Retro! Retro! Retro! : An assertion of a word's undermining nature in juxtaposition with the hidden greater triumphs of Retro-centric creation praxis'


Retro, in design/fashion could be interpreted as taking inspiration from an age that has since been canonised, the aesthetics preserved through retrospective rose coloured glassed. The 50's the 60's maybe even in 70's ( my recent enquiries leaving a certain apprehension concerning this latter decade, perhaps my research has jaded me? ). However I find the common definitions, etymologically based or otherwise, far too linear. It is perplexing how this myopic definition is so often applied to fantastic progressions in design - sure there is often an element of a design from past years in "retro" fashions/designs - but so so often the simple label of "Retro" betrays the merits or innovation of the design. For essentially a fashion garment is hardly ever a copy of a garment that was created 50 years prior. In fact this would be unfeasible and almost impossible in many scenarios. Retro designs are really just new, innovative creations that transform a pre-existing ( or entrenched ) aesthetic. Sometimes Retro designs could merely be reinterpretations of older fashions however so very few designers actually just reinterpret - for this would require an aesthetic ( from the 60's for example ) to be re-imagined though a subjective creative mind without any other aesthetic influence's - for almost all designers and artists in today's world - this would be impossible without years of strict study in order to avoid the influences of modern life infringing on their new interpretation. Retro ought to be seen as merely a fashion that acknowledges the aesthetics of previous generations, and in the hyper-informative world of internet archives, photographic monographs and nostalgic genres surely its almost easier to be retro than not - or rather is easier to take an influence from a typical retro design and incorporate it into a vision, much more so than a strict representation of an old retro design. However forming something new and non retro is essentially similar to forming a new retro design with regard to the praxis of influence. In that the volume of information available, the daily bombardment of imageries is so encompassing that it would be rather strange to not, in some capacity, be influenced retrospectively - and as a result create retrospective fashions. Retro is like everything else, in the days of fast fashion, David Peace, Channel advertisements and Ralph Lauren - its just another thing to draw inspiration from. Like Goth's, Grunge ( Rick Owens ) or Hippies - retro is just another aesthetic to add to the melting pot. However retro-centrically formed designs can still create some of the most innovative and beautiful fashion, just like taking the right elements from any contemporary paradigm, taking the correct elements from an older aesthetic and blending them with innovation and finesse is a rare talent. -The good, valid and alive 'retro' fashion is not merely re-presenting or re-creating. Its orchestrating a semiosis of culturally embedded aesthetics from within an ( inevitably ) contemporary paradigm. This requires an innate sensitivity to various aesthetics and a profound comprehension of a designs possible readings by the viewers. Ann Demeulemeester’s designs are perhaps a good example of the sensation created by a designer with such rare attributes. Always new, always contemporary, innately Retro. Another retrofic realm of contemporary fashion would be the slow emergence of Amerkaji/Workwear fashions, brands such as SugarCane Jeans, Folk, Fjallraven, Albam, Acne, Kato, Nigel Cabourn, Post Overalls ( to name just a few ) operate around a dream of post-war american nostalgia, whole forums are dedicated to amerkaji fetish and a market has grown upon this supported equally by the higher level of garment quality and character. Unsurprisingly Ralph Lauren has got in on the act an now has another line a called Rodeo Ralph Lauren which taps into the very same line of historico-aesthetic strata as the Japanese Amerkaji brands that grew out of the 80s ( such as Samurai Jeans, SugarCane Jeans etc ) and the re-vitalised established brands such as Fjallraven that can flourish in their own retro past. Various publications such as the wonderful Inventory Magazine and perhaps the aesthetics fetish progenitor Lightening Magazine focus, fetishize and promote this odd mode of retrofic design.

In many respects Retro is essentially similar ( in praxis ) to contemporary on non-retro designs. Both rely on a fusion of many different aesthetics, and both operate around creations born from an indecipherable myriad of influences, and the cartesian rot of deducing that all the retro praxis’ to be identical to their contemporary cousins is an inevitable pitfall - and one im not willing to succumb to -for past the praxis of all aesthetic creations is something more compelling and enlightening with regard to revealing the true finesse of a good retro design. A contemporary design appears as new, as does a retro design, however the latter holds an uncanny essence of the past, or rather its as entrenched in the bygone aesthetic ( and so too the said aesthetics many morphed and warped canonised permutations ). Retro is uncanny, new yet old. Like the newly formed perimeter of an expanding snowflake, the edges are stunning and new but innately and mysteriously tied to the pattern, the various arms of its genesis, whilst also being the product of so many incalculable outside factors......Ralph Lauren’s chic 50’s americana is another example of how retrocentric praxis can form new and exciting designs but still with an uncanny essence of “Retro”. The silver screen effect is apparent, the works are bathed in the white sheen of stage lights from the familiar scenes of movies only glimpsed fleetingly but none the less imparting the notion of “Retro”, of the familiar and established aesthetic paradigm of an age preserved in the post modern zeitgeist. Retro designs are slightly more than merely a convenient aspect of post modernism, retro is not just historicized aesthetic as commodity - the effect is not that flat, not that shallow. Truly retro design creations bring another level to aesthetic appreciation, juggling a myriad of new and old and familiar and uncanny, if a plain representation of a bygone design is two dimensional approach with an acutely linea visual reception a truly retro design operates sublimely through all four dimensions and more. A retro design should operate through time, our memories and souls whilst also satisfying the longing for the new. 

I recently stumbled across a few gorgeous images of snowflakes harbouring all the beguiling beauty of what I consider a retro design, these snowflake photos were taken by Kenneth Libbrecht of CalTech, using a specially-designed snowflake photomicroscope. They show real snow crystals that fell to earth in northern Ontario, Alaska, Vermont, the Michigan Upper Peninsula, and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I include them as further support for the retro-snowflake analogy and also to ( hopefully ) provide delight.

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