Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Fashionable Polymath

THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS BURSTING WITH INDIVIDUALS THAT CAN’T GET ENOUGH FROM ONE CAREER. HELEN KENNEDY INVESTIGATES THE CULPRITS AND THEIR MOTIVES

A polymath is described as ‘a person of great and varied learning’ and in modern society, Noam Chomsky is classified as such a person. But what about the many different fields, other than philosophy and history, that see people of great and varied learning channelling their creativity into a wide range of arenas? The recent premiere of ‘A Single Man’, the directorial debut of fashion’s most fashionable man, Tom Ford, has highlighted the fashionable polymaths’ capabilities and confirms that it takes more than advertising a high street brand to get you credibility. He decided to postpone his designing until the film was finished as he did not wish to neglect one or the other. People would be surprised to know the amount of work Ford actually put into the making of this film, and he infused his experienced fashion knowledge right down to the Windsor knot that neatly laced the neck of Colin Firth.

The lines between designer, model, stylist, director and photographer have always been somewhat blurred, with many people having to market themselves with a handful of these traits just to book a job. With many actors and singers crossing the threshold into the fashion industry, seeing as the entertainment business is a perfect walking advertising opportunity for designers, the fashion industry has become a creative melting pot.

Cecil Beaton noted photographer, costume designer and fashion designer on his wealthy résumé, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood started out as boutique owners in the late 1970s which led to designing. and for McLaren, a steady managerial music career with the Sex Pistols. The list is endless but in recent times, faces have stepped out from behind the styling cupboard and camera and delve into the unknown and throw themselves into new projects that will test their creative talents.

Melanie Ward stemmed her fashion career from the stressful world of styling. Working her way up the ranks, she soon became the ‘must have’ stylist for designers, noting Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein as distinct believers in her aesthetic. There was however a hazy line that created problems whilst styling for many different designers, a problem which Ward picked up on. ''For me, a stylist is a major part of the support system for a designer. But a sign of professionalism is to know when to stop. It's a question of integrity. You respect them and their style.''. Her most famous stint at a design house was at Helmut Lang where for 13 years she acted as a creative director. She then spent time in the Chanel Rue Cambon address in Paris under the sunglass-shaded eye of Karl Lagerfeld as a consultant and Ward has taken that collaboration’s insights with her. Ward’s mantra confirms the fashionable polymath’s meaning- “There’s no reason why you can’t be an editor, a consultant and a designer. You can wear many hats, you just have to have integrity.” And integrity is written all over her new venture.




Ward has recently branched out into designing for her own label, Blousons Noir, with Graham Tabor. Their tea towel inspired collection for SS10 landed in all the major department stores around the world including Browns of London and Barneys, New York. With the fashionable polymath generation taking hold, it is their versatile ability that sees them triumph in other fields. Her styling background has been an invaluable tool in the transition into designer. “Often, a designer will draw something without vaguely thinking about how it will look on the body,” she says. “During my years working with Helmut, he would start with an art reference, but for me, I think about the body”.



Not unlike Ward, Paula Thomas has diverted from her model roots to become a fashion designer in the star studded city of Los Angeles where she now tames her rock n’ roll lifestyle. Once apart of the 90s model scene in London and acting as muse and creative partner to knitwear extraordinaire Julien MacDonald, Thomas’ thirst for designing was quenched by her fashion houses’ conception. Thomas Wylde embodies Paula’s rock n’roll lifestyle with the punk chic that L.A has opened up to her. Her days of magazine covers have been converted to long nights behind the drawing board, constantly reinventing her signature prints and accessories that will keep the celebrity clientele happy. Sienna Miller and Lindsay Lohan are noted fans amongst an army of Starbucks clenching Californian’s that scuttle down Sunset Boulevard. Now known as Paula Thomas for TW to omit confusion that the face behind the label is a man, Paula uses her immense knowledge of the fashion industry to create a successful ready-to-wear line. While we may not compare her to the great Noam Chomsky just yet, she is undoubtedly a candidate for a successful transition into designing amongst her contemporaries.


"Sam Taylor-Wood went down the same route as Mr. Ford, but had had some directorial experience previously with her groundbreaking art installations and the 2005 film of David Beckham sleeping. What has been described as the ‘slash career’ by one journalist, the crossover between art and film has been accomplished in recent times by a new wave of artists, such as Steve Mc Queen, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry who have all made the transition into film, and done so successfully. The film in question is Nowhere Boy, a tremendous depiction of a young John Lennon without the usual Beatles-riddled story line. Her involvement in the fashion industry distinguishes her from the others yet the creative aesthetic is still present. In the opposite direction, acclaimed French director Sofia Coppola created a line of handbags and matching sandals with long time friend Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton. "My idea of Louis Vuitton was of a company with a great heritage and great quality, and working with them solidified this.

Could the polymath be taking advantage of their creativity for lucrative purposes or are their motives genuinely creative based? Iain R. Webb confessed that in order to make it in the fashion industry one must be a jack of all trades, and do it for free. When he first entered the realm of magazines he had to be editor, contributor, creative director and sub-editor (his most notable affiliations were with Elle and The Face). Herein lies the ideology behind the fashionable polymath- it is not enough to be a person of great a varied learning, one must be successful at it too. Being fashionable is just an added bonus.

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