Saturday, 10 October 2009

Divine Madness

A dear Italian friend called early – very early – the other morning to talk about the fashion shows. She is a designer and art collector and knows a great deal about fashion in all its forms, so she always has interesting things to say. This time she startled me. 'Are all these young designers nuts?' she asked. 'Are the press making them crazy?' It was a challenge, especially at 7.00 a.m. and I don't think I rose to it especially well. But it did get me thinking…

There is a lot of dross out there, of course, as there is in any field of design. We all know about cars that drive as if designed with a knife and fork: who hasn't experienced the boiler with an insoluble design fault? Having to accept bad modern design has become one of life's inevitable rites of passage for most of us. Who doesn't know that if you want a teapot that pours without dripping you must go back to an 18th-century design – and has there ever been a sofa as comfortable as a 19th-century one? When I was looking for a really comfortable easy chair two years ago I sat in every design classic of the 20th century. They nearly all looked fabulous but only one was comfortable enough to buy – the Eames chair and stool.

Dress is different. There is a line between the divine madness of high fashion and the wearability of clothes to be sold 'as is'. Admittedly, the line is constantly being blurred as the high street chains get cleverer – and quicker – at capitalising on the lines of the more commercial designers, not to mention the ideas of their own highly skilled design teams who know pretty well exactly what their core customers are looking for, regardless of season and regardless of Paris, Milan, et al.

But back to the divine madness, almost the sole preserve of Paris. Certainly, what appears on the runways of designers of the calibre of Galliano or McQueen seems a long way from the realities of everyday dress. And it is. But the thousands of people who logged on to Show Studio's live relay of the McQueen show from Paris this week (watch it here) were not doing so in order to find out what they would be wearing next spring. They were looking for the excitement of a creative rush that used dress almost as the incidental instrument to hang ideas and attitudes on. And ideas and attitudes are precisely what we look for the great designers who show in Paris to provide. One man's nuts is another's spiritual bombshell.