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Caught in a Trap? 

Can fashion shake its retro fix? Should it? 17 L.A. designers on what’s next.

Thursday, Mar 17 2005
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Illustration by Kelly TunstallI always imagined I’d be wearing some sort of Barbarella-with-a-twist-of-Jetsons ensemble in the year 2005. Perhaps that’s what comes of growing up a child of the Jet Age. But rather than the bright and shiny fashion future I expected, it’s the past that defines the present, on the runway and off. Talk about back to the future: You can relive nearly every decade of the last century just strolling down the street, which is pretty much where fashion’s been since the late ’80s. Of course, all artists look to history for inspiration, but must we live through yet another revival of Flashdance-goes-punk? In a culture where we’ve blown up narrative, deconstructed form and recontextualized content, there’s no sense of where to go next. Is there anything left to do with a piece of cloth that hasn’t been done before? With the start of L.A. Fashion Week Fall 2005, I asked some of Los Angeles’ most visionary designers: Is fashion stuck in a retro rut? Louis Verdad “We’re not stuck in the past. The reinterpretation of the past is what makes for new things.” Corinne Grassini, Society for Rational Dress “People like retro because they like familiarity. A designer’s job is to convince the consumer that their product is worth taking themselves outside of what they are accustomed to. People need to start defining themselves by the present and the future rather than the past.” Sarah Aaronson, Edith Palm “I am not so sure the rut that fashion is stuck in is ‘retro,’ but a problem stemming from American consumerism. This leads to the mass production of garments, resulting in trend-driven, under-designed, cheaply made clothing. The more procurable problem is the consumer’s lack of individuality. People have grown accustomed to the instant gratification of the American lifestyle, to quantity as opposed to quality, and to the fact that clothes just aren’t made like they once were. The problem seems to be a forgotten art rather than a retrospective art. Perhaps the real question should be: What happened to the love of textiles, of hand-printed fabric, of hand-molded buttons, or even more importantly, how does one inspire the complacent?” Grant Krajecki, Grey Ant “Going forward just means re-creating the past more cleverly. Personally, I like to redo things the way I think they should have been done the first time.” Michelle Mason “There has not been any revolutionary work to come out of a fashion house in decades. Where is our Rei Kawakubo or Martin Margiela of the millennium? Excitement in fashion now has come not directly from, but via reinterpretations of, retro by way of design, and more importantly, direct translations by the wearer. This enables the retro look to become modernized and used freely as a tool for designers and wearers alike. Fashion today is like a kaleidoscopic retrospective of the past century — of finding and blending just the right elements of the past with the present, and all the eras in between.” Diane Moss Martin and Eric Martin, MartinMartin “In fashion it is important to face the past in order to have an historical perspective, but it is always essential to look toward the future. Fashion with too many historical references becomes a monument to the past. Breaking away from a fossilized conception of what clothes were and to rethink what is truly glamorous in the modern sense — this is the future.” Monah Li “Everybody certainly does retro. But stuck? No. Because there isn’t anything with armholes, two sleeves, two legs and a neck that hasn’t been done. Retro itself doesn’t bother me. But about two years ago, when retro meant 1950s, I hated it. It looked like another sign that women should just go back into the kitchen and remember their motherly and housewifely duties. As long as I like the period we are stealing from, it’s beautiful and inspiring. Like right now — the luxe hippie and boho-style is what I grew up with and I have loved it every time it’s come around again.” Eduardo Lucero “I hope the future of fashion is not retro. You can’t keep going backward. We are now digesting things so super-quickly. You can get practically every decade of the past century between two seasons. Nothing has a chance to settle before it gets mined again. I think you make references, but not literal reinterpretations. Fashion has to be about going forward.” Bao Tranchi “Retro fashion is mental and creative stagnation — on the part of the designer and the customer. It is an absolute disservice to our industry. Designers need to stop relying on the earlier success of someone else’s creative ingenuity and re-check the dictionary for the definition of design. Be inspired by the glorious pages of history, but please marry it with something else, create a new identity, morph it into an unplaceable spot in time and space. Ultimately, the customer will slowly get a fashion lobotomy and demand retro like a comfortable old shoe. We, as designers, need to ensure the future of fashion by pushing ourselves beyond our own artistic frontiers. Be innovative, ingenious and inspiring to other industries.” Waraire Boswell “Fashion is being pushed forward every second — at this point the spotlight is where it needs to be until (fortunately or unfortunately, yet true) a celebrity connects with the next designer on the cusp and ushers in the next new phase of It Fashion.” Carlos Rosario “I don’t think that fashion is stuck in any kind of retro rut. Fashion designers are pushing the envelope in every single direction. It just feels like nothing is changing because of the huge diversity of fashion in this new century. Fashion used to be designed for a society, and each designer would follow some common directions. Now it follows the evolution of our minds. Fashion now is not really created by designers — designers are catalysts giving people options to express themselves. It’s up to them to play with clothes and accessories — to find the right combination that fits them and then create their own fashion. Fashion nowadays has a much more spiritual approach that envelops the soul and not just the skin.” Juan Carlos Obando “Fashion, among other artistic disciplines, is the search for authenticity, for the value that makes your craft unique — learning about vintage craftsmanship is a must-do process. Applying that knowledge to design garments for today’s culture is what will set you apart at the end of the day.” Rami Kashou “I think that fashion does at times get stuck in a box and does not move beyond a certain idea for a couple of seasons. Some of it has to do with an economy that isn’t improving as rapidly as we would like, which causes some designers and retail buyers to play it safe and focus on necessity rather than art/creative risk, which is at times a reflection of shoppers and their needs these days. I think the way to change is through creating a balance between marketing and catering to the target customer without excluding the importance of artistic vision — by looking outside of our surroundings for inspiration for a change and taking some risk for criticism, which serves in the evolution of fashion.” Nony Totcherman, Petro Zillia “In art, fashion and life we are constantly pulling from moments of our past lives. Our historical experiences are moments of grand celebration or disappointment, which are then used as vital reference points in our current artistic exploration. In cut, color, design, canvas, architecture, etc., we are blessed with beautiful references that merge with our creative flow — each artistic idea or thought is completely saturated with an abundance of many moments, memories and experiences that make us the artists and humans that we are today.” Marlene Salcido, Prospect 44 “It is important to extract from the past, but definitely in moderation. An eye to the future is crucial to push boundaries and create fashion/art that’s forward.” Marina Toybina and Ashton Hirota, Glaza “To move fashion forward and release the term ‘retro’ out of an everyday lifestyle, one must realize that what’s traditional and repetitive has never been a successful way to push any type of artist toward new standards. If it seems to be that we’re stuck in a retro rut, then obviously a proper delivery for a change has been overlooked or not yet presented. The world changes with every second and personal apparel is always the first in line — so until people start evolving, fashion unfortunately will be put on standby.” Corey Lynn Calter “For me, fashion is not just about my creativity as a designer, it is also about the person who buys and wears my clothes. To that extent, I agree that there are retro tendencies in fashion, but that has equally as much to do with the commercial viability of those ideas, in that people can recognize retro-inspired work and that invoked nostalgia perhaps makes them feel more comfortable with wearing the clothes. I think people are inherently scared of fashion-forward designs and maybe the way to push our business is some combination of using familiar references to make people feel comfortable enough to buy and wear the clothes while creating work innovative enough to be able to be considered original and unique.”

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