The entire city was transformed for the expositions, similar to efforts seen by the Olympic host cities today. The expositions required people walk through the city. This is also a basic aspect of modern life that put fashion on display. Baudelaire wrote about the flaneur, the man about town, a dandy and voyeur who took pleasure in his own dress and that of others. The first ever fashion shows were called parades and to this day we view fashion by watching walkers down a sidewalk like runway while viewers sit back as if at a cafe.
Ulrich Lehmann, “Benjamin and the Revolution of Fashion in Modernity
In Ulrich Lehamn’s essay “Benjamin and the Revolution of Fashion in Modernity,” Lehamn analyzes and clarifies Walter Benjamin’s essay “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” in which Benjamin attempts to discover modernity’s political, poetical, and philosophical potential from the visual and literary fragments of Paris in the 1800s, the century that gives birth to modernity as well as fashion.
Benjamin uses the metaphor of the fold of a mother’s skirt, which was found in Benjamin’s earliest notes and discussed in Lehamn’s essay. Through the metaphor of the fold, Benjamin states that the fabric is made up of woven memories, which might be hard to see at first due to the folds in the skirt. But since the skirt is contemporary and the memories within it are history, there is a constant realization of the past within the present. Fashion is the explosive that obliterates historicism (the theory that natural laws govern history), giving way to a new political concept of history – one that is materialist.
In Gilles Lipovetsky’s essay, “A Century of Fashion,” Lipovetsky declares that modern fashion lasted one century, from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960s (when gaps, challenges, and anti-fashions began). Although fashion constitutes on the principle of individuality, Lipovetsky’s hundred years of fashion unified and standardized due to the establishment of the bipolar system of modern fashion in France, with haute couture at one end, and industrial clothing manufacturing at the other.
To prove his theory, Lipovetsky describes the beginning of the fashion system in the early nineteenth century. Industrial clothing manufacturing came first, in the 1820s, then, from 1857 to 1858, Charles-Frederic Worth set up the first haute couture fashion house, a highly innovative concept due to his making of samples to present to clients and his use of fashion models to display the clothes. Quite soon after, many more fashion houses sprang up following Worth’s example. Soon, the luxury industry represented by these fashion houses played a major role in French economy, occupying one-third of France’s export sales.
From 1908 to 1910, organized fashion shows were formed, with two seasonal collections, fall/winter and spring/summer. By making it a biennial affair, haute couture regularized rapidity and randomness of change of fashion. Fashion not only became centralized, but democratized as well. Chanel, for example, made clothing of simplified elegance, making it easier to imitate, which causing the gap between dress styles to inevitably narrow. The rise in sportswear for women also added to the narrowing. Instead of gathers and frills, restrained, clean lines were favored in response to the lightness and energy associated with sports. With the differences between classes blurring, Lipovetsky sees a society of democratic equality, establishing universal centralized standards and the beginning of the first phase of modern societies.
Chanel connected to the increase of leisure for women by simplifying modern female forms and using jersey.
The democratization of fashion has meant a generalization of the desire for fashion, as demonstrated by the audience in Bryant Park below.
The fashion and cosmetics industries consistently use Paris as a backdrop, perhaps seen best in the famous Miss Dior commercial by Sophia Coppola.