Fashion or Style ?

2 Dec

“Fashion fades, style is eternal.”

– Yves Saint Laurent

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

– Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel


It’s easy to be fashionable.

Open the latest issue of any fashion magazine, buy what you see, and wear it. Just rock that head-to-toe look that you see in any editorial layout, designer ad, or store window and, voila, you’re fashionable.

But what about wearing something with a sense of style ?  What’s the difference ?  Exactly what is personal style ?

The answer is really in the question – it’s personal.  It depends on the individual.

Fashion is about following trends, blindly meandering down whatever paths the hippest magazines and hottest celebrity red-carpet-commentaries send you.  (My god, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.)

Style, on the other hand, is about adding your own twist — tweaking your look to match your personality, mixing it up, not taking it all too seriously and most importantly, making what you’re wearing your own.

When Isaac Mizrahi returned to design in 2003 with a vibrant collection for Target while simultaneously creating a small, elegant couture grouping, he introduced the concept of ‘high-low’ dressing – taking something of great value and pairing it with a simple, inexpensive find.  Mizrahi has always been one of the greatest proponents of this idea.  He often mixed his inexpensive Target creations with his couture pieces in editorials and was quoted as saying “I love it when a woman takes a $10,000 hand-embroidered evening skirt and pairs it with a $5 Hanes t-shirt.”

In other words, making it yours and wearing it with style.

French women do this with impeccable taste, courage and panache.  They are fearless in their approach to style.  A French woman will take a pair of oversized men’s trousers, cinch them at the waist with an elegant little belt, pair it with a tight little top and her favorite black heels, and just go.  They don’t necessarily care whether this is the sexiest ensemble.  If it appeals to them they wear it, and somehow they’re sexier because of it!

(Search for images of Charlotte Rampling, Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve — you’ll see what I mean…)

Americans have their own style icons, of course.  When Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw (styled by the utterly unique Patricia Field) first skirted grimy New York City puddles wearing olive cotton cargo pants and impeccable silver Manolos, or rushed for cabs in unexpectedly mixed Marni prints, we were given an introduction into not just a fairy-tale world of fashion labels and “gotta have it” handbags, but into the frenzied, frenetic, fabulous world of style.

One of the things I loved so much about growing up in the 1980s was that dressing was more about personal style than fashion.  Trends and ideas were coming from every corner, every culture.  Suddenly it was not only acceptable, but encouraged, to borrow from a hundred different sources and create a bouillabaisse of garments to mix and match however you wanted.

Though it had been percolating for a while, (and when we begin to discuss fashion history, we’ll delve into this more deeply) designers were suddenly taking inspiration from the streets, and the concept of high fashion was, quite literally, turned upside down.

Punk and hip-hop influenced luxury design and haute couture – take Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel or Stephen Sprouse’s designs as an example – and couture details began to trickle down more rapidly than ever to everyday ready-to-wear.  My love of fashion and design was cemented during that era of unbridled creativity, something that we have not seen since, sadly.


Personally, having style is wearing something with wit and a certain amount of irreverence.

It is being possessive of an attitude that can take a garment perceived as ‘precious’ and bring it into the everyday.

It is being able to wear a black tweed Chanel blazer, piles of pearls, a simple cotton tank and your favorite, most comfortable jeans.

It is wearing an exquisitely draped Lanvin evening gown in scarlet silk jersey with flat menswear-inspired shoes instead of stilettos.

It is pairing the simplest black cashmere sweater with an outrageously voluminous, asymmetric plaid Comme des Garcons skirt and black Converse sneakers.

It is about mixing unexpected colors, melding unusual textures, blending the old with the new, and playing with volume and proportion even if it is not considered “sexy” enough.

And it is, above all, about confidence, attitude and individuality.

After all, fashion is supposed to be about fun, no?


So what about you, dear readers?

How do you define your own personal style?  What have you worn lately that you gave your own twist to?

I look forward to your input…


8 Responses to “Fashion or Style ?”

  1. terri December 2, 2010 at 7:49 PM #

    I am currently wearing a boring black jacket with GIGANTIC eyelets that I added couture ribbon to lace – corset style to it. It looks 1000x better.
    I usally accessorize – some have even commented I am “the Accessory Queen”. How much depends on the event or party in which I am trying to make a statement.
    I am a stylist, so I try to wear something to talk about – when I work it’s jeans.
    Terri Mahn

    • Christopher Forte December 3, 2010 at 4:34 AM #

      Terri, you are the accessory queen. Not once in all the time I’ve known you have you ever looked less than totally pulled together. You tread that line between elegant and edgy with, here’s the word of the day, style!

  2. Bird December 3, 2010 at 12:45 AM #

    I work in the music industry, and I notice (in the extreme) what you mean about a missing style element since the 1980s. When we were young, we’d go to concerts, and not only were the singers showing off all kinds of unique, individual styles, but more importantly, almost everyone in the audience had a presence, something interesting to say with their clothing.

    Now, the bands, one after the next, wear jeans and a t-shirt. Without the music, there’s no telling the bands apart (even with the music sometimes). Again, more importantly, you can go to shows where NOT ONE person in the audience is expressing themselves through their clothing. It’s boring as hell.

    Do you think THE GAP is winning this round? Or what is causing this dull period? It seems to have started around the time that Radiohead became popular (early 90s) and is still going on…

    The best thing about trends is that they end, right?

    • Christopher Forte December 3, 2010 at 4:18 AM #

      Hey, Bird — appreciate your comment.

      It’s funny that you sent this to me, because yesterday I was jotting notes on a future entry about the marriage of music and fashion through the 20th century, and how powerful that relationship is (or rather, was). I was thinking that there are no performers (except Lady Gaga) that have a unique style.
      Or unique music, in so many cases (couldn’t agree more on that note, either)
      It IS boring as hell — though I don’t think the GAP has anything to do with it, since they can barely keep their heads above water as it is…

      You mentioned that you thought it started in the early 90s, and again, I totally agree with you — it did. Garage bands were a form of rebellion and the accompanying ‘grunge’ look, which was essentially a fringe anti-fashion movement that became mainstream, touted the integrity of the music over the pomp and flash that their predecessors had supposedly ‘sacrificed their creativity’ for.
      (Marc Jacobs’ “grunge” collection for Perry Ellis in the mid-90s brought it to the public eye. It also got him fired from Perry Ellis, but I’m convinced it was a calculated move on his part)
      Add to that the fact that right now in fashion and music, if it ain’t sexy it ain’t gonna sell, and that it’s really hard to be edgy-looking when you have only a square foot of fabric on your body, and hence you have the current dearth of style in the music industry.
      But, mark my words, I think that we’re about to see some significant changes in the ‘look’ of the music industry within the next 5-6 years…
      Be well…

      • Jed December 3, 2010 at 3:19 PM #

        Don’t forget Grace Jones. While she may have her own very unique sense of style, you have to admire the thought and courage she puts into some outfits. Lady Gaga is simply following in her footsteps. Will.I.Am has launched his clothing line, and it features some unique pieces among the ever-so-popular cardigans and plaids that the rest of the world is pushing on us.

      • Christopher Forte December 3, 2010 at 6:58 PM #

        Oh, Grace is unquestionably at the top of my list, but I can’t help but log her in with the 80s stars that were making fashion and music at the same time. (Though I do have her recent release, Hurricane and it’s quite good.) Totally agree that Lady Gaga is following in her footsteps.
        As for celebrities and musicians launching their own clothing lines — I have really mixed feelings about that. I’m not really familiar with Will I. Am’s stuff, so can’t comment officially on it, but I sincerely dislike the idea of someone using their ‘celebrity status’ by putting their name on a clothing label that, I can absolutely positively guarantee you, they did not actually design. I’m very much a purist when it comes to that — either learn how to construct clothing or don’t call yourself a designer. Jessica Simpson & Lindsay Lohan, heed me !!!

  3. tracy aiguier December 5, 2010 at 1:21 AM #

    very well said (and extremely well written) chris! i would love to share this on my facebook page so others can read it and find you. any idea how i can do that? can you set up a facebook link so we can share?

    ps. celebrities as fashion designers (ie: jessica simpson, lindsay lohan, marc anthony & JLo, all the way back to kathy ireland and jaclyn smith) have always been a pet peeve of mine. all though i apparently am willing to forgive carlos santana and his shoes, i will wear them without shame.

    • Christopher Forte December 5, 2010 at 6:28 AM #

      Tracy !! Thank you for the compliment – I guess I do with words what you do with images 🙂
      I will look into a possible FB link. I’m linked in there, so I should be able to figure out a way to allow one for you, too. Thank you very, very much for the offer.

      Regarding celebrity umm… “fashion” lines (sorry, have to pause for a second, just threw up a little in my mouth…) I think that pretty much sums it up. You are the second person to email me this question, so I may have to write a bit more on this sometime soon if I can stomach it.

      For me, a designer needs to be able to design. If you don’t know how to cut a pattern, drape a muslin, sew a garment, then you’re not a designer. It’s like being an architect who can’t actually design a building or a chef who doesn’t know how to use a stove — it’s false. And what’s worse, it takes away from those talented individuals who are really working their asses off to get ahead in a business that’s notorious for its callousness.

      When I was teaching, I was fascinated by the fact that the drop rate of new students in the Fashion Design Program after the first year was nearly 50%. It had nothing to do with the instructors, they were wonderful. But as you know it’s very common for young and creative minds, particularly (I’m sorry to say) of the current generation to decide to do something and then back off when they realize just how much bloody work goes into it. My first foray into creating clothing was extremely short-lived — I was shocked at how difficult it was to make even the simplest garment. So when you have someone who really relishes the challenge and vigor that designing and creating clothing demand, I feel they deserve a tremendous amount of credit.

      It bothers me that the general public is blissfully unaware of the fact that the Jessica Simpsons and Kim Kardashians of the world have little if anything to do with their lines, and sure as hell couldn’t create anything themselves. I think it’s misleading and something that any learned and knowledgeable shopper wouldn’t fall for. I’m glad you posed this question under the ‘Fashion or Style’ piece, because if anyone reading is looking to be stylish, it won’t be with Lindsay Lohan on your back…
      (though I will pardon your shoes…they always look good on you…)


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