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Manyinuo Fashion, February 2011

Feel like fashion? The Story of Fashion, with star designer Karl Lagerfeld, presents 100 years of fashion from the inventor of haute couture, Charles Worth, to the leading labels of the fashion industry of the 1980s. Fashion illustrations, photographs as well as unique footage reflect the Zeitgeist of the different periods, enchanting the viewer as the atmosphere of international catwalks is conjured. On its excursions to the different fields of fashion, the trilogy moves through cultural history, pointing out trendsetters from art, music and film, and portrays a great number of influential fashion designers such as Poiret, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Quant and Dior. Along with Lagerfeld, the designers Giorgio Armani, Pierre Cardin, Donna Karan and the critic Carrie Donovan afford us fascinating insights into the sensual world of fashion.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2010

This marvelous series, produced in 1987 but only now appearing on DVD, covers the history of fashion from the age of Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour into the late 20th century. It’s difficult to have such a series leave off roughly a quarter-century ago, but if anything it proves Coco Chanel’s dictum that “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” Yet it is exactly the ephemeral fame, or infamy, of many ideas and outfits through the centuries that keep people coming back for more, and it’s both fascinating and sobering to see how much high fashion was based on, or influenced, costume designs in the ballet and opera worlds. Since high fashion that originated with the wealthy and the world of the theater imitates and sometimes leads that world, the interchange is much more than coincidental.

A great deal of thought went into this series’ outline, style choices, and presentation, with the result that most of the time there is a clear view in presenting an era from the past and how those styles changed or influenced what came later, but sometimes fanciful excursions are introduced. Though this may seem frustrating to some viewers, it is as much the “story of fashion” as the more structured narrative. Many times, the most innovative leaps forward seem the silliest and most ephemeral, yet somehow or other something of them remain in future fashion—transformed, adapted, combined with other ideas both past and present. Madame de Pompadour’s innovative use of bows, colors, and repeating shapes and floral patterns never became outdated, but have been recycled elements of fashion ever since.

Essentially, fashion for men has always been a battle between timeless style (as Chanel would put it) and frills meant to compete with women. At the end of the second DVD, we visit high-end British men’s shops in which timeless cuts and patterns are made to order for their wealthy patrons, yet the goal is always to look as if you fit in, not stick out. Women’s fashion has always shot for the other end of the court, sometimes overshooting its mark rather widely. Perhaps the most anachronistic of all 20th-century styles was Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the post-World War II era, which was nothing new at all but a return to the frills, furbelows, and tightly corseted look of 1880s style.

The worlds of opera, ballet, sound film, Broadway, and television always led fashion. Some of the results of these leading trends stayed; others died; still others were adapted and moved on. The lightweight, easy-flowing, yet decidedly youthful bent of the 1920s “sporting look” is still with us in the casual wear of the 2000s, but so too are elegant dresses cut on the bias that became all the rage in the 1930s. Some “looks” were indigenous to individual actresses—Joan Crawford’s battleship-shoulders look—while others, like Claudette Colbert, still look surprisingly modern. Again, it is a matter of good taste, and eventually taste trumps fads.

Karl Lagerfeld, long established as a designer before he assumed directorship of the House of Chanel, acts as pro tem host of this series—not ever-present, but the only recurring voice. He is not only a creative designer but a very serious student of fashion from all eras; therefore, when he goes out on a limb, he is often adapting past ideas in his own imagination. And he knows that half, or more than half, of what he creates will not last. “You cannot define fashion,” he says. “As soon as you do, it changes.” Two things Lagerfeld particularly loves from the past, and integrates into his own fashion fairly often, are brocade and sequins. Though he is well aware that such outfits are terribly expensive to produce because they demand handwork, he simply can’t resist the look because it enhances women like nothing else. By contrast, we are treated to a couple of British punk designers of the ’80s whose headgear and accessories were made from varnished chicken heads, turkey talons, and animal pelvises. Surely no greater contrast of style could be presented than that!

Although this series leaves off in the 1980s, it was exactly during this era that the grip of fashion houses began to loosen on personal style. A greater disconnect was felt between the more outré fashions emanating from Paris and London and the styles worn by women (and men) in their everyday lives. The explosion of media had brought every woman in touch with the history of fashion and encouraged them to pick and choose what they liked from the present as well as the past. In some ways, this was a strongly American trend, exemplified by Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, who were rightly seen as stylists rather than designers. But what could you expect when “fashion” of the ’80s included the ugly, baggy Japanese look or the garish punk-Goth designs of John Crancher, whose bleeding faces (and hands), crucifixes shoved down one’s butt, and ghastly outfits sparked the origins of Eurotrash in stage productions?

Frank Behrens
Brattleboro Reformer, May 2010

Hosted by designer Karl Lagerfeld and narrated on the English soundtrack by actress Diana Quick, the first part is titled “The Remembrance of Things Past” and deals with fashion and its designers from 1900 to the 1920s—although it keeps peeking ahead into the future up to the 1980s, when the series was made.

“The Art and Sport of Fashion” concerns the 1920s up to the 1950s and features the work of such luminaries as Patou, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Dali and Dior. “The Age of Dissent” ends with punk fashions and the designs that preceded them by such people as Quant, Westwood, Courreges, Ungaro, Rabonne, Cardin, and Saint Laurent.

…the narration does relate the fashions to the times; and that is always a fascinating study.

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