The history of fashion design refers to the development of the fashion industry which designs clothing and accessories. Fashion design is the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories. The modern fashion industry, based around firms or fashion houses run by individuals usually male designers, started in the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth who was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments that he created
• Couture beginnings
The first fashion designer who was not merely a dressmaker was Charles Frederick Worth (1826–1895). Before the former draper set up his maison de couture (fashion house) in Paris, clothing design and creation was handled by largely anonymous tailors and seamstresses, and high fashion descended from styles worn at royal courts. Worth's success was such that he was able to dictate to his customers what they should wear.
• Early twentieth century
Throughout the early 20th century, practically all high fashion originated in Paris and to a lesser extent London. Fashion magazines from other countries sent editors to the Paris fashion shows. Department stores sent buyers to the Paris shows, where they purchased garments to copy (and openly stole the style lines and trim details of others). Both made-to-measure salons and ready-to-wear departments featured the latest Paris trends, adapted to the stores' assumptions about the lifestyles and pocket books of their targeted customers.
At this time in fashion history the division between haute couture and ready-to-wear was not sharply defined. The two separate modes of production were still far from being competitors and they often co-existed in houses where the seamstresses moved freely between made-to-measure and ready-made.
Around the start of the 20th century fashion style magazines began to include photographs and became even more influential than in the future. In cities throughout the world these magazines were greatly sought-after and had a profound effect on public taste. Talented illustrators - among them Paul Iribe, Georges Lepape, Erté, and George Barbier - drew exquisite fashion plates for these publications, which covered the most recent developments in fashion and beauty. Perhaps the most famous of these magazines was La Gazette du bon ton which was founded in 1912 by Lucien Vogel and regularly published until 1925.
The outfits worn by the fashionable women of the 'Belle Époque' (as this era was called by the French) were strikingly similar to those worn in the heyday of the fashion pioneer Charles Worth. By the end of the 19th-century, the horizons of the fashion industry had generally broadened, partly due to the more stable and independent lifestyle many well-off women were beginning to adopt and the practical clothes they demanded. However, the fashions of the La Belle Époque still retained the elaborate, upholstered, hourglass-shaped style of the 19th century. No fashionable lady could (or would) yet dress or undress herself without the assistance of a third party. The constant need for radical change, which is now essential for the survival of fashion within the present system, was still literally unthinkable. The use of different trimmings was all that distinguished one season from the other.
During the early years of the 1910s the fashionable silhouette became much more lithe, fluid and soft than in the 19th century. When the Ballets Russes performed Scheherazade in Paris in 1910, a craze for Orientalism ensued. The couturier Paul Poiret was one of the first designers to translate this vogue into the fashion world. Poiret's clients were at once transformed into harem girls in flowing pantaloons, turbans, and vivid colors and geishas in exotic kimono. Paul Poiret also devised the first outfit which women could put on without the help of a maid. The Art Deco movement began to emerge at this time and its influence was evident in the designs of many couturiers of the time. Simple felt hats, turbans, and clouds of tulle replaced the styles of headgear popular in the 20th century. It is also notable that the first real fashion shows were organized during this period in time, by Jeanne Paquin, one of the first female couturiers, who was also the first Parisian couturier to open foreign branches in London, Buenos Aires, and Madrid.
• Golden age of French Fashion
The period between the two World Wars, often considered to be the Golden Age of French fashion, was one of great change and reformation. Carriages were replaced by cars, princes and princesses lost their crowns, and haute couture found new clients in the ranks of film actresses, American heiresses, and the wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists.
Soon after the First World War, a radical change came about in fashion. Bouffant coiffures gave way to short bobs, dresses with long trains gave way to above-the-knee pinafores. Corsets were abandoned and women borrowed their clothes from the male wardrobe and chose to dress like boys. Although, at first, many couturiers were reluctant to adopt the new androgynous style, they embraced them wholeheartedly from around 1925. A bustless, waistless silhouette emerged and aggressive dressing-down was mitigated by feather boas, embroidery, and showy accessories. The flapper style (known to the French as the 'garçonne' look) became very popular among young women. The cloche hat was widely worn and sportswear became popular with both men and women during the decade, with designers like Jean Patou and Coco Chanel popularizing the sporty and athletic look.
In the 1930s, as the public began to feel the effects of the Great Depression, many designers found that crises are not the time for experimentation. Fashion became more compromising, aspiring to preserve feminism's victories while rediscovering a subtle and reassuring elegance and sophistication. Overall, 1930s clothing was somber and modest, reflecting the difficult social and economic situation of the decade. Women's fashions moved away from the brash, daring style of the 1920s towards a more romantic, feminine silhouette. The waistline was restored, hemlines dropped, there was renewed appreciation of the bust, and backless evening gowns and soft, slim-fitting day dresses became popular. The female body was remodeled into a more neo-classical shape, and slim, toned, and athletic bodies came into vogue. The fashion for outdoor activities stimulated couturiers to manufacture what would today be referred to as "sportswear." The term "ready-to-wear" was not yet widely in use, but the boutiques already described such clothes as being "for sport."
• Mid-twentieth century
The Second World War created many radical changes in the fashion industry. After the War, Paris's reputation as the global center of fashion began to crumble, and off-the-peg and mass-manufactured fashions became increasingly popular. A new youth style emerged in the 1950s, changing the focus of fashion forever. As the installation of central heating became more widespread, the age of minimum-care garments began, and lighter textiles and, eventually, synthetics, was introduced.
In the West, the traditional divide that had always existed between high society and the working class became considered unjustifiable. In particular, a new young generation wanted to reap the benefits of a booming consumer society. Privilege became less blatantly advertised than in the past and differences were more glossed over. As the ancient European hierarchies were overturned, the external marks of distinction faded. By the time the first rockets were launched into space, Europe was more than ready to adopt a quality ready-to-wear garment along American lines—something to occupy the middle ground between off-the-peg and couture. This need was all the more pressing because increases in overheads and raw material costs were beginning to relegate handmade fashion to the sidelines. Meanwhile, rapidly developing new technologies made it increasingly easy to manufacture an ever-improving, high-quality product.
Many fashion houses closed during the occupation of Paris during World War II, including the Maison Vionnet and the Maison Chanel. Several designers, including Mainbocher, permanently relocated to New York. In the enormous moral and intellectual re-education program undertaken by the French state, couture was not spared. In contrast to the stylish, liberated Parisienne, the Vichy regime promoted the model of the wife and mother—a robust, athletic young woman—a figure much more consistent with the new regime's political agenda. Meanwhile, Germany was taking possession of over half of what France produced, including high fashion, and was considering relocating French haute couture to Berlin and Vienna, neither of which had any significant fashion tradition. The archives of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture were seized, including, most consequentially, the client list. The point of all this was to break up a monopoly that supposedly threatened the dominance of the Third Reich.
Flying in the face of continuity, logic, and erudite sociological predictions, fashion in the 1950s, far from being revolutionary and progressive, used more from the previous decade. A whole society which, in the 1920s and 1930s, had greatly believed in progress, was now much more circumspect. Despite the fact that women had the right to vote, to work, and to drive their own cars, they chose to wear dresses made of opulent materials, with corseted waists and swirling skirts to mid-calf. As fashion looked to the past, haute couture experienced something of a revival and spawned a myriad of star designers who profited hugely from the rapid growth of the media.
Until the 1960s, Paris was considered to be the center of fashion throughout the world. However, between 1960 and 1969 a radical shake-up occurred in the fundamental structure of fashion. From the 1960s onward, there would never be just one single, prevailing trend or fashion but a great plethora of possibilities, indivisibly linked to all the various influences in other areas of people's lives. Young people, with a power and culture that was all their own, now at an age to speak out, were a force to be reckoned with: and had a powerful impact on the fashion industry. For perhaps the first time in history, there was an independent youth fashion that was not based on the conventions of an older age group. In the 1960s fashion became just as much a statement of personal freedom.
In stark contrast to their mature, ultra-feminine mothers, the women of the 1960s adopted a girlish, childlike style, with short skirts and straightened curves, reminiscent of the look of the 1920s. At the start of the decade skirts were knee-length, but steadily became shorter and shorter until the mini-skirt emerged in 1965. By the end of the decade they had shot well above the stocking top, making the transition to tights inevitable.
Nicknamed the 'me' decade; 'please yourself' was the catchphrase of the 1970s. Some saw it as the end of good taste. The decade began with a continuation of the hippie look of the late 1960s, with kaftans, Indian scarves, and floral-print tunics. Jeans remained frayed and bell-bottomed, tie dye was still popular, and the fashion for unisex mushroomed. An immense movement claiming civil rights for blacks combined with the influence of soul music from the USA created a nostalgia for Africa and African culture. A radical chic emerged, influenced by the likes of James Brown, Diana Ross, Angela Davis, and the Black Panthers, in everything from afro hairstyles to platform soles. During the 1970s brands greatly increased their share of the international market. Hems began dropping in 1974 to below the knee, until finally reaching the lower mid calf in 1977 and shoulder lines were dropped.
• Late twentieth century
During the late 20th century, fashions began to criss-cross international boundaries with rapidity. Popular Western styles were adopted all over the world, and many designers from outside of the West had a profound impact on fashion. Synthetic materials such as Lycra/spandex, and viscose became widely used, and fashion, after two decades of looking to the future, once again turned to the past for inspiration.
The society of the 1980s no longer criticized itself as consumerist, but was, instead, interested in 'the spectacle'. The self-conscious image of the decade was very good for the fashion industry, which had never been quite so à la mode. Fashion shows were transfigured into media-saturated spectaculars and frequently televised, taking high priority in the social calendar. Appearance was related to performance, which was of supreme importance to a whole generation of young urban professionals, whose desire to look the part related to a craving for power. The way in which men and women associated with the latest styles was no more a matter of passive submission but Disco music rapidly fell out of favor as the decade began, along with its associated clothing styles. By 1982, the last traces of 1970s fashion were gone.
In the 1990s it was no longer the done thing to follow fashion slavishly, a sharp contrast to the highly a la mode 1970s and 1980s. The phobia of being underdressed was finally completely displaced by the fear of overdressing. Fashion in the 1990s united around a new standard, minimalism, and styles of stark simplicity became the vogue. Despite the best efforts of a few designers to keep the flag for pretty dresses flying, by the end of the decade the notion of ostentatious finery had virtually disappeared. As well as the styling of the product, its promotion in the media became crucial to its success and image. The financial pressures of the decade had a devastating effect on the development of new talent and lessened the autonomy enjoyed by more established designers.
• Twenty First Century
In the 2000s, with the Pakistani industry which bloomed in the 1900s, the quality and mystique of Italian fashion is unsurprisingly dominant in the twentieth century and Milan well established as the "center" of fashion and design. This is evidenced through the famous "Vogue Italia", being the most internationally acclaimed and most respected magazine in the fashion world. Thus Milan replacing Paris as the most prestigious center.
As the future began to seem increasingly bleak, fashion, and indeed the Arts in general, looked to the past for inspiration, arguably more so than in previous decades. Vintage clothing, especially from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (the 1980s idea of clashing, electric colours becoming especially popular in mid-late 2007) became extremely popular and fashion designers often sought to emulate bygone styles in their collections. The early 2000s saw a continuation of the minimalist look of the 1990s in high fashion, adopted and incorporated into Giorgio Armani's designs.
Later on, designers began to adopt a more colorful, feminine, excessive, and 'anti-modern' look, which is seen in the Dolce & Gabbana brand, in grounding some of their inspiration from Italy's past. Name brands have become of particular importance among young people and many celebrities launched their own lines of clothing. Tighter fit clothing and longer hair became mainstream for many men and women, this sense of modernism and futurism as well as the growing interest of young people was heavily influenced, for instance, by the Calvin Klein and Armani brand names, with their "Jeans" lines targeting young professionals. Therefore, Italian fashion has obviously replaced the French "Couture" influence of old times, however to the envy of some Parisian counterparts in their desperate attempts of claiming international media attention and outlets such as advertising in major magazines, have attempted to overshadow the reality of Italy's success and dominance over French designs and the undercurrent consumer preference to Italian name brands, although in some media outlets it suggests otherwise, as seen through the lack of advertising "balance" between French and Italian brands - the growth of French designers claiming more advertising space, and financial priority in advertising initiatives.
Therefore, there is very strong evidence that the fundamental authority in the fashion industry still rests strongly with Europe, particularly Milan and Italian designers - evidenced through the palpable international praise and worshiping of the quality and superiority of Italian tailoring and "Alta Costura" or "high-end" Italian designer products. Regardless of the modern phenomena of the growth of luxury resorts and products being manufactured outside Europe, such as in Asia and the Middle-East, amazingly, Milan is still the dominant center of luxury and prestige in the world, supported by its history and superior quality surpassing the other so-called "centers" labelled by the media which are based mainly on industry and advertising, rather than quality and elegance. These trends suggest that Milanese dominance will continue, as designers from foreign nations look up to and completely depend on Italian and French maestros and masters of the art to teach them. There is an increasing need for excellence and "hyper-luxury", stated in Vogue Australia March 2012, as seen through Italian and French designer prices climbing even higher in spite of the recent economic crisis.
For many of the own-label designers who emerged in the early years of the 21st century, financial factors became increasingly critical. Many new young talents found they now depended on investors (to whom, in extreme cases, they would even surrender their names) and were always burdened by the risk that their partners, motivated by market realism and the desire for quick returns, would severely restrict their autonomy.
Designers like Berny Martin struck out on their own to places like the US Midwest. Their hopes were to bring fashion design back to its artisan roots.