Friday, 14 February 2014

39. The Concepts of Beauty, Pt. I


Photo credit: http://le-21eme.com.

For a few weeks now, I have been gathering my thoughts in order to write about our notions of beauty, and with Fashion Week now in full swing, I thought that now would be as best a time as any to make a start. I studied Art History as part of my A-Levels, and I remember taking a few classes on the origins of our current idea of beauty, particularly within the female form. Hip-to-waist ratio, the width or one's forehead in relation to the remainder of their features, hair colour, nose shapes and lip plumpness were all taken into consideration by the Greeks, and their findings are ideas which remain with us even in 2014.

But, I wondered, what if the Greeks had decided that a face which wasn't half forehead and half features was the most beautiful? What if blonde hair was reminiscent of straw and not gold? What if a straight nose, full lips or cat-like eyes were all considered unsightly - how would we as 21st century individuals consider beauty then? Fashion is quite similar in its ability to prescribe to the masses without question. In one season of runway fashion the coolest of women will decide collectively that a ball gown will harmonise with a New Balance sneaker, and in another the bedroom slipper will be an equally attractive choice as the classic stiletto for evening wear. Soon enough, the aesthetics displayed by the world's most celebrated designers in New York, London, Milan and Paris trickle down into high-street stores, and it is no longer the "fashion pack" alone who find it acceptable to experiment with varying beautiful and not-so beautiful items of clothing.

I was startled by recent video footage of designer Rick Owens' offering for Spring/Summer 2014 at Paris Fashion Week:


Startled because for at least three minutes into the show I was convinced that a 6-foot, size 6, blonde waif would eventually saunter elegantly down the steps in one of Owens' signature leather ensembles. These dancers were just that, dancers, I thought. Where were the models? Where was the beauty? And then I caught myself. Despite the concepts of beauty prescribed to us by early schools of thought, was it really impossible for the regular onlooker not to find beauty in Owens' show? Given the context - fashion - could it be the case that "alternative" beauty may now be embraced in the same way that youthful, cherub-like beauty has?

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