The Value of Fashion as Culture

by Barb on June 15, 2011

dior exhibit bon marche The Value of Fashion as Culture

Small Dior exhibit at Bon Marché; reveals that fashion in this particular social construct (i.e. Paris) doesn't leave it to be exclusive, but rather to be shared

The following is a post comprised of thoughts that’ve been percolating in my mind for some time, and that I’ve expressed in bits and pieces to others. But between packing up in France, and (practically) moving straight to New York and hitting the ground running, I haven’t had the time to pen it all down.

It’s an observation that I’ve come to realize over the past year in being in France once again – fashion is viewed so much more differently there in comparison to North America. French fashion appears to be more integrally linked to culture and history, as opposed to solely an industry and slew of stereotypes (e.g. shallow, capitalist, frivolous). The differences weren’t so clearly recognizable to me when in my freshman year, as I had spent much of my time fascinated more so with the city of Paris, as opposed to observing the inner workings of the industry.

It is to say, the consideration of New York as a fashion mecca was one that I took great pride relishing in, attending and writing up events, and networking. But there was always this difficulty in defending to friends or critics as to what it was that I enjoyed about fashion – was it the events? The drinks? The company? Or the clothes? I jumped into all of it not knowing a lot; the extent of my understanding of clothing was derived from whatever I had read the day before in the online coverage of shows, some prior work, and Project Runway (I’m really not kidding). I learned the structure behind the fashion weeks, and the venues that were most popularly used.

Being in France, though, the shows are so much more than a parade of garments. There is a certain added artistic value, which is overly praised when done in New York, incorporated to each show or presentation. With no particular venue for all the shows, and the context of history (dating back to or even before the 1800s with regards to the distinguishing of pink for girls, and blue for boys, and the importance of 17th century pamphlets dictating taste) utilized, there was always a story told. It is not to say that each show and presentation followed such a formula of marvel, but many presented their collections with the goal of expressing oneself in appealing to all the possible senses, as opposed to pandering to the purchasing power of the big time buyers. The US fashion industry, so it seems, wraps itself around the country’s core values of capitalism. In other words, it feels as though that the American shows and presentations understand and cater to the “money, money, money” mentality, whereas the French rest in the roots and foundation of this social construct of expression. And with regards to the Canadian industry, I’ve made comments before about the current state of affairs regarding Canadian fashion.

It is rather difficult to clearly articulate this difference in words, as it is something that one needs to experience, as opposed to hear about. Perhaps I can better explain this influence that context has had on the perception of fashion in France through museum exhibitions. In Paris, at the least, it seems rather common to have exhibitions highlighting or dedicated to fashion. In many of the posts on this blog, in which I’ve reviewed exhibits, they have been for the most part (and I only say “most” to cast a safety net for myself) in Paris. It seems as though that the next largest celebration of fashion comes into realization at The Met, but such is a rare occasion. The most recent exhibition being the “Savage Beauty” Alexander McQueen exhibit. Only when a monumental idea (of what to present) arises is there a celebration of someone in fashion, whereas in France, it seems as though to be more quotidien and integrated into the mentality of its folk.

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