“It Really IS About Time!”

Left: Clair McCardell 1953 apron dress Right: Junya Watanabe’s apron dress Fall 2020

This was the first Halloween that the scary people were those NOT wearing masks. These are strange and unsettling times, and our perception of time has changed markedly in the past 9 months. Early Sunday morning, we set our clocks back and gained one hour.

We are now waiting with bated breath for Election Day. Voting will end on Tuesday, but judges may be deciding the results for days. It feels like everything has slowed to a halt. Perfect timing for the long-overdue opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, “About Time: Fashion and Duration.” It runs through February 7, 2021.

During last Monday’s virtual press conference, curator Andrew Bolton noted, “The show is a meditation on fashion and temporality. Fashion is indelibly connected to time. It not only reflects and represents the spirit of the times, but it also changes and develops with the times, serving as an especially sensitive and accurate timepiece”.

In celebration of the Met’s 150th anniversary, Bolton traces both the linear and cyclical nature of fashion from 1870 to the present. Using 60 groupings of two ensembles each, Bolton illustrates how fashion always pulls ideas from different decades and recycles them. I wanted to show some of my favorite examples that Andrew left out. I showed it in its original (sometimes generic) form and its disruptive version taking one recurrent fashion theme. In all but one case, the latter rendition is almost unrecognizable. Unlike Bolton, I did not limit my choices to black.

The Sleeping Bag Coat

Left: Norma Kamali put the Sleeping Bag Coat on the map, and it remains one of Norma’s most classic icons. Initially designed in 1973, the Sleeping Bag Coat is as relevant and chic today as it was back then, and its basic design is unchanged. The one pictured here is currently available on mytheresa.com.

Right: Leave it to Rick Owens to put his own inimitable spin on protective padding. Rick’s sculptural and bulbous outerwear, designed for his Fall 2017 menswear collection, was deemed the perfect layer for “strapping yourself in for a bumpy ride,” as he told vogue.com time.

The Matador Jacket

Left: The traje de luces (‘suit of lights’) are the traditional clothing worn by Spanish bullfighters. They are based on costumes of the 18th-century dandies and showmen involved in bullfighting and later became exclusive to the bullfighting ritual. Through the decades, these flamboyant designs, especially the ornate jackets, continue to inspire designers.

Right: Nicolas Guesquiere ended his Louis Vuitton Fall 2020 show with four different versions of the matador jacket. They are doppelgangers for the originals. But, to modernize them and make them streetwise, Nicolas showed them over motocross pants and boots.

The Classic Trench

Left: Nothing is more enduring than the classic tan trench. The chic version worn by Audrey Hepburn in this photo is by Hubert de Givenchy, who designed all of Ms. Hepburn’s clothes for the 1963 movie “Charade”.

Right: In Junya Watanabe’s hands, the classic trench is transformed into a pinafore, a kilt, a cape, and a full-skirted maxi dress, among other things as seen on his spring 2020 collection.

Trompe l’oeil

Left: Elsa Schiaparelli was the first designer to utilize trompe l’oeil in her designs in the ’20s and ’30s. Still, Giuliana Coen Camerino popularized this style in the ’60s with her clothing, handbags, men’s ties, and umbrellas for the label Roberto de Camerino.

Right: Nowadays, Thom Browne has mastered the art and raised it to couture with his fall 2019 mind-boggling and luxurious handwork and fabric mixes. They genuinely need to be seen up close to best appreciate them.

The Peplum

Left: Peplums originated in ancient Greece, but their heydays were in the 1940s and ’80s. The 1950’s sleeveless cocktail dress with split-front peplum pictured here is an excellent example of its traditionally feminine usage.

Right: For his minimal and colorful spring 2011 Jil Sander collection, Raf Simons put a modern and sporty spin on the peplum. In one instance, Raf added a marigold peplum to the waist of a black pant. It is shown with a pink button-down shirt and coral jacket.

The Sequined Sheath

Left: In 1960 Norell founded his own label, Norman Norell Ltd., where his reputation became equal to that of French designers of the time. Norell’s style consisted of sophisticated and luxurious garments executed in a relaxed manner. Especially notable are his sequined evening sheaths, which remain classic and beautiful in their simplicity.

Right: For spring 2020, Rick Owens paid homage to his Mexican roots by referencing the Aztec culture. He mixed fabrics like cotton canvas, silk crepe, and duchess satin and made effective use of bold geometric patterns, intense color shots, and sequins. Rick’s gold sequined sheath is adorned with an unexplained strange protrusion, as are several other pieces in the collection. Rick’s sculptural, post-apocalyptic grunge designs always have their own unique glamour and magic.

The Cap Toe Pump

Left: The tan and black cap-toe pump, designed by Coco Chanel in 1957, is one of the most classic, enduring, and elegant icons of the legendary house. It is still shown in its original form to this day but has also been interpreted and reinterpreted countless times.

Right: One of the most inspired interpretations I’ve seen is on the fall 2012 Chado Ralph Rucci runway. Ralph had been working with clear plastic inserts for his designs. He conceived of the clear plastic boot with a chic black cap toe in collaboration with Manolo Blahnik. Ralph says his inspiration was Charlotte Rampling in “The Night Porter.” It’s both fetishist and elegant.

Football Shoulders

Left: The first football shoulder pads were created by Princeton student L.P. Smock in 1877. The traditional, separate, over the head shoulder pads first made an appearance around 1910 to help make football a safer sport–these are the same style shoulder pads still used today. In American Football, shoulder pads have been a fashion statement as well. In the ’80s, larger shoulder pads were worn to make players look more prominent and to intimidate the opposition. However, in the modern era, shoulder pads have been slimmed down to increase mobility.

Right: For her fall 2017 Comme des Garcons collection, Rei Kawakubo celebrated and parodied the female form. Using gray recycled waste fabrics, Rei appears to have been directly inspired by exaggerated football shoulders and the idea of protectively padding the entire body.

The Flight Jacket

Left: The USAF MA-1 Flight Jacket was first developed in the mid-1950s. This iconic nylon jacket was also used in the 1980s by U.S. Army helicopter crews known as the “Nylon Pilot’s Jacket.” Designed in nylon flight satin boasting a bright orange lining for survival purposes, pilots would turn the jacket inside out to make them visible to rescue crews.

Right: Sacai’s Abe Chitose is known for her inventive hybridizations. For spring 2021, Chitose takes the traditional flight jacket and uses it as the bottom half of a knee-length zip front coat.

A Suit of Armor

Left: English medieval knights wore metal armor of iron or steel to protect themselves from archers and opponents’ long swords. From the 9th century CE, chain mail suits gave protection and freedom of movement until solid plate armor became more common in the 14th century.

Right: Who else but Rei Kawakubo’s fall 2016 collection for Comme de Garcons could take rose-patterned jacquard, upholstery fabric, corsetry, flounces, and ruffles and create a design that conjures up the idea of a suit of armor?

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

  1. Marilyn: what an incredible article! The pairings are spot on, the colors and patterns uplifting, the choices boggle my mind! Thank you so much for this eye candy and food for thought during a very stressful time in America’s history. Forget the wine…drink in this article!

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