Romeo Gigli, 1985
It can be argued that global culture, emerging as communication and travel out pace our own comforts of community, is not the bold new paradigm it is made out to be. With the history of textiles as a record of trade and cultural dissemination and consequently fashion, there has always been a global culture. From the early sailing Phoenician civilization who exposed their Hellenic neighbors to flax fiber, to the Venetians who traded into a taste for Chinese silk and Oriental* decoration, to the couture designs of Paul Poiret — the first in Paris to appropriate in its entirety an Eastern vocabulary for dress, there has always been an exchange of ideas, aesthetics, and cultural symbols through the trade of one of the world’s earliest commodities.
In the 70’s there was a cause for ethnic investigation in fashion, taking a cue from the previous decade that sought answers in Eastern philosophy and practices, hippies they would be called, or just a failed effort to modernize western thought. The 80’s saw any global perspective subject to the trivializing of the traveling wealthy (notably the patronizing tones of YSL’s flair for the exotic, as if he ransacked a Shanghai gift shop for its souvenirs to make a flash of couture). And in the later part of the decade it became a full on mission as artists (Keith Herring and his African inspired art) and designers sought understanding in what was thought to be a simpler and more natural life. Each of these approaches to world culture coming and then inevitably going.
It’s difficult for ethnic styles to reveal their immense modernity within the Western fashion system without stirring clichés of these past expressions. Yet, recession speaking, necessity enables practical thinking and that makes a shorter road to modernity than exuberance. If designers this season looked back to ethnic styles — and the masters who understood their meaning — it is because they found in them genuine solutions for our changing lifestyles and not surface appreciation for the foreign and exotic, that is, only if a contemporary global culture is truly on the cusps.
The Spring 2010 collections from Missoni, Dries Van Noten, and Marni