The 20th century is often referred to as the American Century, and that’s not just because the US bombed and invaded whomever it felt like, whenever it wanted. From the glamour of old-time Hollywood to Jackie O to Britney Spears’s schoolgirl slutdom, American fashion and trends were admired all over the world and changed the way people dressed from Poland to Japan.
While globalization and labor outsourcing mean that today most of the world’s clothes are manufactured in third-world sweatshops, the garments were likely either designed or heavily influenced by Americans. Foreign fashion designers both love and hate the US’s global influence on style, so for this American-themed Fashion Issue we thought it would be interesting to ask our international offices to get in touch with their countries’ most influential designers and fashion icons to see what they thought of the country’s fashion sense. Not surprisingly, opinions were mixed.
Model and stylist
Nothing influenced Romanian fashion and behavior like the American dream from movies and TV shows. We ended up believing it could be real for us, too. Unfortunately, all you have behind this concept is a movie ideal that can’t work in real life. The shows that influenced us the most were Dynasty and Dallas. When I think of American fashion, I think of the whole cowboy look: the hat, denim jackets, and jeans. The latter were the most influential on our day-to-day lives. We all wanted jeans after we saw them on TV. And you couldn’t really buy them in stores during the Communist regime, but my dad was a sailor and brought back 20 to 50 pairs after every trip. If you were caught selling them, you risked going to prison.
Simon Porte Jacquemus
Designer and CEO of Jacquemus
Calvin Klein is the only American brand I like. I like the very minimalist aspect to his stuff—you know, a girl all dressed in gray, with a center-parted haircut, wearing low-heeled shoes in front of a white wall. Growing up, I thought all the American stuff sucked. The US has never attracted me or ever made me dream. Not even American movies. Today, I can be amazed by a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. I enjoy it because, basically, there’s nothing funnier than that—though it has nothing to do with what I’m actually doing with my work.
Designer and founder of her own label
I think American fashion has changed a lot in the past five or six years, thanks to all these new, cool Asian-American designers who have popped up recently. I would never have considered showing up to New York Fashion Week if it weren’t for them.
Did you know there are Swedish brands, like Gant and Lexington, that market themselves with an American-dream vibe? I think that’s funny. I love America. I once did a collection inspired by 80s American horror movies and the archetypes you always encounter in those films: the horny teenager, the virgin, the redneck idiot, and so on. That collection also has jewelry made out of chewing gum, checkered shirts, dungarees, and dreamcatcher accessories.
Co-owner of NEON and designer for CORI
I think that the greatest legacy of the US in fashion was to create casual, practical, commercial clothing. The US’s gift to the world was [Roy] Halston, who made minimalist work, sold millions, and is very important to contemporary fashion. What Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein do now follows from that.
After World War II, Americans were seen as the biggest trendsetters on the planet. The entire world wanted to be American. This attitude is dissipating in the 21st century, but we absorbed a lot of it—in Brazil, for instance, with streetwear and hip-hop. It’s a good thing this is dissolving now, because the USA, which has always been synonymous with innovation, has also become synonymous with bullshit.
Designer for Moonspoon Saloon
I moved to Los Angeles a while ago, and the performance scene here is so optimistic that it has influenced me deeply. Two weeks after arriving here, I did a performance on the streets of Chinatown with roller-skating dancers, a giant floating head, and 25 performers I had never met before.
I felt welcomed by everyone here, whereas back in Europe people are skeptical about what you are doing and there is a peculiar need to label everything. Moonspoon Saloon didn’t fit into any of the fashion boxes, so we did most of our work in the art scene to begin with. In America, people don’t care what it is, and almost immediately we were doing costumes for Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. I feel more relaxed over here.
Designer and entrepreneur
As a Mexican designer, it is impossible to compete against the American fashion industry. They produce so much that they can sell at cheaper prices. I’ve always championed the idea of buying less stuff at higher quality, even if it’s more expensive. For a long time, it was very hard to buy good clothes in Mexico, so Mexicans shopped in the US. Then a few years ago, Inditex [one of the world’s largest fashion distributors] started opening stores in Mexico, and people began shopping for clothes here. In Mexico, there’s still a lot of malinchismo, which means that people prefer what comes from abroad to what’s local. That idea just started changing recently, and now more and more people are producing local clothes, and people are starting to support that.
Designer and founder of her own label
America invented the bra! That’s been enormously influential—women finally have their tits in an interesting place rather than slung around their ankles. That changed the look of women worldwide.
The worst aspect of American fashion, I guess, would be the not giving a shit about human rights—where stuff is made, how the workers are treated. The saddest thing is when you see the bosses on vacation, the owners of these huge corporations, being flashy in these enormous yachts that look like housing projects tipped on their sides. They don’t have the intelligence or imagination to work out how to properly spend the money they made. I think they are irresponsible.
Founder of the Fiorucci label
All the fashion iconography from the 50s is American. For years, American cinema inspired our lifestyle and the way we dress, from Cadillacs to home appliances—it’s a world we’ve all been inspired by without even knowing it. Personally, I relate more to American fashion than European fashion, which is more restrictive. High fashion is really pretentious. One thing I love about American fashion is the “shabby chic” style.
Designer and founder of his own label
American fashion is very traditional, stuck in a rut. It’s practical in a way, but it doesn’t take any risks or experiment. On the other hand, it’s fashion that is strongly connected to the country, clothes that serve a purpose and that will last for many years. When I think of America I think of cowboy history and designers like Tommy Hilfiger, a leather jacket with fringes on it, or simply a classic denim shirt. That’s very American to me.
Americans live very differently from Germans. It doesn’t seem to matter who they’re talking to. They’re open-minded people. That’s something we’re missing here, where people might look at you and ask: “Who are you, what can you do?” The pursuit of equality is something to be recognized in my work too.
Portraits by Guillaume Belvèze, Noam Griegst, Alessandro Macri, Hanna ter Meulen, Mîndru, Fernanda Negrini, Tim Neugebauer, Yvonne Venegas
Want more fashion? Check these out: