The House of Tatterdemalion

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Is There Anything?

December 30th, 2006 by tatterdemalion

How did I get on to this thought? Here’s the web-trail for those interested. I started out at the rather famous “English Cut” blog, clicked from there to another tailor’s website (unfortunately mostly dead–the website not the tailor), and from there to Julian Roberts nearly unnavigable website. I had seen Julian’s and Sophie’s on-line cutting tutorial, but this was the first time I realized there was more to the site than what I had seen earlier. As with last time, I was impressed with his technical ability (especially his ability to approach things from different angles), but not with his artistic sense. Seeing more of his work and his writing stirred up some thoughts in me. They may seem rather unrelated to you, but if you’ve poked around his site, you can probably get an idea how they are all intertwined.

People who are in “creative” fields often insist that there are new things left to be created. People who buy “creative” things are apt to say “There is nothing new under the sun.” The curious thing is that this saying doesn’t upset the consumers–who will gladly go ahead and buy whatever it is, even if they already have 16 just like them at home (in fact, some people seem to be even happier if they can bump their collection up to 17 by buying whatever it is). It’s the artists that get all upset by this thought. They tell you the cyclic nature of things can be thrown off. They tell you that you just need to think out side the box, need to work without boundaries and rules and all that constrains—and if you do, there really and truly are new things left to be created! They can be so earnest on this point, so desperate.

They have to be. If you really believe you are capable of creating something new, you must believe you will continue to do so. To say there is nothing new man can create can fill people with fear, because if there is nothing left to be created, then there is nothing left. What we have is what we get. And if what we got just isn’t enough to make us happy, then it is a terrifying thought that we can create nothing truly new.

The same can be said of rules. The only time you have to be afraid of rules is if you don’t like what the rules are telling you. Someone who would like to be able to fly would very like much to believe that the laws of gravity don’t exist–because that law is counter to what they wish to accomplish. When you see the same rules or boundaries being repeated, it points to a lack of new creation. In an effort to overcome this shortfall, they claim to work outside of all boundaries–and in doing so, join the many others that are, and have, and will claim to be working outside of all boundaries.

The curious thing is that they believe they are buying freedom by throwing off rules, and to my eye, they are merely gaining new masters. The work of thought–of consciously guiding your hands, of taking what you have, things that have poured into you through all your senses and ability to perceive, and re-arranging it like a kaleidoscope–they can seem themes repeating themselves. They can see there are limits. And so they throw off the mind, so as to be free. They try to work instead from emotion–to let the adrenaline of the moment carry them through, to work an idea as soon as it is conceived, before it has any time to grow or mature. This, they say, is freedom. This raw emotion, this roughly hewn mass (or mess, if you prefer), this is new.

If it is new, why does it all look so old and tired to me? And why must it be new? Would it really be superior if it truly was a change, was something new? They like to mock people who are afraid of change, and they have a point. But to say that all change is good is as much a lie as saying all change is bad. Even if this was something new, it cannot use that alone as a claim to greatness.

With out rules or boundaries, things are shapeless and without from. It is only by shaping them and containing them that they gain meaning. A 6 month old child can bang on a keyboard and produce all manner of letters and combinations on the monitor–but where is their meaning or worth? The artist can throw away all guiding thought, and be reduced to producing the emotional temper-tantrum of a two year old—with more technical ability, but with no more meaning or purpose. Ah, the sweetness of freedom; now we are free to scream mindlessly and flail our limbs! So much greater it is than movement or voice guided by purpose or thought! This is the very essence of man!

Well, I don’t know how much I can argue with that last statement, but I think it is a very sad statement, not a grand statement of accomplishment. They cling to newness, to change, to rebellion–at the cost of all else. They must: what they have is not enough, and if they deny they can ever attain to anything better, they loose all pretense of hope. And without hope, who can live?

Posted in Contemplations, Design | 3 Comments »

Picky About Poiret

December 30th, 2006 by tatterdemalion

This is a continuation on my mini-series on the book “The Secrets of the Couturiers” by Frances Kennet. (All quotes and page numbers are referencing this book.) I include the same disclaimer as previous, that, in the large picture, this book is quite brief. I leave room for adjusting my opinions as a learn more from other sources, but this piece is written solely on the information gleaned from this book.

I am loathe to even call Paul Poiret a designer. He didn’t even want to be a clothes designer. He wanted to be a painter. Either his skill was insufficient, or it simply was not satisfying enough to his ego, temper and personality. In either case, it’s quite a shame that he instead inflicted himself upon women and their clothing; and quite as shameful, if not more so, that women put up with such second-rate goods–and what is more, encouraged it.

As near as I can tell, Poiret’s main goal, was to shock and domineer over as many people as possible, and since he entered the field of “fashion”, “people” generally meant women. If everyone else said “right”, he not only said “left” but he dragged as many people as he could along with him. If the standards for models was curves, he wanted curveless models. If everyone else was using lilacs, “swooning mauves”, light blues and “all that was soft, washed out, and insipid“, he by default wanted strong “reds, greens, violets and royal blue“.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t care for insipid, washed out colors, and I’d much prefer a strong, deep red any day. But there’s a difference between being stubborn and contrary because that’s what you truly believe, and being stubborn and contrary because you are simply too much of an antagonistic, ornery person to do anything else–that is, to be rude simply for rudeness sake. Poiret did not care where he flung about his rebellion and scandals, as long as it got the reaction he wanted. If his collection didn’t shock and offend somebody, then it was a failure (and trust me, he didn’t have many failures). All of this, naturally, was sold under the title of “originality”.

Perhaps I would not be so incensed by all of this–after all, I do have a rather contranarian streak myself–if it his entirely objectionable personality didn’t show through quite so clearly. On page 29 his quoted as saying:

“Yes, I freed the bust, but I shackled the legs! Women complained of being no longer able to walk, nor get into a carriage. Have their complaints or grumblings ever arrested the movement of fashion, or have they not rather, on the contrary, helped it by advertising it? I made everyone wear a tight skirt.”

To which I respond, with as much grace and consideration, “It sounds as though someone needs a solid kick in the backside!” And I am not entirely sure if it is Poiret, or the idiotic women who agreed to it. The book claims that “. . .in 1910, he was able to introduce hobble skirts, practically preventing his ladies from walking. And then all of Paris wore them.

First off, there is the serious problem with associating any aesthetic good with hobble skirts. Second off, there is the problem of claiming that either art or fashion trumps bodily functions, like walking and living a life. Those “designers” who hold to that thought are arrogant, egotistical, and care nothing (not even the safety and well-being) of those they claim to design for—but only of glorying in their own power and making others subject to their twisted will. The final point of disgust and revulsion is that this package is often sold as “free” or “unbound” from “conventional restraints”.

Good design is not about making people suffer in the name of art. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Good design is when pleasing form marries inseparably with true function. Those who think that either can go missing without harm to the design have no idea of the challenge set out before them.

The only thing that leads me to any respect of him at all–or, at least, the only thing recorded in this book–is his “Martines”. He created “a school for girls from limited backgrounds, where they were paid an income, given regular meals, and, after a short period of formal training, were left to their own devices to create design ideas. . .the girls were sent to factories to see cloth being woven, to the atelier where Dufy worked on dyeing and printing the couturier’s fabrics, anywhere where Poiret thought they might find educative inspiration. The girls variously created rugs, ceramics, textiles, furniture ideas, and were paid a bonus on the designs that went into production.

There, at least, was a good idea, even if his fashion was not.

Posted in Books, Couture, Design, Poiret | No Comments »