Two of luxury fashion’s biggest names, Nicolas Gesquiere (Louis Vuitton) and Alessandro Michele (Gucci) are both well known for quoting the past and playing with time in their work. For example, in a review of Gesquiere’s latest Spring/Summer 22 collection in i-D magazine Petty writes:
Nicolas described this collection as springing from somewhere “where time is of no consequence” — a bold statement, given how essential seasonality is to how we’ve traditionally understood fashion (2021)
An article in The Face describes the same runway show as “a camp affair that, as Ghesquière promised, paused, replayed and transcended time altogether” (Sidhu, 2021). He is not the only contemporary designer actively playing with time and temporality in this way. As noted above Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is well noted for his quotation and appropriation of fashion past and present. In his article for Vogue Italia, Angelo Flaccavento writes,
…it is not important where you take things from, but where you take them to. This is even more evident in fashion: the new originates from an incessant, cathartic, superstitious elaboration of the past that stops time, or at least it tries to, through remaking, endlessly (2017).
Flaccavento cites Michele, “I am brazen. For me, creating means regurgitating, distorting and assembling everything that has passed through me and continues to do so” (2017).
These two designers situate their work as somehow outside of time; time has stopped, it transcends time and time ‘is of no consequence’. In addition, the past is always present in their work through appropriation and quotation of fashions past, but with no heed to chronology or accurate reconstruction. In Gesquière and Michele’s logic this incessant mining of the past, making the past ever present, somehow stops time. It becomes timeless.
This desire to transcend time through fashion is not limited to high-end European designers. Articles and discussions about ‘timeless fashion’ or ‘classic fashion’ or ‘style’ (is this in opposition to timefull fashion?) are mainstay articles in fashion magazines, blogs and videos. What do they mean by the term ‘timeless fashion’?
A brief survey of the term’s usage (i.e. a quick Google search) reveals a multitude of articles, Pinterest boards and retailer ‘edits’ that characterise timelessness in fashion as ‘classic’ or ‘style’ rather than fashion, ‘iconic’, ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ trends, ‘essential’, ‘the capsule wardrobe’ and ‘investment pieces’ (read on the expensive side). Items such as the Burberry trench coat, the Birkin bag, the Fendi baguette bag, the ‘little black dress’, the Max Mara camel coat, Levi’s 501 jeans, Ray Ban aviators, Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress and Converse All Stars make appearances in many countdowns and lists. An image search suggests a strong lean towards European/American heritage brands with French style pitched as the ultimate in timelessness. My image search reveals a lot of recent photographs depicting (mainly white) women sporting outfits in various hues of beige, white and black, often wearing the items listed above. These women are well-heeled, well-handbagged, and frequently appear in rather upmarket urban settings, that allude to street photography in the traditional fashion cities. They are all thin. Also appearing (but with much less frequency) are images of style icons from the past. Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, James Dean, Grace Jones and Brigitte Bardot all appear.
In her article What is the true meaning of timeless fashion? published on global fashion industry platform notjustalabel.com, Lavinia Ban describes timeless fashion as a contradiction (2014). If fashion is “by definition a realm of constant transition, fashion is very much about change – a context in which talking about timelessness may sound paradoxical”. Ban’s expert interviewees describe timeless fashion variously as neutral, risk free, linked to a dominant subculture or archetype, rare, luxurious, items made by craftspeople, items with a longer fashion cycle (i.e. not timeless at all), or simply not fashion at all.
These two narratives about timeless fashion themselves contradict one another. The former is characterised by constant change and movement, responding, quoting and regurgitating the past in ever more florid combinations. As Alexander Fury puts it in his 2016 article in AnOther, they are “chronologically scrambled” (2016). Indeed, Michele even named his A/W 2016 Gucci show Rhizomatic Scores! The timeless fashion as exemplified by the latter, is – at least on the surface – about endurance, resistance to the accelerated timescales we have come to know as ‘fast fashion’. The latter is also, I posit, embedded in a deep conservatism.
In her recent article Brands are moving from fast to ‘forever fashion’ – but are new clothes ever sustainable? Guardian’s fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley decries fast fashion’s ramped up cycle of production and consumption and also rightly explains that “investment dressing” remains “a luxe pursuit for those with spare cash” (2022). Yet Cartner-Morley’s idea of timeless (or forever) fashion is wedded to a deeply conservative, Eurocentric idea of what constitutes fashion. She adheres to a stock notion of timeless fashion, as we have seen above. Imagine the world in which we all wore a “crisp white cotton shirt, a striped Breton, a simple black one-piece swimsuit, a camel trenchcoat, loafers” (2022). Fashion is at its best when it brings joy and fun, when it’s experimental, when it enables us to express ourselves, our individuality, or our sense of belonging to a community. For me this does not include “crisp white shirts and well-cut blazers; classic knitwear and timeless little black dresses” (Cartner-Morely, 2022) at the expense of other types of more experimental dress. Why should this type of timeless fashion be so boring and how might designing timeless fashion with AI make it less so?
Ban, L. (2014) ‘What is the true meaning of timeless fashion’ Avialable at: https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/what-true-meaning-timeless-fashion (Accessed 30 November 2021)
Cartner-Morely, J. (2022) ‘Brands are moving from fast to ‘foreverr fashion’ – but are new clothes ever sustainable?’ in The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/05/fast-forever-fashion-trend-new-clothes-sustainable
De Klerk, A. (2022) ‘The classic fashion pieces that go way beyond trends’ in Harpers Bazaar. [Online] Available at: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/what-to-wear/news/g37836/timeless-iconic-fashion-must-haves/ (Accessed 18 January 2022)
Fury, A. (2016) ‘The Rhizomatic Style and Influence of Gucci’ in AnOther, [Online] Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/8435/the-rhizomatic-style-and-influence-of-gucci (Accessed 22 February 2022)
Petty, F. (2021) ‘Louis Vuitton CC22 was a voyage through the passage of time’ in i-D [Online] Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/xgxn33/louis-vuitton-ss22-review (Accessed 30 November 2021)
Sidhu, T.Y. (2021) ‘Nicolas Ghesquière’s surreal time-warp for Louis Vuitton SS22’ in The Face [Online] Available at: https://theface.com/style/louis-vuitton-nicolas-ghesquieres-ss22-paris-fashion-week-womenswear-style (Accessed 30 November 2021)