Why I Like the Clothes I Like: William Morris, Dieter Rams, and the Thought of Honest Design
I’ve been insanely busy this summer, so I haven’t had much of a chance to write much on the blog. However, I’ve been repeatedly making a comparison in my head lately whenever I see fashionable or stylish garments on the street. I’ve been thinking about what draws me toward and pushes me away from certain items, and like I said, there is one concept that keeps coming back again and again. As you may or may not know, I am currently a graphic design student, and in my mind the line between design theory and the world of style often becomes nonexistent. I’ve written pieces about design and style before, and this is going to be another one of those pieces.
If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few days, you have probably realized that I’m not one for high fashion; I’m not one for leather pants, dysfunctional hats, shiny shit, or the latest Kanye sneaker collaboration. I gravitate toward simpler, more straightforward style, mixing classic fabrics and patterns to fit into a modern setting. I’m not saying that I gravitate toward the boring, but more so toward the refined. You can say that the cut or colors come into effect (and they do), but the biggest variable and determinant is the material used to make the garment. When it comes down to it, the appearance of the material, as well as the appearance of the physical attributes, is what pushes me away or toward a garment.
William Morris was a prominent designer and theorist during the Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th century. It was in the 1880s that Morris and the rest of the artists and designers in the Arts and Crafts movement adopted the “truth to Materials” ideal as a standard for work in both art and design. The concept behind this ideal was that materials should be presented for what they are; there should be no attempt to try and disguise a material or alter its appearance to resemble something else. Wood should be represented as wood, grain and all. Gold should be presented as gold, ink as ink. The idea was that if you present something as it truly is, the design would be honest and the worth would be evident.
More after the jump.
Flash forward to Germany in 1980; Dieter Rams, the genius that made Braun a household name and one of the greatest graphic and industrial designers the world has ever seen, publishes his Ten Principles For Good Design. Whether it was a nod to William Morris or not, “Good design is honest” was included as one of the principles. He said, “It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.” Another was “Good design is as little design as possible.” It was clear that Dieter Rams wanted the product to speak for itself, both visually and functionally. There was to be no confusion for the consumer.
It is in light of the ideals of both William Morris and Dieter Rams that I come to explain my growing distaste for high-end fashion and the trends they produce. I have realized that high-end fashion is not honest. It is embellished, surrounded with bells and whistles that confuse the identity of the materials used to create the garments. The problem with this is that it creates an environment where the identity of the material can be replicated or disguised, leaving no true context for quality. It’s become easy for fashion companies to make pieces that are cheaper in quality and higher in price, because the focus isn’t on the materials but on the trend and the spectacle. Essentially, the lack of “Truth in Materials” allows high-end fashion the ability to be both cheaply made and overpriced. I’m not saying this is true for all trendy fashion labels (and I’m certainly not saying my wardrobe is completely devoid of such things), but the lack of honest design facilitates this phenomenon.
That is the reason why I tend to avoid the trendy runway shit and buying labels for the sake of labels. I move toward the garments that show you what you get, completely able to be deciphered. A Loro Piana wool blazer let’s the wool speak for the garment. A pair of 3Sixteen denim lets the denim speak for the jeans. A pair of Alden loafers lets the construction and leather speak for the shoes. Those are honest garments, and in my opinion, honest design is the utmost important thing in the clothing industry.
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