For our new series "ask Garmento," the fashion zine's Editor-in-Chief and Founder, Jeremy Lewis, answers your most pressing questions on clothes, style and fashion. Any reader can pose a question to Garmento here.
Today's question is: "Are Parisians really more sophisticated? where does this myth come from? Who would be the most sophisticated American?"
Garmento: Are Parisians really more sophisticated? No, but don't tell the French I told you that. Perhaps just a decade ago I would have said yes but the global fashion ecology has changed so much over the last decade it's hard to support the claim. However, the myth of French style has been well earned over many hundreds of years. It was in fact the French who invented fashion as we know it today. In the 14th century, upon the arrival of the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy developed the need to arbitrarily change their style of dress in order to differentiate themselves. Changes were largely dictated by influential courts but soon began to centralize with the French court leading all of fashionable Europe. It was Louis XIV, with his love for all things sumptuous, who eventually established the industrial infrastructure needed to fuel an exponentially growing demand for fine fabrics, embroideries, shoes, and so and so forth -- all made in the style he prescribed and constantly revised. Fashion eventually became one of France's largest exports and would be ingrained in its national identity. When France hosted the World Cup in 1998 they carted out one of their most cherished cultural treasures, fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent, showcasing the glory of his designs for the world to see. In France, fashion can even trump sport.
While the last couple hundred years of Western fashion have been led by Paris its clout and control has broken down considerably, particularly since World War II when French designers were unable to export their ideas to places like Britain and The U.S. After the war Italian, British and American fashion enjoyed a huge boom. A couple decades later the Japanese became a formidable force. Since then Belgium, Sweden and South Korea have emerged as fashion influencers. And now we are in a global age with an international fashion market that is dictated more by whims in Dubai, Mumbai or Shanghai than Paris or even New York or Milan. A truly global perspective will reveal a much more sophisticated sense of style and dress in say Dakar, Senegal than in any fashion capitol. And all that is required for it to be recognized is an instagram snap. To assign any one city or region supremacy would be egregiously shortsighted as we enter the zenith of the information age and delve deeper into a developing global culture.
Although, one could argue that Paris, despite having less of a monopoly on the industry today, has maintained a unique fashion culture with extremely high technical and conceptual standards. It is where Haute Couture is still made and presented. It was where the Japanese invasion landed and shocked over fashion with their brilliant ideas on deconstruction. It has become a haven for the avant-garde and a bastion for old world tradition. And frankly, the real news during any given fashion season tends to come at the end during Paris Fashion week. But while one could argue that the high conceptual and technical standards Paris maintains for fashion design assures its supremacy it has, despite this, succumb to the same commercial prerogatives that have typically been the scorn of Americans. It would be difficult to argue the sophistication of a label like Zadig and Voltaire. And then you have brands like Maje and Sandro who are trailing in a market led in innovation by Zara. And doesn't H&M show their line during Paris fashion week? In many ways the global fashion landscape has reached an equilibrium with consumers all over the world participating in the same fashion dialogue. Today the average fashion-conscious Parisian will be no more sophisticated than a girl in Minneapolis, Manchester, Manilla, or Moscow.
But who would the most sophisticated American be? I wouldn't be so bold to make a definite declaration but my vote would be for either of the Olsen twins who, in my not so humble opinion, manage to make icons like Babe Paley and Millicent Rogers seem a little shabby.