Never in history has fashion been so married to the images we see all around us. What seemed to start with Sex in the City and has continued with Project Runway seems to have grown into an international obsession. From Madison Avenue to Main Street, fashion touches even those of us who claim to be unaffected by it.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that images were included in fashion magazines and in turn had influence over the general public. One of the first publications to include the work of illustrators was La Gazette du Bon Ton (1912), a French publication that included ten full fashion “plates” in every monthly issue.
While La Gazette du Bon Ton folded in 1925, Vogue, founded in 1902 in America, is one of the most influential and longest standing of fashion magazines. With the arrival quick color printing in the 1960’s, came wider circulation, a boost in sales, and an expanded view of more mainstream fashion. Haute couture designers started to design ready-to-wear collections (factory-produced garments with standard sizing) that were being shown in fashion magazines and ready-to-wear became the bread and butter of the fashion industry.
Now in the 21st century, many designers have two ready-to-wear collections: a high-end line and a much more accessible, mass-produced, and distributed collection. From Charlotte Ronson and her JC Penney line, Ronson, to Vera Wang and her Very Vera for Kohl’s, designers that formerly designed solely for the affluent are re-working their styles for those that might not have had access to such high-cost items.
Whether you are interested in high-end, haute couture, ready-to-wear, or mass market, also known as “fast fashion”, the lines are beginning to blur. Retailers like H&M have special collections with designers like Matthew Williamson, Karl Lagerfeld, and Stella McCartney. Labels like A.B.S. by Allen B. Schwartz have dresses similar to those worn by celebrities on award shows ready to ship within 24 hours at a fraction of the high-end designer cost.
The fashion industry today is as vast as it is diverse. Fashion is a part of everyday lives in a way it never has been before. Fashion is no longer simply about appearances. Fashion is about personality. Fashion is both an art and a necessity.
To be involved in fashion today means knowing what television shows are hot, what music is playing on the radio, and what movie came in at #1 this weekend. It means knowing which Twitter account to follow and which people to “friend” on Facebook. Fashion today is more media savvy and one step ahead. It’s not enough anymore to know Chanel, Dior, and other high-end designers. Now you have to know who has had a recent “special” collection with Target and H&M and be aware of what’s being sold at Forever 21 and Zara.
Fashion used to be for the royal or the wealthy. Now fashion is for everyone and no one wants to be excluded. Fashion should be accessible to all while not alienating the fashionistas who need to keep the lid on something special, just for them.
Fashion is its own celebrity. Mysterious and elusive. And to be in the fashion industry means knowing how to catch onto the next big thing, keep up, hold on, and stay ahead.