Sunday, 27 March 2011

Loss of Innocence

It may sound like I’m stating the blindingly obvious, but in order for one to lose innocence, one has to be sure of even having it within their grasp in the first place. If we consider innocence to only exist within childhood, then we must also ask the question, when do we cease to be children? In short, the objectification of innocence is sensational and misleading. We cannot talk of a loss of innocence because nobody really knows if they were ever innocent in the first place.

For the purposes of many a British newspaper, the loss of innocence seems to hinge on young people ‘growing up’. But isn’t this a rather Christianised, sensationalised way of looking at things? When we talk about ‘losing innocence’ we do so with negative connotations, but surely the media’s perception of what constitutes innocence is reductive to the point that we ignore the progressive realities of entering into new stages of our lives. In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield laments the prospect of growing up and wishes that the innocent ‘world of childhood’ would prevail. Adult life seems complex and deterring. In many ways, we, as university students, are amid the transition that will see us lose the innocence that the media put upon us, and, if the tabloids are to be believed, become an intrinsic part of ‘Broken Britain’. But losing the innocent things that make us children, namely virginity, sobriety and naivety, does not represent the onslaught of degeneration and corruption, although it may be daunting to those on the precipice, like Caulfield.

When something is lost, it is usually always replaced by something new that is gained from the experience of losing. When we grow up, have sex, get drunk, learn new things, we partake in a process of maturity. Whether we like it or not, our innocence, tenuous a term though it is, will gradually deplete. And I see this as no bad thing. The more we know, the more we are able to contribute to our societies, our families and ourselves. We get jobs, educate ourselves, earn money and probably have families of our own. I’d say that this is called the passing of time, as opposed to the ‘loss’ of innocence. Innocence is often synonymous with childhood, but there is no reason to detract from what we’ve learned in order to capture something irretrievable. Nostalgia is a poignant emotion, but not something that we should wish to be a reality.

I often wonder what would happen if we were to retain the innocence that the media condemns us for losing. After all, the loss of innocence is nearly always cited as a ‘bad’ thing. I would agree that lots of teenagers extend the boundaries of what is acceptable, but what they’ve lost isn’t innocence, it’s respect. I’m sure that being ignorant to the realities of life isn’t a state that we should wish upon anybody.

The Internet is often cited as the guilty culprit of our increasingly ‘guilty’ society, but sometimes we are at risk of forgetting how much good has come from it. Whilst it is important to control what can be consumed via the Internet, there is no need to lament the change that this generation of young people have experienced. Children aren’t growing up faster, and entertaining this clichéd impossibility displays ignorance to the fact that they are simply growing up differently. Exposure is important, to a point, and the luddite attitude that is emerging may perhaps prevent young people from experiencing the full extent of the technological change that is currently underway. Although I would never undermine the importance of protecting children, there is no need to use cotton wool in a fallible attempt to prevent the imagined loss of innocence.

Referring to the term ‘innocence’ is sensationalist and outdated in today’s society. It is used to condemn young adults for growing up and partaking in natural, normal experiences and to express a desire to needlessly prolong a young person’s naivety. The popular use of the phrase ‘loss of innocence’ is, by all accounts, redundant, because we have lost any true perspective of what innocence is. In fact, we’re in danger of stepping on Holden’s toes.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Case of Misidentification

This comment piece was published in Exeposé. It outlines the problems that current University of Exeter students are suffering, now that the University is prioritising its status as a business as opposed to an institute of higher education.

I can’t be the only one who was left distinctly underwhelmed by the news that the University of Exeter is the 62nd fastest-growing business in the Europe. Our current investment programme is one that only a small number of companies could ever hope to devise, made all the more unattainable by random injections of cash donated by generous alumni. But does this mean that we occupy a fair place among these rankings?

I would say no. The current level of growth is one that cannot be sustained. We are set to fall drastically from this plinth of economic prestige and we must be aware of the fact that were are an anomalous statistic, set for decline when the cuts make their move and the money runs out. In addition, given our unfortunate stance as the ‘lost generation’ of Exeter students, we can safely say that, during our time here, the university has ingratiated itself as a business far more than it has as an institution for learning. Maybe we’re the unlucky ones, but seeing corporate suits grinning their way to the top of the wrong kind of league table makes me feel like we’ve been sorely mislead in our view of what a university should be, and what, in reality, we’ve been provided with.

Something is definitely amiss when a university is proud of climbing the ‘fastest-growing business’ rankings, whilst quietly hushing up the fact that our employability and staff/student ratio levels are ensuring our decline in the higher education league tables. I don’t wish to purport a luddite-esque stance of ‘change is bad’, but I do bemoan the fact that our time spent here at Exeter has been marred by a severe lack of balance. What these statistics show is that the fine line between investing in the future and protecting the sanctity of learning has not been struck.

Hopefully this trend will experience a dramatic reversal when the Forum Project has finished, for the sake of the university’s future students and the worth of our degrees.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fashion draws on Illustration

Sketching has been and always will be a beautiful and essential part of the design process, something that creative minds take to naturally in order to make their ideas come to life. But illustration and its many mysteries don’t just have a part to play in the evolution of the garment. Once a dress has sashayed down the runway, the fashion illustrators come out to play.

Even in our increasingly technological times, fashion illustration still has a transcendental allure that eludes many a photographer. It’s the art that has undergone numerous reinventions and portrays fashion faithfully by putting pen to paper. And it’s an art that is still very much alive.

Two marvellous exhibitions have recently paid homage to the unsung candescent glory of the history, present and future of fashion illustration. Dior Illustrated at Somerset House and Drawing Fashion at The Design Museum have both captured the timeless qualities of drawing clothes- despite how oxymoronic a term ‘timeless fashion’ may seem.

Dior Illustrated took a detailed look at the illustrator René Gruau’s relationship with the house of Dior. Christian Dior and Gruau met on the fashion desk of the French newspaper Le Figaro in 1936 and thus began one of the most fruitful partnerships in artistic history. John Galliano once that “to be inspired by Dior is to be inspired by René Gruau”, testament to their kindred spirits and Gruau’s talent for capturing that which is elegant and youthful in both men and women. The exhibition predominantly displays Gruau’s illustrations for the Dior parfum advertisements, including Diorissimo, Diorling, Dior-Dior and Miss Dior, to name but a few. The gesture and attitude in Gruau’s illustrations from the 1950s to the 1970s reflects his understanding of the spirit of the age. There is something deliciously, mischievously modern about the liberated poses of the women in his visions.

Gruau's work with Dior Parfum was extensive and dramatic.

The mutual loyalty between René Gruau and Christian Dior translated into a loyalty between the artist and the house of Dior after the designer died in 1957. The 1960s rise of photography solidified the enduring relationship as Dior stayed faithful to Gruau’s work. Gruau’s focus on line and silhouette is highlighted by the exhibition in many drawings for both the Dior clothing and perfume ranges. Each woman (and indeed man) appears engaged and sophisticated; their elongated limbs convey a poise which is simultaneously graceful and assured. When, in 1966, Gruau’s drawing of a pair of hairy, male legs scaled a full page of Le Figaro, it became clear that this was a man who could not only capture essence with startling accuracy, but one who could reinvent and break with tradition whilst still retaining his creative integrity.

Gruau reinvents 'the male'.

Whilst Dior Illustrated chose to concentrate on Gruau’s influence at Dior, Drawing Fashion spans a century of fashion illustration, and casts a provocative glance into the future of the art. Georges Lepape’s ‘Chapeau de Poiret’, drawn in 1912, and his 1920s drawings and covers for Vogue began the exhibition and set a wonderful precedent for a journey through history which fused fashion and art strikingly, beautifully and delicately. The Design Museum’s space was starkly lit, and led its observer around a pathway through time which impressed, if anything, the astounding amount of work that was produced by fashion illustrators in the first half of the twentieth century. One could not help but be taken aback by the sheer craftsmanship and the scale of the achievements of artists such as Romain de Tirtoff (known as Erté), Paul Iribe and Pierre Brissaud, who worked with materials including charcoal, watercolour and ink.

An early twentieth century VOGUE cover.

Moving through the century, past an extensive space devoted to Gruau, you reach the 1970s and 80s, and what can only be described as a shock of colour upon encountering the tribute to Antonio Lopez, or ‘Antonio’, as was his signature. Fashion exercised its greatest influence through magazines, as is still the norm today, but in these cases, that influence was conveyed through drawings. Even now, it is not difficult to see why the drawings of Antonio were a resounding success. His reach, as an illustrator, was prevalent and he captured the excitement of youth and the movement of the clothes through his vast array of work. Many of his pieces are resonant of Andy Warhol, and he was a master at drawing the attitude of the garments.

Antonio's vision of colourful liberation.

So where is fashion illustration now, and what does its future hold? Well, illustrators like Mats Gustafson, Francois Berthoud and Aurore de la Moriniere refuse to be crowded out by technology. The methods have moved on, and artists are now using monotype and collage to bring couture to life. This is a serious art, which, despite its depleted influence and lessened notoriety, is still very much alive. The current fashion illustrations are clean-cut and subtle, with a return to simplicity, perhaps a mark of our austere times. They are popular among Chinese and Japanese fashion magazines, where the are admired for their edgy rawness. There is a sense of mystery that compliments the anonymous nature of ‘the drawing’ as opposed to ‘the photograph’ and to many enhances the continuing allure of this particular art.

The chic austerity of Mats Gustafson.

What these exhibitions capture is our desire for the real, the visceral and the ‘imperfection’ of the past. The more we immerse ourselves in technology and the more our lives become web-based, the greater our yearning for human art becomes. Retrospective glances toward what has seemingly passed make us nostalgic, because you don’t know what you’ve lost until you think it’s gone. Thankfully for us, fashion illustrators and their beautiful depictions aren’t going anywhere.

Read the print version of this article in the current (week 20) edition of Exeposé.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

High Street Buy of the Season SS/11

Oh Whistles. You sit just awry of my student budget, yet you always seem to catch me at my weakest moment. This gorgeous pink pleated skirt from the upper end of the high street became the sartorial apple of my eye about a month ago, and the £95 price tag becomes ever more justifiable when I consider cost per wear, trend count (brights, neons, pleats, mid-length, colour blocking potential) and the 'smitten' factor. Resistance is futile.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Fashion Victim

The world of fashion was rocked last week when it was reported that John Galliano, creative director at Dior, had been arrested for making abusive, racist and anti-semitic remarks whilst drunk in Paris.

After a video of Galliano professing to 'love Hitler' was released on the internet relating to a separate incident, the designer was fired from his role at Dior and could face jail if found to be guilty.

His disgusting remarks were condemned by actress and recent oscar winner Natalie Portman, who also happens to be a devout Jew. She said that in light of these allegations, she would 'not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way'.

Natalie Portman and John Galliano before the recent allegations

But the furore surrounding Galliano's antics has seen some of the world's leading fashion figures come out in defense of his behaviour. When many would have expected role models, celebrities and fashion editors to express sentiments similar to those of Miss Portman's, it seems as though the opposite has happened. Instead of angrily attacking the fact that racist and anti-semitic persons still exist in our society, the fash pack seemed to collectively pronounce their woe at the demise of a creative genius. Fellow designer Roberto Cavalli even sided with Galliano, saying 'John, I am with you'.

Creative genius or not, surely actions as contemptible as these outweigh any consideration of an individual's talent? This seems to be another case of the fashion world forgetting that they have humane responsibilities that should utterly override any sadness derived from the dismissal of a skilled designer. It is at times like these when reality should bite, and I don't think I'm the only one to express concern over the fashion world's ability to completely miss the point.