Musing: What is good taste?

June 15, 2009

Through a conversation with my boyfriend on a day lacking inspiration, a spark came to me and I started to explore the idea behind the Emperor’s New Clothes, a story we should all be familiar with. This 19th century fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen brings to mind several themes that are applicable to fashion. Although my original intention was to use this story as inspiration for a collection I would be designing for my portfolio, I became much more fascinated by the implications behind the story.

In the end, the young boy cries out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes at all. The emperor is not blind of course, but did not want to admit that he could not see these magnificent clothes because the tailors had said that those not fit for the job would not be able to see this beautiful fine fabric.

I’m interested in the idea of good taste as it applies to design and fashion. This article, Taste for Makers, by Paul Graham was an eye-opener for me – it is one of my favorite reads of all time.

I remember being younger and watching Fashion Television on TV and being unable to comprehend the beauty behind haute couture. I saw it as ugly and perplexing as to who would design clothes that people could not wear. Gasp, I would say now, understanding the purpose and wonder behind couture. But, if children are so innocent that their minds are yet to be tainted with societal and cultural ideas of beauty and fashion, then are they the true purveyors of taste?

I know that the fashion industry as a domain defines what is groundbreaking, innovative, and what constitutes good taste, but if they are the only ones who see the beauty in something, is it still beautiful? Whose opinion matters?

I think that for me, the best feedback is one that satisfies the industry, my instructors, my fashion peers, my non-fashion peers, my boomer parents, my 20-something guy’s guy boyfriend, my 19 year old kinda-interested-in-fashion-but-looks-like-every-other-19-year-old sister, and my 17 year old teenybopper sister who spends her time playing video games. I have often found that my desire to satisfy everyone makes it hard to achieve a consensus but makes me more sensitive and empathetic as a designer.


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