Sometimes life is what’s leftover.
I decided this recently. It’s not what’s wanted, or what’s expected, it’s just what’s there. It’s what’s available, what’s been left behind, and what hasn’t already been claimed by someone else. (My inner, third child is showing, I know.)
I find this to be increasingly true as I continue to use San Francisco’s libraries. The books I’m interested in seem less and less available, and most times I visit I end up browsing in the sections where the books I wanted normally live. Every now and then I find something I didn’t know I needed. That was the case the day I checked out the book American Beauty by Patricia Mears.
I always find it difficult to read oversize books with lots of pictures, mainly cause all I want to do is look at all the pretty things, but the words in this book turned out to be super important. They’ve helped me refine my viewpoints on the fashion industry, and the world of ready-to-wear in general. It’s funny how a few rightly placed words can completely alter a viewpoint.
In her introduction, Mears attempts to differentiate American fashion from other sartorial options throughout history:
If there is a single word that typifies American fashion, it could well be “functional.” This is to say that American fashion is highly adaptable clothing that cam be readily purchased, slipped on with little fuss, worn day to evening and in most environmental conditions and, at the same time, is smart and well-fitting.
American fashion is also defined by its relationship with the machine. Beyond the development of mass production and the great industrialization of the fashion, the American fashion “machine” can be viewed as a multi-dimensional phenomenon.
Prior to the 1960s and the rise of European ready-made clothing, a woman had three choices when acquiring clothing: either she could buy haute couture, the most artistic, expensive, and desirable garments in the world (needless to say, haute couture was far beyond the reach of the vast majority of…women);or she could commission custom-made clothing from a local seamstress (a less expensive alternative); or finally, she could make her clothes herself.
Americans design[ed] the best ready-to-wear fashions for many years…
I’m really grateful that I didn’t find what I was originally looking for, and to have found American Beauty, which introduced me to so many wonderful and relatively obscure designers. Yeohlee is one of the many featured in this publication (click on the link to go to her website and view her collections).
From her website:
Yeohlee Teng moved to New York from Malaysia to study fashion at the Parsons School of Design. She has worked primarily in New York City and established her own house, YEOHLEE inc in 1981. Yeohlee believes that “clothes have magic.” She dresses the “urban nomad”, a term she coined for her Fall 1997 collection, defining a lifestyle that requires clothing that works on a variety of practical and psychological levels. She is a master of design management and believes in the efficiency of year-round, seasonless clothes. Yeohlee’s designs have earned a permanent place in the Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the late Richard Martin, then Chief Curator, called her “one of the most ingenious makers of clothing today.”
Two things stand out to me about this description. First, she believes in the efficiency of clothing. Second, her designs are at the Met.
I often worried that a foray into the world of fashion would leave me bitter and burned out. The more I’ve learned about designers I like and respect, the more I’ve realized that there is no one path to success in fashion. The best thing you can do to avoid failure is to know where you stand, and to know what you want.
I’m taking some time to reflect because this will, most likely, be my last Article of Style post. My hands have be busy doing other things (with fabric and needles) and I’m finding I have less and less time to keep up the blog. I am undecided as to how much I will document my process of creating garments. Some things, especially in the fashion world, are best kept secret.
I will end this series by saying that it has been amazing to learn about and feature all of these designers. I hope that my interest and passion for design and clothing continues. I’ll always be looking for more sources of inspiration.
Love and Enjoy.