Laura Craik: Happy Endings – Fashion’s Finest Flawed Diamond Moments
Once, right at the beginning of London Fashion Week, I got a massive zit. It had a head. It even seemed to have arms, legs and a body. “I must hide myself away until this gross disfiguration passes!” I told my editor. “Shut up and file 500 words on the Burberry show by 5pm,” he replied. So I held my head up high, took my front-row seat and ignored the haters laughing behind my back. There is no lesson to be extrapolated from this tale, other than this: people are too busy worrying about their own perceived flaws and imperfections to notice yours. Note the use of the word “perceived”, for it is crucial. One person’s flaw is another person’s thing of beauty. Except, possibly, when the flaw is a huge zit.
The fashion industry pursues perfection with a thirst almost unmatched by any other. But in any process, mistakes will be made. Flaws happen. And what of those flaws? Arguably, some of fashion’s most memorable moments have sprung from that moment when the mask slips. As that great 21st-century philosopher Tyra Banks said: “Flaws are awesome – so… flawsome!” And as that actual, ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Do you want to be a pebble? No, you do not. Here are some of fashion’s finest flawed-diamond moments.
1856 – WHEN WILLIAM PERKIN ACCIDENTALLY INVENTED PURPLE (AGED 18)
He was trying to find a cure for malaria, as you do. But in the process of attempting to synthesise quinine (a natural substance used in the treatment of malaria), Perkin accidentally created a crude, bright purple mixture that struck him as having great potential as a dye. Working in secret (after all, he was supposed to be curing malaria, not changing the face of fashion), he discovered that it turned silk a lovely hue and named it mauveine. Hey presto, the first synthetic dye was born. Prior to this happy mistake, all dyes had been made from expensive, labour-intensive natural substances that didn’t hold colour nearly as well. As luck would have it, both Queen Victoria and Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, had a thing for purple, assuring mauveine’s popularity. I wonder whether Prince knew about William Perkin. Probably.
1957 – WHEN DIOR’S LOSS WENT ON TO BECOME THE WORLD’S GAIN
Azzedine Alaïa didn’t work at Christian Dior for very long – five days, in fact – after which, he was dismissed for having the wrong immigration papers. It seems that, in 1957, his Arabic nationality was met with more trepidation in Paris than it would be now, thanks to the Algerian War of Independence, which had started three years previously. Happily, this less-than- perfect start led to Alaïa securing a position at Guy Laroche, where he learned about dressing women and made friendships that would shape the rest of his life. When, in 2011, Dior approached Alaïa about replacing John Galliano, he turned the job down. Methinks it was the right decision. The moral of the tale is this: any career blip can turn out to have a silver lining. Always have a plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it, and always play the long game.
1971 – WHEN YVES SAINT LAURENT GOT SLATED BY EVERYONE
On January 29, 1971, in a salon on Rue Spontini, Paris, a then 34-year-old Yves Saint Laurent showed a collection that must surely go down as one of the most scandalous ever committed to a catwalk. The 80-odd looks were clearly inspired by the 1940s and featured short crepe dresses, jackets with pronounced shoulder pads, platform shoes, fox-fur jackets and heavy make-up. These led critics to accuse Saint Laurent of turning the Nazi occupation – a painful time in French history – into a fashion statement. “Completely hideous. I’d say it was suicidal,” wrote Eugenia Sheppard in the International Herald Tribune. Saint Laurent responded by calling his attackers “narrow-minded, petty people paralysed by taboos. Perhaps it did not please certain press or American buyers, but it pleased youth, and that is what counts for me.” Forty-five years on, the collection that almost derailed Saint Laurent is now regarded as one of the most influential he ever designed. It would take too long to list the designers who have sought inspiration from it, but one in particular – Hedi Slimane – owes it a debt, if not in aesthetic then in attitude. From Saint Laurent, Slimane seems to have learned the most valuable fashion lesson of all: if you please “youth”, you’ll please everyone in time.
1993 – WHEN HUSSEIN CHALAYAN BURIED CLOTHES IN A GARDEN
It wasn’t destined to catch on. No luxury- goods conglomerate is going to sanction the burying of its collections in earth, just so those expensive, ultra-luxurious fabrics take on a patina of decay. What would be the point? What would be the margin? In 1993, Hussein Chalayan was just a student and, with a student’s unfettered chutzpah, buried his graduate collection in a friend’s garden, where he left it for several months, until it oxidised. The effect was stunning – flawed, yes, but deliberately and delicately so. “The way I see it, everything in fashion has been done over and over again,” he said. And indeed it has been. Apart from that.
1993 – WHEN NAOMI CAMPBELL NEARLY BROKE AN ANKLE
Sure, she was already a supermodel. But it took a tumble in 9in platform heels during a Vivienne Westwood show to turn Naomi Campbell into that most valuable commodity of all: a relatable supermodel. Not easy back in 1993 – pre-Instagram, models had no opportunity to share “I’m just like you” pics of their burgers. Had she burst into tears or thrown a tantrum, the outcome could have been quite different. But by laughing through the pain, a then 23-year-old Campbell turned a disaster into a career-defining moment. It also ensured that that particular Westwood show was lodged in the memory for all time.
1993 – WHEN MARC JACOBS GOT FIRED FROM PERRY ELLIS
“Hahahahaha” is what I think when I recall Marc Jacobs parting ways with Perry Ellis after putting out a collection (SS93) that dared to veer from the easy, understated, all-American aesthetic of the brand. It was savaged by the press – even its more enlightened members – simply for being too, well, grungy. Jacobs had taken the style of a musical subculture with its roots in Seattle – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney – and shown it to an audience who simply wasn’t ready for plaid shirts and floral dresses being teamed with Dr Martens boots. “I had no idea I’d be fired,” Jacobs told a magazine some 10 years after the event. “But it’s still my favourite collection, because it marked a time when I went with my instincts against instructions, and I turned out to be right.” Word. Would that more designers followed his lead.
2011 – WHEN KATE MOSS POPPED UP ON THE CATWALK
“Cooee! Here I am, strollin’ along, smokin’ a fag,” is what Kate Moss would surely have said, had she been audible, as she walked insouciantly down the Louis Vuitton catwalk wearing dominatrix boots and black knickers and puffing on a Marlboro Light. To say her appearance was unexpected is an understatement: to all intents and purposes, Moss had retired from the catwalk a whole seven years previously. And now, here she was, aged 37 and with the audacity to be “flaunting” her thighs (according to one newspaper) by wearing knickers. Obviously, certain tabloids were quick to magnify said thighs, circle them in red and point out their cellulite-y imperfections. Which, as always, missed the point. The point being, it’s Kate Moss. Kate Moss + flaws = all the more Kate Moss to love. Also, Kate Moss + flaws = still 10,000 times hotter than most people. I don’t even think “flaw” is a useful word to use in respect of women’s perceived wrinkles and cellulite. The more thirty-, forty- and fiftysomething models who have the balls to take to the catwalk, the better for womankind. Sure, physical perfection is lovely. But when it fades, what blooms in its place shouldn’t be covered up or shovelled off into some graveyard for former beauties. It is valid, even on a catwalk. Especially on a catwalk. If more women had senior positions in the fashion industry, more older women would be modelling on the catwalk. Beauty is beauty at any age.
2015 – WHEN CHRISTOPHER KANE TURNED TRAGEDY INTO BEAUTY
Few catharses are so challenging as the process of shaping a collection out of personal grief. The theme of Christopher Kane’s SS16 collection was “crash and repair” – the “crash” being the death of his beloved mother, and the “repair” the process of working through his bereavement while facing the imperative of having to design and present a collection. The fashion schedule stops for no one. Had Kane suppressed his emotions, as work often demands, the collection he showed would have been far less thought provoking, and perhaps not as rapturously received. But by having the courage and creativity to translate his preoccupations into clothes (complete with pill prints, jagged edges and cable ties that functioned as decoration), Kane showed the beauty that can spring from sadness, and that the very act of designing can help someone heal
Taken from Issue 57 of 10 Magazine, TRUE RANDOM AUTHENTIC, on newsstands now…
Illustration by Stephen Doherty