Dior, New Look, 1947. It was revolutionary. It is a classic. Then I began to wonder, what makes something classic? In fashion we love the word classic. It’s thrown around so often that it’s now synonymous with chic and timeless pieces. But how do we decide what’s classic?
We use terms like the classics or it’s a classic. What does that really mean? We live in a culture of hyperboles (myself included). Today, words such as love or fierce are used to convey a sense of greatness or grandeur. “I love it!” no longer means the over powering sense that you cannot live without it or the all consuming sense of joy, now it’s used to express I really like it or it’s great! As society evolves, language follows. This blog post is about defining what classic ultimately means, the four criteria that make something a classic and I will use examples from different creative mediums to illustrate such.
1 / Shaping the contemporary narrative of the status quo
The first criterion is about making a connection between the audience and the medium. In this case I will use novels as an example. In the novel format a writer is able to, and encouraged to, explore the internal world of a character in reaction to the outside world. The author’s story can provide an alternate narrative to tabooed themes, create a dialogue between the reader and the current social, economical and political climate, and/or shift the audiences’ perceptions. With a genre named after him, George Orwell is demonstrative of all the attributes that are outlined above. Orwell’s novels are thought provoking, satirical and in some aspects, coming true. His novels have intrinsic value and this leads to me to my next criterion.
The best books… are those that tell you what you know already. George Orwell, 1984
2 / What is value?
There is value in everything. Value represented through monetary means (i.e. a copy of Animal Farm is sold for $12) or intrinsic value (i.e. there’s a lesson to be learned from Animal Farm). If you put the monetary and intrinsic values together, it starts to evolve into the concept of pricelessness and that’s for another time.
The most overt example of both values in harmony are the fine arts such as painting and sculpting. However, for today I will take a different route and use graffiti art as an example, specifically Banksy. A British street artist, his work is clearly recognized by his strong use of chiaroscuro, stenciling technique, and the evocative integration of the environment informing each piece. His artwork is often a commentary on society’s current events and at the end of the day, his work is valued in the six digit figures.
Why is it that his work is more valued than other graffiti artists? It’s quite simple, it’s the brand. The same reason as to why Picasso’s work has a greater value than other surrealist artists. It’s the intrinsic value we place that often metamorphoses itself into monetary value (of course I am oversimplifying this concept and as I mentioned earlier, I will explain in another blog post). With high valued things monetary value naturally increases with time. Thus let me introduce you to the concept of agelessness.
3 / Age is nothing but a number?
The third criterion to explaining classic is the concept of agelessness. Agelessness has two facets: the first is that the archetypal concept stands the test of time; the second is that execution of the concept has cross-generational appeal. To illustrate let us consider the Star Wars films. With the release of the 7th Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the franchise has rejuvenated itself with a new generation, while honouring their long-time fan base. I say this with first hand knowledge: my boyfriend and his brother who were raised on the original Star Wars trilogy left the theatre after watching The Force Awakens in tears. Even before the release of the 7th movie, Star Wars continued to resonate with different generations. Whether because of pioneering special effects, or legendary plot twists, people remember Star Wars. And now, looking back at films 4, 5 and 6, the visuals still hold up to the scrutiny of the bijillion mega pixel screens and the realer than life speakers. Star Wars’ themes and visuals don’t feel tired or aged and this is why many will watch and re-watch, perhaps to find new meaning, for nostalgia, or simply for enjoyment.
4 / The “Re” Factor
How many times have you rewatched Star Wars? How about that book you’re reading? In defining classic we have to discuss the “Re” factor. William Shakespeare’s plays have been redone, revamped and reinterpreted so many times throughout the ages. Why? It’s because the three criteria from above. This criterion is the most important because it is the proof in the pudding. It is the memorability. It’s remembered. There are great stories and art throughout the ages, what makes them stand out more? They are remembered. It’s not lost in history or footnoted, it has shaped history.
The circle is now complete. Darth Vade
When all the above criteria intersect, a classic is born (for a classic there cannot be any one criteria without the others).
Dior’s New Look came at a time when the world needed a breath of fresh air. It was a decadent piece of art with very high shock value (large yields of fabric and especially that of silk [highly rationed during the war], strong militaristic cut), and a new shape for the new generation. Today, that silhouette is still regarded as the physical figure to have. Undisputedly, this one belongs to the Classic Club.
What else do you believe should be in the Classic Club but is often over looked? Let me know in the comments below.