Wednesday, 26 May 2010
In the 1830s, when dressmaking was still for women only, Charles Frederick Worth used to scurry from his workplace at Lewis & Allenby on Regent Street, complete whatever errand he had been sent on, and spend the time saved by speed and a skipped lunch in a guilty lingering around the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Such a variety of pictures, in so many colours and such different styles, treating of such diverse subjects, the provincial young Worth had never conceived. And it gave him an idea: that the lugubrious pace at which fashion then rang its changes might be set to a headlong rush of enthusiasm for the rejuvenation of past styles, and replicate the indiscriminacy of the National Gallery's archiving in an only barely chronological juxtaposition of colour and cut that would purchase its freedom from the heavy skirts of social more and utility with the transformation of fashion from a craft to an art. Thus the first haute couturier set in train a process that culminates in the simultaneous removal of high fashion from the demand that it be worn, and relegation of what's worn to the tat of the high street, so that the proximity of Trafalgar Square to Regent Street becomes, rather surprisingly, a matter for regret.