The roots of the anti-fashion movement can be traced back to the 1990s, when designers started to overtly criticise human obsession with glamour. By definition, the movement stood in opposition to the fashion establishment. It rejected the excess of the 80s, while it has also built a new kind of fashion awareness, cultivated by Martin Margiela and Rei Kawakubo. It seems we are now arriving at a moment when canons need to be subverted. In fact, they are already changing and the designers give the ‘anti-fashion’ concept a completely new meaning.
The French collective Vetements serves as one of the most vivid examples. Refusing to abide by fashion week schedules and breaking the rules of haute couture, the brand has created some of the most ironic, tacky and yet, desirable collections. The most important anti-statement made by Vetements’ founder, Demna Gvasalia, was that fashion is becoming too fast-paced. Speaking to i-D back in 2015, he said: “I think it’s a horrible industry. It pressures creativity. It kills it, very often. It pushes certain rules and frames on designers that really don’t work long-term. You can’t make a collection over three months and still be creative and have time enough to analyse and think.”
One might dislike the sloppy aesthetic of Vetements, but Gvasalia’s activities provide food for thought and emerging designers are willing to follow in his footsteps. Niuku is a new label from France carefully studying the details of vintage clothing. It dissected the evolution of style and made it the theme of the collection that reflects the ‘redesign, rethink and recycle’ mantra. The process effects in the creation of subtle, ‘genderless’ designs.
Similarly, the New York label Women’s History Museum takes individual pieces of female identity and puts them together anew. The aim is to write a new fashion statement that blurs divisions, defies social classes and hierarchies – clothing as a form of resistance to the omni-present conformism.
Although we all can get swallowed by the whirlwind of fashion, the concept of ‘anti-fashion’ is quintessentially about understanding the need for change. Looking at recent events, it seems consumers are now in a fighting trim.
Beauty overdose we are surrounded with has become weary. We also started to appreciate non-idealised, authentic canons and embraced the values represented by independent brands. It has affected the way we shop fashion with direct-to-consumer labels growing in popularity. On top of that, we have learnt to decode the ironic language of some contemporary designers – think Gvasalia, but google names like Cottweiler, 69 and Ambush, too. We have also accepted fashion as a powerful political statement. Central Saint Martins’ Philip Ellis went as far as to dedicate an entire collection to protest against Brexit.
Anti-fashion today is less about revolution and more about evolution. People in the industry want to create collections that are meaningful and relevant, paving new ways for understanding and consuming fashion. This surely takes time.
The contemporary anti-fashion movement is not so much about aesthetics. Rather, it is about appreciating the great potential of fashion to redefine itself. From a frivolity to a powerful medium and a tool for widespread expression – one that will allow us to create a bigger picture of our culture and the state we are in.