In 16th century London, Anne Boleyn, fresh from the French court, caught the eye of Henry VIII, a very fashion-forward monarch himself. She dazzled him as much with her elegant style as with her lustrous dark hair and flashing eyes. Her dropped bodice, long fitted sleeves and beaded headbands were immediately copied by every lady at the English court.
By the end of the 17th century, the first fashion magazine, Le Mercure Galant, was using elaborate engravings from metal plates to keep Frenchwomen up to date not only on the latest Parisian fashion trends, but on the lifestyles of the rich and famous that went with them. From these engravings would come the expression that a well-dressed woman looked like a “Fashion Plate.”
In the 18th and 19th centuries, American women could actually get their hands on a small piece of the latest Parisian designs. Articulated wooden dolls dressed in the latest French fashions from head to toe and from the inside out, accessories included, would arrive by boat to great fanfare. Local seamstresses would charge their clients a fee to look at them, and an even larger fee to take them home and study them.
Glossy fashion magazines and the designers they promote have run headlong into the reality of changing tastes, dwindling clientele and troubled economic times, all of which have taken a heavy toll on their bottom lines, not to mention high profile casualties such as Christian Lacroix.
Can they survive? Can Haute Couture survive the demands of a hyperactive society addicted to instant gratification? Or will the industry be forced to turn out McFashion to survive?
The death of Broadway has been predicted for more years than I care to remember; and yet, despite financial and artistic reversals, it continues to pick itself up, dust itself off and come back time and time again. Like the theater, change and innovation are the lifeblood of fashion. This is, after all, an industry which must ultimately give women what they want or suffer the consequences.