A IS FOR AVANT-GARDE
BY: BRIDGET CURWIN
COVER ART: JULIANNA LUKACS
A is for avant-garde. Avant-garde is the desire to push the boundaries of fashion, to bring new and experimental ideas into the industry. It is the essence of boldness, the newness of androgyny, and the driving force of creativity within fashion.
Avant-garde does not discriminate and does not bind itself to a particular style or aesthetic. Rather, avant-garde supersedes any one category of fashion because it challenges designers not to cater to buyers, but rather to go against the grain and combat trendiness with boldness. Although there is no one way to identify what avant-garde looks like, there are defining components that make up the feeling of avant-garde. Indeed, avant-garde inspires the kind of forward-thinking that incites a feeling of awe, the kind of feeling we get when we realize we are at the precipice of something exciting. This feeling is the result of three components working in synchrony: androgyny, risk, and innovation. These three factors each offer a special quality to avant-garde fashion which makes avant-garde identifiable as such.
Androgyny is both risky and innovative, but fits under the umbrella of what avant-garde represents. Androgyny in fashion is about more than switching normal gender roles within clothing, but to erase gendered clothing altogether. Exceeding all style or aesthetic, androgyny within fashion bends, pulls, and snaps apart the boundaries of gender identity and expression.
We find ourselves in a time when gender is more of a suggestion than an imposition, and androgyny within fashion aims to reflect the fact that expression through clothing is bigger than a societal construct. The art of fashion is by the people and for the people, and should cater to how we, as a species, have evolved. Now that we can exist in a space that embraces individuality beyond the confines of gender roles, androgyny is more relevant than ever. If androgyny is about fighting against the boundaries we made ourselves, then avant-garde offers us the opportunity to rebel against traditional gender roles in an industry that once contributed to the enforcement of traditional gender expression.
The element of risk is crucial to the creation of the avant-garde. Although there is not one way to break the rules, knowing that one's work may potentially be rejected or criticized by those who are dedicated to the 'norm' offers a sense of thrill and magic that is important to the avant-garde. It is impossible to push a boundary if one does not acknowledge the risks involved with being a disruptor. The old adage of "no risk, no reward" holds true to the avant-garde, as those who choose to break the rules are able to see beyond the confines of everything they have learned and everything that currently is. Avant-garde is about exploring what isn't, and bringing it to life. The line between bold and risky is often a challenging one to cross, as we are more often drawn to the comfort zone than to what lies beyond. However, avant-garde presents us with a new challenge, to not only take but to embrace risk. By becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, we condition ourselves to see risk as daunting rather than intimidating and can enter the realm of impossibility.
Innovation and avant-garde can be seen as somewhat synonymous, as avant-garde is, at its root, innovation within the fashion industry. Every piece that has inspired public skepticism or disagreement that has come to be embraced or rejected by the fashion community must embody innovation in order to inspire a reaction. History has demonstrated time and time again that it favors the bold, whether ideas are accepted at the time when they are presented or in the future. In order to make an avant-garde mark on the fashion industry, thinking outside of the box is essential. It is about more than presenting a new item or aesthetic, it is about paving the path for cutting-edge and expanding current boundaries outward and upward.
Some of history's most renowned designers are known for their influence on the growth of the avant-garde. Vivienne Westwood, Iris Van Herpen, and Rick Owens are arguably the most important forces in the avant-garde industry today, and even though all three are known for very different styles and aesthetics, they are still revered as masters of the avant-garde due to their evident passion for coloring outside the lines. In a world where individuality shines brightest through fashion, pioneers of the avant-garde demonstrate the kind of forward thinking it takes to truly stand out.