Perhaps nothing is more important when it comes to understanding the avant-garde movement than the fact that much of it is conceived and presented in terms of “full looks,” rather than individual garments. Sure, the garments are all sold separately, but the holistic approach is more important within the avant-garde movement than in any other sub-genre.
That’s not to say that a proper avant-garde look consists
only of wearing the same brand or collection head to toe, but rather, avant-garde garments—more than others—are generally designed with a designer’s specific aesthetic direction in mind. That’s not to say avant-garde items aren’t designed to bring out the most in other pieces, but like most things in life, directional clothing has a clearer aesthetic punch when paired well. But why?
Many avant-garde garments are designed with layering in mind—it’s integral to the aesthetic. Pieces are cut in ways that reveal what’s worn underneath, or to poke out from underneath an outer layer.
Consider the T-shirt as an example of how the avant-garde movement plays with volume. Many would consider the T-shirt to be a relatively “flat” garment. But, avant-garde designers turn the T-shirt into something with depth and character; they’re asymmetric or unnecessarily long, with bunched fabric and curved hems or with attached accoutrements. All together, it turns a flat garment into something that adds volume to the body.
The draping and layering so pervasive within the avant-garde community is another example of how avant-gardists create volume.
The use of heterogenous textiles to create garments with texture goes hand-in-hand with the avant-garde movement’s emphasis on volume. Not only do avant-garde designers mix and match cotton, leather, wool and pretty much any material that can be used to make clothes, but they do so in unique ways: The cottons are sometimes dipped in rubber, the leathers cracked and warped.
And then there’s the use of different materials to create layers and shells—like
Comme des Garçons’ sequinned tailoring—or using different variants of the same textiles to create a single garment.
That being said, leather and cotton—two of the most commonly known textiles—abound within the collections of avant-garde designers, possibly because they best showcase the imagination and workmanship of the design team.
Most clothing is rooted in
utilitarianism—from the advent of jeans to double-sided zippers—but avant-garde clothing is more artistic in nature and often seeks to push the limits of what we consider clothes to be. Voluminous and textured, avant-garde clothing is more inspired by sculpture than by utilitarianism—a wearable work of art that uses the human body as a vessel, but does not seek to bring attention to the body. Instead, the viewer’s attention is squarely on the clothing. As such, avant-garde garments are often described as “concealing the body” or even as altering the human silhouette.
Perhaps the greatest example of this was Rei Kawakubo’s Spring/Summer 1997 Comme des Garçons womenswear collection—
famously known as “Lumps and Bumps”—that saw an array of dresses that challenged notions of what was considered an “attractive” silhouette. But avant-garde menswear contains an element of sculptural art, as well. Consider Comme des Garçons’ use of plastic toys to adorn suits and sneakers, or Carol Christian Poell’s drip boots—they are details that have little practical use but which create a certain sense of bewilderment.
all avant-garde clothing is black, it’s impossible to deny that a lot of it is. And, whatever isn’t tends to fall in relatively muted parts of the spectrum—gray, brown, beige, white, off-white, dark grey, very dark green. Of course there are exceptions. Many think that Rick Owens only works with black, white and grey, but his seasonal collections almost always include an infusion of color, be it purple or green.
For the most part however, avant-garde collections are designed with strict color guidelines, where a single color is used throughout to accent the earth tones. Those who wear avant-garde clothing, for their part, tend to put outfits together monochromatically—a phenomenon
birthed on the runway, which has trickled down to the streets.