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Understanding Fashion

Understanding Fashion

Discovering Fashion is a series of posts that I create for me and my fellow readers to understand more about the importance of proper Fashion knowledge. I'm not an expert, so my point-of-view will be more beneficial for those who are also lacking on professional or academical fashion background, but interested to learn some basic discussions and easy-to-digest fashion trivia. I welcome constructive advices or collaboration offer that will support the series. If you think you're the right person for sharing knowledge about this matter, please reach out to me here.

I've been embarking a sort of "role" in the digital industry for quite a while, tightly engaging in the Fashion realm in a way that might be closer to its functional definition on a day-to-day basis: being the so-called style enthusiast. I don't know for sure how I get involved - if not by accident - in Indonesian fashion scene; maybe it was because of my blogging practice that somehow began at the same time as the booming of earlier Fashion Blogging phenomenon. I happened to enjoy my participation in the "vintage" bloggers community; sharing my love for the old days and somehow taking act upon the trend of posting my once vintage-inspired outfits. Am I a Fashion Blogger then? I would rather not associate myself with the title, realizing that I might not fit the ideal Fashionista definition. I don't post Fashion articles regularly, and I'm not an avid trend-watcher either. The easiest way to reason my doubt is because somehow I feel like I don't understand fashion that much. Which fashion, anyway? The runway-proven High-End Brands, the seasonal trend cast industry, the Must-Have designer items, the daily outfit style?

What is Fashion?

As much as I'm aware that I'm not exactly a fashion scholar per se, I think it's necessary for me to provide the conversation about Fashion definition for you on this platform. Not only because: a) I got accidentally referred as "the fashion blogger" due to my involvement in the community, or b) People have been seeking style advice from me no matter how I'm consciously stating that I might not be an official expert; but also because I believe that I'm obliged to provide a context here. A context from which I subtract my whole fashion activity and attitude toward the industry. Another strong reason is because I can't deny that my involvement in the emerging scene of Indonesian fashion - no matter how insignificant it is, as a social media user or a fashion event speaker; has its own consequences. Maybe we don't realize how we collectively responsible for shaping a nation's identity. Our constant posting habit (of our styles on social media, on Instagram) has a power to influence. What kind of influence? A good one, or a bad one? We won't be able to discuss the question before firstly understand the bigger theme that lies behind.

So let's talk Fashion.

Aigner's Kaleidoscopia SS17 Presentation in Milan. Is fashion only about the Runway trends?

Aigner's Kaleidoscopia SS17 Presentation in Milan. Is fashion only about the Runway trends?


[ˈfaSHən] - noun: (1) :  the prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time, i.e.: The spring fashions are now on display, or (2) :  a garment in such a style, i.e.: Always wears the latest fashions (source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

The most frequent question I find regarding the definition of Fashion is about its relation with clothes. Is that what Fashion is? Clothing and Apparels? The answer is somewhere between Yes and No. I believe that I'm one of many human beings in the society who were born out of the luxurious highlight of Fashion Consumption - means that I wasn't familiar with Fashion before. All I remember during the childhood was that vague memory of my grandfather and a Rolex watch he really cared about, along with my grandmother and a little Chanel purse she kept carefully in her dressing cabinet. Pearls were her thing too - there were stacks of vintage pearl necklaces and earrings she stored in her jewelry box. Was that part of Fashion? Then above it all there's my mother - the one who didn't care about style at all - she grew up boyish, and not particularly showing interest on anything Dress-Up related (which explains my need to catch up a lot on the style-related matter with my grandparents instead). I didn't know what's different between a pair of branded shoes and the other pair you bought in the department store. The one with "brand" somehow looks fancier and said to be way (waaay) more expensive, that's all. But it doesn't matter - I didn't have to know. For most families who weren't part of the elites, Fashion was out of reach back then - way before the age of retail empire strikes in, and further back before the rise of our contemporary digital era. No fashion blog, no website, no social media. The Fashion world was highly exclusive. Until one day the internet was born, and social media rule the world. Now everyone can say "I love fashion" and claiming themselves as "a fashion lover," including myself. We're keeping up with Fashion conversation more than ever now. Since the mainstream has adopted "Fashion" into their daily interest, the understanding of the word itself becomes even more necessary. We didn't have to know about this before, but now it's going to be much more helpful for us to know. Because it's everywhere, and because we're living in a culture that transmit millions of fashion consumption every single day - the media, the social media, the office, the community. We need to understand the whole context of Fashion so we can also recognize the full complexities around it, thus saving ourselves from the impact that we can't afford to control.

I'll start by sharing what I know and what I perceive about Fashion. First step, a little historical lesson.


Clothing is one of the most important aspects of human history, ever since it's being decided that we must cover our skin and genitalia when exposing ourselves in public. We grew up and learn to choose the kind of top we want to wear, which kind of shoes we like the shapes and how to combine all of those different items together. In a wider context, some might argue that Fashion should be seen as the whole culture that deals with clothing lifestyle in human civilization. The way we choose our outfit, the way we consume the clothes, the way apparels are created and made, the industry of brand production, the message we (either consciously or not) want to deliver through dressing up in a certain way. But in the more precise definition, what makes Fashion different than mere "Clothing" is its association with time. As written at the earlier definition: "Prevailing" is the key.

Are you still with me?

Aigner, one of the most-known German Luxury and Lifestyle brand, created by Etienne Aigner, a Hungarian man who started as a bookbinder in Germany in 1904.  (Wikipedia)

Aigner, one of the most-known German Luxury and Lifestyle brand, created by Etienne Aigner, a Hungarian man who started as a bookbinder in Germany in 1904. (Wikipedia)

Fashion is tightly related to a time-based frame. In Fashion, we'll find terms such as "in Fashion" and "out of Fashion," but never in clothing. That's because Clothing is a basic human need, while Fashion is more of a social needs. We need clothing so we won't be naked, but we need Fashion to place ourselves in a particular social class within the society. The modern "Fashion" we see happening in the world right now was a system that born within the creation of Haute Couture by Charles Frederick Worth. Worth is said to be the Founding Father of Haute Couture when he moved to Paris and created the "business model" of dressmaking.

Okay, let's move a little backward. Since the old Empire from past centuries; we were familiar with Royal family and Kingdom relatives that regularly wear such lavish dresses and costumes. They consumed expensive garments and decorated their daily dresses with equally rare jewelry, rocketing in high price tag and bring its wearer to fame. They had an exclusive dressmaker to create a fitted costume for their Royal occasions. Dressmakers (or designers) are known to be only affordable for the wealthiest. Average families obviously can't afford such spending.

Portrait of Charles Frederick Worth by Charles Reutlinger

Portrait of Charles Frederick Worth by Charles Reutlinger

Then in the mid-Nineteenth-Century, an English fashion designer named Charles Frederick Worth brought himself to Paris; knowing the city had been prominent for its luxury and grandeur lifestyle since the reign of Louis XIV. He opened his fashion salon, Maison Worth, offering the term "Haute Couture," which more or less translated back then as "high quality of sewing." What makes his name carved in the Fashion history is when he decided to create a set of new, finished garments every twice a year - or as what we know now as a "collection." This time division resulting in the need from the elites (the only clientele who can afford expensive clothes during the time) to purchase the latest piece from the collection so that they can show the legitimacy of their wealth and power in the society's eyes. Not only the creativity and innovative skill from the designers will be challenged, but the business cycle will be more profitable this way. Again, this comes from the huge demand from the rich, who need to keep reinforcing their social statuses through suitable living styles. Such kind of time limitation will then revolve into the contemporary value of a Fashion item, which won't last "prestigious" forever because there's only a short lifespan until the next collection's launch. And that, my friend, was one of the significant start that marked the beginning of our contemporary Fashion industry.

Seeing from the brief historical explanation of Haute Couture or the High-End Fashion, we'll catch a glimpse that Fashion is never only about the making of clothes. There's a business interest there, playing a greater Economic role. There's a game of aesthetics, combining creative technique with art (one of the first, is the collaboration between Schiaparelli and Salvator Dali in the 1930s). There's also a political influence - from how the industry adapts to World War, the way Hugo Boss supplied the uniform for Hitler's SS soldier and how Michelle Obama keeps prioritizing American designers' pieces for her presidential outfits, for example. Fashion never holds a single meaning. It also belongs to many different contexts and therefore can be perceived in a way that each individual wished to see. And then there's more: Ready-To-Wear Fashion. Sustainable Fashion. Street Fashion. Retail Fashion. Slow Fashion vs Fast Fashion. Anti-Fashion. So many more, but we'll catch up on that later.

Fashion is not only about the clothes you bought in the expensive boutique, or the latest bag you sourced from designer's store. Fashion is also questioning, how do they design this product?
What's the story behind it?
Where did the garment was bought, who sold the silk and how was it made? Where was it created, and by whom?

My deepest interest of Fashion comes in the way it serves as a form of art, and the messenger of values. As someone who honestly can't keep up with the whole Fashion buying trends and failed to remember when the Fashion Week begin each time of the year (or to remember all the respected names in the Fashion world), what fascinates me is the way Fashion attracts conversation about meanings and social cultures. I adored Chanel so much because she dares to create clothes that were radically liberated women body - did you know she made clothes from Jersey which, during that age, was the main garment for male undergarments, because she wanted the clothes to took the shape of the wearer instead of the opposite? The act, supported by other known designer during the period, was an act of liberating women from suffocating corset - courtesy of Edwardian beauty standard. And did you know, as a real-life Vegan herself who firmly believes that sustainability and fashion can go hand in hand, Stella McCartney was behind the very first vegan pair of Adidas Stan-Smith? When we could ever dream to see a big brand hands their design down to be pure-vegan? Such possible drives to create innovation and meanings in life were the ultimate reasons I was interested in Fashion in the beginning.

There won't be an article long enough to sum up the answer for my earliest question, but don't worry, we'll be catching up. Even though Fashion is expected to be timely and can walk accordingly with cycle of trends, but there's so much more about Fashion that we can wonder about. Fashion is not only about the clothes you bought in the expensive boutique, or the latest bag you sourced from designer's store. Fashion is also questioning, how do they design this product? What's the story behind it? Fashion is not only how you pair that New Look Dior dresses with lavish pearls or antique jewelry. Fashion sometimes raised you to wonder, how did they make it? Where did the garment was bought, who sold the silk and how was it made? Where was it created, and by whom?

Of course, there are many things on the table to discuss when it comes about Fashion. Not only historically or conceptually, but from many different perspectives. And not all of them are "inspiring," some of those are concerning and might be controversial too. The never-ending discussion about fashion empire with skyscrapper-high price tag versus the underpaid labor issue. The use of fur versus the vegan movement. The new capitalism and pseudo-need explotation issue. The women and men standard-making issue. There are a lot we can discuss about, and not only the horrifying facts, but also the empowering drive. Fashion for causes. Design that cares about mother nature, design that's vocal to political situation, design that speaks on behalf of the opressed. The use fashion for good reasons. We will, together, board in a dicovering journey to talk about all of those matters. But I think this will be enough for a start: that Fashion is for you to make meaning of.

Imagine this in your head: flow of people on the street with colorful coats, some holding flowers and coffee by the hands; some were freezing, some felt warm inside. They might rush for a family dinner, or just got stood up by a date. They might choose the green emerald pendant to match the mustard coat, a gift they received from a special someone in the past. They might also wear the expensive coat that day, trying to impress their new colleagues. But the clothes, either consciously or not, always represent something deeper than a skin; most of the time its emotion. Dreams. Wishes. Thoughts. Intention. Communication. Fashion is where those emotions meet with garments and movements. The dance that puts it all together. For me, fashion is most exciting when it's meaningful.

Fashion is art, but so is your heart. 

How would you want to understand Fashion now?

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