FASHION: from Alpha Centauri to Zeta
by DAVID C. POND
“Mojave” — Afro Celt Sound System
Since the advent of the fig leaf — to Harlem‘s underground vogue clubs of the 1920s & 30s, fashion has done more than just cover bare flesh. The well-trafficked fashion houses of Rome, Paris, Tokyo and New York inspire art, culture and set the tone for the times.
Fashion is much more than what can be stepped into, out of or perched precariously on one’s head. Fashion originates from the mind of its designer and frames the living pages of humanity’s flesh and bone. In this aspect alone, the creative process is indeed “divine.” Fashion challenges and even redefines our personal realities and ideas. From the vantage point of the human psyche, the way we view the world and ourselves is subliminally influenced by how we choose to decorate our bodies.
Painting ANDRE NORMIL Original “Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden” — available at Worthpoint.com
The way we dress is thought by some to be a reflection of our innate desire to nourish our cultural soul. The Egyptian as well as many others’ burial rites may hold a clue to this —something to ponder, anyway.
From the inception of civilization “fashion as art” was a hindsight notion and we can only draw from that sight in retrospect. Survival mode cultures designed primarily on a level of warmth and functionality, and decoration was often birthed from a desire to strike fear, awe or control …
It was not until cultures evolved beyond the “survival mode” that the often wonderful creations of primitive societies developed to commercial viability and fashion took on its separate distinction.
WHAT BEAUTIFUL CRETANS WE ARE
Evidence shows that the island of Crete, just off the coast of Greece, was likely inhabited from the sixth millennium B.C.
But it wasn’t until probably around the late fourth — early third millennium that immigrants from Asia Minor joined the Minoans, creating what could be thought of as a bona fide civilization. The new immigrants’ technology and organizational flair transformed a people, who at the time were living in caves and dressed in animal skins.
The Minoans became one of the most sophisticated civilizations of the ancient world — and for ancient times — one of the first fashionable ones. Enclosed at the palace at Knossos were weaving and spinning shops. Although no actual examples of clothing are preserved (due to climate issues), artifacts including frescoes and terracotta statuettes show the shape of their dress, decorative forms and colors.
The most striking feature of these costumes is that they were “fitted,” much like today. At the time other civilizations went more on the arrangement and fold of the fabric than the cut of the garment itself, Minoan statuettes show them to be tailors, conscious of exact form and fit.
METAL COUTURE BY MANUEL ALBARRAN
The term form follows function is an architectural term, yet fashion’s adherence and/or rebellion to this principle has cleverly excited us through time.
Medieval coats of mail, witchdoctor’s headdresses, décolletage (French term for “low neckline”), mini-skirts, bustles, neckties and wigs have subconsciously affected the psyche of us all throughout the ages and usually without us thinking about it. A great suit can nail the job, a beautiful woman in the right outfit has sent men to war.
Fashion is legislated by choice in many organizations and by force in some societies. All this from that fateful day when they adorned themselves with figs as God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” (okay, another story). Amazing!
Where was I? Oh yeah, costumes. Where are they going? What will we wear when we finally get off this freakin’ planet and go to say – Alpha Centauri. I thought by now, we’d be wearing the George Jetson look that came out in the 60s at least. If you’re too young to remember and haven’t seen the syndicated reruns – you must find them. I won’t go any further.
Incidentally, Alpha Centauri is the star system nearest to our own, and the likeliest to possibly have extra-terrestrial life, even if that is on a different dimensional level. If I ever go and I don’t have to wear some kind of space suit, I’m wearing jeans. I can’t change now. If they had had jeans on Crete in 1600 B.C., I would have worn them. They are the greatest invention fashion ever fashioned. Okay, I digress.
BABYLON, A MOTHER OF FASHION
Much more “modern” than the Minoans, the Babylonian Empire was at its height around 550 B.C. a Wonder of the Ancient World — most famous for its “hanging gardens.” Babylon was a “melting pot,” much like the U.S. is today. The Babylonian Empire extended from Turkey to Iran, down through the now-contested Israel-Palestine territories into Egypt and the borders of Saudi Arabia. Babylon often took prisoners of conquered nations, carrying away the wealthy, the educated and highborn to their capital city, as “show-trophies” and to enhance their cultural diversity and prominence.
Though now a hot spot in the “war on terrorism” and civil unrest, it is considered one of the birthplaces of modern civilization, in fact, the “cradle of civilization” as a whole. Much of today’s ideology and ideas about commerce, religion and family structures (even math) had its origin in Babylonian territory, and of course there’s the “fashion and art”, striking then and striking now.
For most of the Western world, the ancient Babylonian-styled fashions probably most commonly resemble the Christmas card guys. That’s what it looked like (to me). Everybody dressed like the “wise men” from the East and whether you like it or not, that is one of the most powerful images in the world. Three wise men going to visit the baby Jesus, usually with a camel or two in tow, or riding them, and a few boxes of gold and frankincense and myrrh. What a powerful fashion statement. It has lasted and been popular for not centuries – millennia. That is great design! Actually, there are traditionalists who still dress like that. So, fashion even in our modern holiday art looks like ancient Iraqis and the cultures they influenced. Makes me say–, along with the mechanical singing-children in Anaheim, CA, Orlando, FL, and Tokyo, Japan, (wherever Disney’s “Magic Kingdom” is found)– “It’s a small world after all.”
VIKINGS AND VAMPIRES
The often stereotyped, yet usually aptly described “testosterone-based” Vikings don’t usually bring to mind “high fashion.” But these men were quite the fashion hogs (as opposed to divas) if you look a little closer; and the creative side of their ire is rather admirable. Sure they had the generic trousers, stockings, undertunic, overtunic, coat and cloak, but “oh — those accessories…” (We will go into this more in future articles … I’m drooling just thinking of it . . .)
Vampires? (Someone might be asking, “do we even have to “go there”.) “Definitely” if we’re talking “fashion influence.” Bella Lugosi’s “Dracula” — Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s portrayal of “Lestat” and “Louis” — Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire — modern Goth — all have this certain dark romanticism and like them or not, you definitely look twice — there is definitely a certain fashionista power. The ones we see portrayed have this curiously juxtaposed sense of integration and myopic balance that somehow translates into an evocative taste for refinement, culture and grace, however garish or potentially grotesque the ends may be. (To the reader: Should one use the word “taste” in the same sentence as “vampire”? Just curious.)
YOU CAN’T LEAVE OUT THE FRENCH
Where would fashion be without those over-the-top frilly and sometimes silly-looking cuffs? Fashion for men would have been forever boring. (Look at some of the English costuming of the same time period. Egad! Boring. Just like tea and crumpets. Drab. And they had to get the tea from the East Indians just to have that! I have an English grandmother; it’s ok.) Back to the French—begs the question … “What would “Prince” have worn during this era?” And somehow Marie Antoinette being French with all of those gaudy gowns makes the whole “let them eat cake” and guillotine bit a smidgen less distasteful. O.K., I’m overstating it a bit; but we would not be making movies about it, if she had worn a simple black dress. No, humanity is a complicated, very surface-oriented lot that can be wooed by outside appearances all too easily. Let’s face it – we really do need a Savior. Or not – our choice – right? (okay, I digress).
Then there’s New Orleans. Can you imagine New Orleans or Mardis Gras without French influence? And it’s amazing how predominately French-speaking and culturally influenced – Haiti can have some of the poorest people on the planet, yet most of them seem to dress well and have a supreme sense of fashion. No doubt, partially due to the French influence, aside from the fact that Haiti’s predominate population are descendant from African immigrants, which also definitely has some input on the “fashion sense.” This brings us to another interesting part of the fashion equation.
Africa’s fashion and its co-equal passion – art – has been a fascination and rich resource for the world’s cultural fascination, from the days of colonization forward. Prior to the blight of imperialism, Africa enjoyed a multitude of cultural expressions and inter-tribal exchanges that up to this day has both confounded and amazed outsiders. Perhaps like no other continent and people, next to Mesopotamia’s influence, Africa has contributed to the rich heritage of music, art and fashion of the modern era like no other. Runway modeling and many of the “severe” beyond-modern-reality fashion “looks” are embedded with the heart of the African continent’s expression of unique abundance.
Where else do you find diamonds, sahara, rhinos, giraffes, lions, tigers and zebras all on one stage? Africa is continental haute couture!
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
The discussion of fashion as art would be incomplete without mentioning the underground “Vogue-houses” of Harlem, originating during the early 20th Century’s “Harlem Renaissance.” Voguing as a dance, combined poses “struck” by fashion models with acrobatic dips and spins. Vogue balls were centered in pithy social commentary decades before the infamous protests of the 60’s. It is believed the phenomenon originated when fashion oriented-houses developed as an alternative to gangs. They competed for fashion élan — not turf. (Perhaps we should revisit!)
We have arrived. It’s a small world after all and thanks to the advances of computer science, i.e. the “Internet,” consumers can purchase everything from handbags to wedding gowns from Algeria to Zaire. The E-Gown is the quick internet way to find a prom dress or wedding gown at websites with such likely domain names as egown.net. You’ve heard of Ross Dress-for-Less — now, you can “cross-dress” for less. (O.K., that you can and must edit out, just some humor as this is my last paragraph. Reader: This is a real note from the writer but I will not edit it out, I think it’s funny. Editor)
In this “time machine” view of talking about “fashion”, there is one idea that I think defines FASHION ITSELF. “Wrapping!” Fashion is the wrapping of the body. So, let’s not forget the “wrapping” when we give. It’s one of the most important elements to gift giving. Think of all the ribbons, bows and boxes that our favorite fashions are delivered in. Then there are the padded pink-flowered silk covered hangers that fine attire is draped on in “fine closets everywhere.” That’s art. I know someone who spends minutes at a time tediously curling individual split strands of “ribbon” that wrap a Kenneth Cole, DKNY, or other high-end gift package.
Forrest Gump had it right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” But I also like to think– “Life is like a box at Macys.” (Or in my case, it’s American Eagle, or American Outfitters.)—You don’t know what you’re gonna get, but usually there’s an exchange policy. But if you can’t return it, then like life, you can accept it with gratitude and learn to enjoy the intricacies of pattern, textile, color and form knowing that like life, fashion is an ever-evolving, though sometimes challenging quest. It is exactly for that reason that fashion and art are “challenging” and to create and maintain one’s sense of it, requires nothing less than a “quest” mode.
It is an accomplishment to create an artful place of existence and form —an experience to be en-joy-able for a time. It is an act of love really – for its recipient and those gifted to share its vibrancy. Both fashion and life exist to challenge boundaries, expand and embrace cultures and times and peoples in a burst of creative energy and a zeal that made the whole project worthwhile.
Regardless of your fashion choices, be sure to allow for clothing the thoughts of your mind – with spirit, consciousness, information, awareness and hopefully an increasing wisdom … for the times they are a changing.
David C. Pond is a free-lance writer currently working to create a social enterprise benefiting the “working poor.”
Sources include: www.fashion.about.com, www.costumes.org, www.fashion-era.com, www.netcontrol.net