry to rediscover those ambrosial "Old World" ideals, and that today's artisans are attempting to revive them?

* * *

The only unfortunate aspect about the "Old World" influence on fashion is that we have not yet seen many examples of it in the plus-size industry.

And this is scarcely comprehensible, because plus-size beauty, after all, is Old World beauty--it is a timeless ideal, one that is fresh, alive, and current.

Therefore, the pairing of Old World femininity with the full-figured aesthetic is a natural fit.

But here are two shining examples of "Old World" design photographed on a curvaceous model--and they are editorial images, no less.

This editorial appeared in a recent issue of Teen People magazine, as part of the media blitz surrounding the forthcoming film Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, starring plus-size actress American Ferrera (whom you will all remember from her role in Real Women Have Curves).

When you think of an entity such as Teen People, the last image that comes to mind is probably an image such as this:

But this is the kind of originality to which Old World principles have given rise.

Ms. Ferrera here wears a gorgeous top and skirt, and the harmony between these very feminine pieces, and Ms. Ferrera's own unmodern beauty, and even the elegant setting, make it seem as if it she had stepped right out of an Eugen de Blaas painting.

But if that image was attractive, then this one is an absolute masterpiece:

This is a perfect example of the vintage-inspired aspects of the "New Femininity." The top is beautifully fitted, and the hint of decolletage, as well as those demure but daring sheer panels, make this an incredibly exciting item, a perfect blend of "tradition + sexiness," while the intricate lace design gives it a dash of elegance. The result is a perfect fit for plus-size beauty.

But we would be remiss not to single out a touch of brilliance on the part of the stylist of this editorial--those fascinating white gloves. This is the kind of detail that takes a beautiful commercial image and turns it into an editorial artwork. Perhaps one might not wear gloves such as these in public (although they would make the wearer . . . irresistible), but they do put the top, and the image, into a context. For Catholics especially, those gloves immediately conjure up images of the venerable rites of their faith--Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony--when girls wear gloves just such as these. The result is an image that is rich with cultural and artistic assocations.

* * *

Is it ironic that fashion, the trendiest of art forms, should be ahead of the rest in finding inspiration in the past? Not at all. In fact, if fashion is--as it likes to consider itself--at the very forefront of cultural development, then soon, its sister art forms will likewise discover the inexhaustible source of originality that is available to them in a communion with the ideals of . . . the Old World.

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