To celebrate the Met Gala, which takes place on September 13 as the sun sets over Central Park, the great and the good, as well as the ultra-rich and ultra-famous, will make their way up the Met’s marble stairwell for the first time since the epidemic started in late 2009 and into early 2010.
One of the greatest successes of the French, according to Elizabeth Hawes, a cartoonist turned journalist turned designer who travelled to Paris in the 1920s as a “copyist” – a pattern maker hired to copy French models intended for sale in the American market – wrote in his classic treatise on memory, “La mode est épinard,” was to convince the world that their clothing design was the only true design of cloth. The procession of American designers, including Charles James and Main Rousseau Bocher (whose name evolved in some manner from the pronunciation “Main Bocker” to “Man-bo-shay”), headed to Paris in order to gain the approval of the French elite and, as a result, to prove their validity.
Miss McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, and Rudi Gernreich were among the first designers to turn their Americanness into a selling point, in part by providing an alternative to the extremely regimented and class-dependent traditions of French couture, which controlled the style from head to toe. They used zippers (zippers! ), patch pockets, ponchos, and denim and gingham to elevate ordinary materials such as denim and gingham and the white shirt to a higher level. To provide clothing that could be combined and matched depending on the wearer and the situation – clothes that could liberate people from the constraints of a single designer, the limits of costume, or the needs of changing multiple times a day was the goal, among other things. Mr. Gernreich even went so far as to remove the chest portion of his swimsuit.
It was at this point that the sportswear archetype was established, which is characterised by the concepts of “practicality,” “functionality,” and “utility,” all of which are associated with the romanticism of the pioneer and the self-made. Even in that case, though, it was an overly simple generalisation. For every McCardell, there was an Adrian, a character from Hollywood legend who drove about in a tiny truck stocked with the essentials.
Although sportswear remained the prevailing ideology, the Battle of Versailles saw Halston (who further liberated the body), Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Anne Klein emerge victorious over Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and the others. Those major companies set the path for the generation that followed — Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan – by emphasising simplicity, physicality, and a sense of national identity. A breath of fresh air blew through the stale corridors that Paris had taken up residence in the imaginations of customers.
This particular tale has fallen out of favour. However, while this attracted designers such as Michael Kors and Alexander Wang to Celine and Balenciaga, it was unable to keep them there because what was initially presented as a positive eventually became (at least in the mode) a code for “not so creative” or” not “so artistic” or even worse, “commercial.”