The centralizing intellectual concept of the modern world is arguably what French philosopher Albert Camus poetically articulated in the early 1950s – “I rebel, therefore I exist.” At the core of the anti-fashion movement of the 1990s was this intellectual approach to fashion, a rebellion against the establishment of the status quo and the existing orders and structures of the fashion world.
Yohji Yamamoto, with his characteristic blend of simplicity and elegance, described ‘anti-fashion’ as simply ‘not following the trends,’ and rejecting many of the existing narratives of fashion. ‘Anti-fashion’ was born from an era of flux and cynicism, part of the culture that was experiencing European integration, the end of the Iron Curtain, Globalization, War, instability, and the reactionary malaise and despair in response. The spirit of ‘anti-fashion’ emerged as a rejection and revolt of its time, and the superficiality and excess that fashion was associated with. By its very nature, ‘anti-fashion’ was a post-modern response to the circumstances of both the world and the fashion industry.
The pioneers of the ‘anti-fashion’ movement were Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. Both Yamamoto brought their deconstructionist, de-centered approach to their garments to Paris, and it completely revolutionized fashion. Yohji dressed makeup-less models in flat shoes, messy hair in twisted, unfinished, and shocking garments, offering a radically different vision for what beauty meant. Kawakubo took her the precision and care of a sculptor to her garments, approaching fashion design almost as if it were a work fine art. Her modern, feminist sensibilities and rejection of submission to men were even in her line’s name, as Comme Des Garcons translates directly into ‘like the boys.’ Both of these Japanese designers revolted against a certain imperialism inherent in French fashion, and western European standards of beauty itself.
Ann Demeulemeester, a member of the ‘antwerp six’ also offered radical visions that left a lasting legacy on the fashion world. Demeulemeester firmly believed in making garments to express individuality, not something to hide behind. She believed that design had no purpose unless it was totally original, and wanted to make lasting garments that could survive the era of excess in fashion.
Her close friend and contemporary Martin Margiela, got his start working for Jean Paul Gaultier. Coming from modest beginnings in the fashion industry, and would cut, sew and paint vintage garments that he sourced himself. He believed in repurposing garments, and achieving beauty through the rejected ecology of the fashion industry. Margelia shocked many in the industry with his radical shows and techniques, and managed do it all while remaining nearly completely anonymous.
Raf Simons revolutionized menswear, as he completely refigured the image of what it meant to be masculine in fashion. In revolt against the bronzed, muscular, European look that was everywhere in fashion, Raf began selecting slim, adolescent pale men as his models, taking inspiration from many previous unreferenced cultural spaces, such as youth subculture.
To see ‘anti-fashion’ in its truest form, one has to look no further than Helmut Lang and minimal brand of ‘anti-fashion.’ While Lang may not reached true prominence until the mid 1990s, slightly later than many of his peers, he was without a doubt the designer that left most enduring legacy, and his influence and foresight can still be felt in 2016. What Helmut did, which was fundamentally different than the majority of his peers, was make his avant-garde design wearable. His chief focus, while still being a true innovator, was making clothes that were meant to look good on people. Architecture, German Expressionism, and Vienna inspired Helmut’s minimalism, offering a distinctly European sensibility. He brought a German edge and precision to all his garments, making them technical, strict, precise. The cold, impersonal nature often associated with these elements was offset with romanticism and a celebration of the body. While sportswear and techwear are a fixture in the fashion industry in 2016, Helmut brought these elements into the conversation over 20 years ago. Helmut’s approach and radical reimagining and rebellion against the conventions of fashion, in addition to his foresight of many of the trends visible today, make him arguably the most contemporarily influential figure to emerge from the beginnings of the ‘anti-fashion’ movement.
In 2016, the legacy of ‘anti-fashion’ is relevant. The pioneers of ‘anti-fashion’ carved a space out for future generations of designers to rebel and innovate against convention and established standards of design presentation, and representation. Designers everywhere co-opted many of the principles of design the pioneers of ‘anti-fashion’ introduced to the world. Everyone in the fashion world is obsessed with the avant-garde, and those who are able to make noise in the oversaturated fashion world. There is a reason that no one can stop talking about designers Demna and his approach to both Vetements and Balengcia – it is because like his ‘anti-fashion’ predecessors, he is redefining what fashion means in 2016. People are irresistibly attracted to permutations of the normal. The idea of revolting and rebellion against your time is eternal
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