April 24, 2007
One thing I’ve noticed when debating fashion (which we love to do), is how often the point of contention turns on whether a collection is original, or unoriginal. Fashion is a funny place to look for authenticity yet we value it highly all the same.
As someone who has read almost all the fashion books in the library, I get confused when I see the word “original” tossed upon things that are not particularly novel. What is original?
Original has so many different connotations in fashion.
Original as in Couture Original. Paris Original used to be a very common term back when the world’s creative design came from Paris only and everything else was a blatent copy and advertised as such. Yet the ideas of the oh-so-novel “New Look” themselves aren’t particularly original – corsets, this is new? It was a Second Empire revival, which was a revival of the Baroque… and so on. So “Original” in this sense seems mostly a marketing thing – which is what couture is supposed to be about.
By the way when you google Couture Original the top spot is Juicy Couture. It’s no wonder these words are so alarmingly misunderstood.
Then there is Original as in…
Original in the sense that a garment truly is a novel idea – in this case, an indigo-dyed denim 5 pocket jean with rivets attached for strength. Now how novel was it truly – who knows, but Levi Strauss was a savvy marketer and is now forever remembered as the originator of all the denim we wear today.
I like to think of this type of original also being archetypal – a basic piece of clothing from which variations are made to adapt to current fashion, yet the original remains a timeless classic in the true sense.
Then there is Original in the legal sense – in fashion the word original is also a legal word. Counterfeit Chic can tell you more than I can.
Then there is original in the artistic sense. Fashion designer as artist may consider their work to be an expression from their soul and therefore as unique as a fingerprint.
At the brunch we touched on the topic of addiction to novelty, and it makes sense that among the fashionable the word original can be so loaded with meaning. The problem is that is has been overused to the point of meaninglessness.
The heavy weight of the term means that it is often used to dismiss other meaningful aspects of good design which improve upon the existing knowledge, rather than merely claiming novelty. I don’t understand why “derivative” is a slur in fashion when it should be a tribute.
Personally, I am not interested in originality in fashion. To my thinking the success of a given fashion has more to do with timing than novelty. What do you think?