Spend even a short amount of time perusing the upcoming Fall collections and you’re bound to come across a garment that has you wondering where the designer’s inspiration came from. In fact, the word inspiration itself comes from the Latin inspirare, “to breathe life into”, and is most often associated with a somewhat unconscious outpouring of artistic endeavour, be it music, art, literature or yes, fashion.

As in any creative process, inspiration can come from almost anywhere. It might be an image once seen and then stored away in the corner of a designer’s memory, or an experience while travelling that left an indelible impression on his or her psyche. Inspiration may also come in the form of a muse, a person (real or mythical) that fuels and directs one’s creativity.

Designers have also frequently drawn inspiration from celebrities and popular culture. Audrey Hepburn’s Capri pants and black turtle neck sweater come to mind, as does the iconic style of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Grace Kelly. Of late, the award-winning Mad Men TV series has fueled the resurgence of menswear circa 1960s, while the eclectic style of today’s rock n roll legends, such as Keith Richards and Steven Tyler, continues to influence runways. Not to be underestimated is the power of youth culture, with many Parisian designers continually drawing inspiration from less mainstream urban trends.

Some of history’s more influential designers themselves have become sources of inspiration, muses if you will, for today’s top designers. Take Coco Chanel as a prime example. Coco dominated the 20th century, influencing both how women dressed and how they saw themselves. An avid traveller, she is reputed to have started the pants trend for women after being seen wearing bell-bottom trousers in Venice, Italy (to better climb out of the gondolas of course!).

Another 20th century fashion icon is designer Jeanne Lanvin, who in 1913 created the “robes de style”, which drew inspiration from 18th century designs. She later created exotic eveningwear inspired by Oriental velvets and satins, and in the 1920s brought out a collection that featured a nod to Aztec embroidery.

Fast-forward to today’s leading Fall collection designers. Olivier Theyskens readily admits that spacesuits were the inspiration for his Theory brand’s upcoming 2013 Fall collection. You can see that futuristic inspiration subtly at play in his quilted jackets and tops. Theyskens reportedly stated that if it didn’t look comfy enough to wear overnight in a spaceship, it didn’t make it onto the runway.

Designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli from the House of Valentino claim that their fall Couture designs borrow inspiration from the idea of wunderkammer or a cabinet of curiosities. Piccioli explained that, “In a cabinet of curiosities, the pieces are very unique, very one-of-a-kind. We’ve tried to make something that is not only special, but also surprising, unexpected.”

Giorgio Armani’s androgynous fall looks for his Emporio brand feature a clear homage to Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, who founded Comme des Garçons (“Like the boys”), while Alexander McQueen brand designer Sarah Burton unabashedly draws inspiration from Catholicism, going so far as to divide her Fall collection along the lines of Communion, Nuns, Cardinals, Popes, and Angels.

The fall collection with perhaps the most obvious point of inspiration comes from designer Jean Paul Gaultier. One glimpse of all the spots and stripes make it clear that cats are on his mind. Lady cats, to be precise. Then there are the names Gaultier gave his outfits: Black Panther, Catwoman, and Cruella de Ville, to name a few.

Looking for your own source of inspiration? Stop by your local retailer and consider asking them for insights on the latest collections they carry and why they think designers do what they do. You’ll be certain to leave with a few interesting fashion facts to share with your friends and perhaps some added context to that new garment swinging in the bag on your shoulder.

By Mark Gould

Mark Gould is the president of Milli – a fashion boutique in business in Hamilton since 1964 and in Yorkville since 2004.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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