Ranking Avant-Garde Fashion for Actual Wearability


Culture industry was a term coined by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer, two brainy theorists with awesome surnames who waxed poetic about the failure of the Age of Enlightenment. Heady stuff, but their century-old theory about mass-produced culture and the media machine that makes it is relevant now more than ever.

Over the last decade individuality has — ironically — been standardized thanks to the likes of indie superstore, Urban Outfitters, H&M and (sorry Jenna Lyons) J. Crew. The fashion equivalent of the soap opera, retail giants are by definition formulaic, adhering to pre-existing templates that above all else, promote scalability and profitability.

With the modern mass culture factory growing at a mind-blowing rate, we thought we’d take a minute to look back at its antithesis: the avant-garde. Should consumerism ever go the way of the dodo, here’s a fun reminder of what our closets might look like if artistic originality not sales figures ruled the day. From the Godfather of vanguard fashion, Issey Miyake, to Björk’s partner in fashion crime, Hussein Chalayan, to the intentionally anonymous genius behind Maison Martin Margiela, click through to see how we think these eccentric and original designs measure up in terms of everyday wearability. Let us know in the comments which look you’d consider rocking any old day of the week.

10. Hussein Chalayan

Image credit: body meets dress, dress meets body

We’re going to put this cloud-like confection of a dress at the very bottom of our list. Sure it’s fun and probably pretty comfy, but visibility looks like an issue and we can’t imagine public transportation in this ensemble, not to mention the most basic of daily activities – sitting down.

9. Alexander McQueen

Image credit: petrole

Oh Alexander how we love you, but how are we ever supposed to wear this out in public and live to talk about it. This gorgeous lace bodysuit is death by social disgrace. That being said, it would make a dynamite Halloween costume. In fact we’re already thinking about how we can recreate this look on a budget come October.

8. Alexander McQueen

Image credit: body meets dress, dress meets body

Again, the visibility thing! Isn’t that a basic tenant of clothing, avant-garde or not, that the wearer be permitted to at least see his surrounding environs? That being said, this exaggerated Geisha-esque bucket turtleneck looks like you could roll it down. We’re also giving points for the delicate print and perfect shade of pastel pink.

7. Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons

Image credit: petrole

OK, now we’re talking. At the very least we could somewhat function as normal individuals living in a modern world where things like visibility, mobility, and PG-13 attire are basic everyday requirements. We’re liking this two piece ensemble for the whimsical cloud-like vibe that we loved in #10, but it’s decidedly more wearable. We can actually imagine wearing this on the subway, or better yet, sitting down on the subway.

6. Balenciaga

Image credit: Vain and Vapid

Two words — Darth Vader. We’re pretty sure that this would make quite the statement on Bond Street, but we’re not exactly sure if it would be a good one. And yet, it’s quite the shield from the elements and the fact that it’s in black makes it a candidate for being a great bold accessory to our otherwise minimal urban uniform.

5. Jean-Paul Gaultier

Image credit: Joyce

Now we’re really getting somewhere. From here on up, we think all of these avant-garde statements are decidedly do-able. At the bottom of our most wearable moments, if only for the foreseeable weight of half a suit of armor’s arm, this Gaultier dress is sexy in a Xena: Warrior Princess kind of way. The shimmery blue is on point and we love the high slit and exposed arm decked out in silver jewelry that doubles as urban armor. Hey, it still gets rough in the LES at night sometimes.

4. Walter Van Beirendonck

Image credit: Fashionisto

We’re giving this look high marks because color’s in right now. Not to mention the weird wooly top layer has us thinking poncho – one of our all-time favorite seasonal standbys. The deconstructed red-and-beige polka dot kilt cum pants are equally incredible.

3. Martin Margiela

Image credit: 66 Lanvin

Three words. Silver metal garter. We’d give this a decidedly higher ranking if the thing was actually visible most of the time because it might just be the best accessory we’ve ever seen. Light years beyond the belly-button chain or the arm cuff, this is Margiela at his best: subtle, sexy and invisible.

2. Hussein Chalayan

Image credit: I Dream of a World of Couture

A simple sheath dress is oh-so-wearable, but engineer some LED lights into it and all of a sudden it’s appropriately avant-garde without being awkward.

1. Issey Miyake

Image credit: intelligent—–clashing

This knit sweater from Miyake’s 1977 collection is, for lack of a better description, off the chain. The kimono inspired shape is comfy and flattering. The stripes are timeless and it looks like it does double duty as a great travel blanket. What can we say, we’d wear this all day, every day.