France, Fashion, and Pulse of History II

        Gabrielle Chanel, the little girl from suburbs, is stubborn, weird, and talented. She adventurously stepped into the favourable world of the history and gave herself a colosseum empire of fashion across decades. Tapped the right pulse of time torrent, she became Mademoiselle Coco Chanel.

        History, always on the turning point that called forth liberation, fueled the success of Chanel. At a time when half of the population were in need of freedom, Chanel cut the corset and freed the ladies. Maybe people are constantly under chains and limitations of the social rules. There are wilder and crazier souls within our tangible bodies.

        In a similar way, freedom from the masses made the Battle of Versailles, a vital fashion event that marked the success of American pret-a-porter, a name on history.

        In 1973, the French and American curators and socialites held a grand fashion event to collect funds to refurbish the old Chateau Versailles. Built by the Sun King Louis XVI, went through storms under the beheaded Louis XVI, Versailles was once the office of Empire Napoleon and saw enough pivotal points of history. Just a few decades earlier, five French designers saw the stunning rise of five American rivals.

        Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emmanuel Ungaro, Hubert de Givenchy, and Christian Dior, names still shakes the industry today. Representation of generations of the French creativity, from the fittings of the queens to the selection of vendeuses, the five designers were admired as the top of haute couture. Relatively unknown, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta, look like a hastily assembled gang of cheap producers. While French creme de la creme presented an ornate show to guests of Princess Grace of Monaco alike, the American designers brought on 11 Black models to represent their art work. French clothes are deliberate and beautiful as expected, but the American ones are lighthearted and easy. Despite the American pieces have drawn a sharp contrast to the then social aesthetics, they captured what were brewing beneath surface. People needed further democratisation of clothes. The pieces that are easy to be wore in people’s day to day life and not the tailored fabrics to the elites.

        This could be easily understood. In 1970s, the world recovered from a war one generation ago. The French liberal spirit was tested during the student protests in 1960s. In the United States, black movements continued to occupy attentions. Kennedy was assassinated a decade ago. As the Pulitzer-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan anchored, “If fashion is the costume of social tribes, society was at war.

        To summarise, she said, “And it was clear who was winning.”

        While French Revolution was a blatant coup d’etat by the elite, the revolutionary ideas took centuries to unfold. Social castes have never changed their essence, but the severity lessened and massive power was released and returned to the individuals.

        Many may have been shattered by the torment of history, but certain are definitely too lucky to ride on the shoulder of the changing culture. Did Chanel know when she opened that first Chanel boutique in Paris with her bizarre looking boyish dresses, she was tapping the pulse of history?


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