Fast Fashion’s Surprising Origins

The Vogue editor didn’t hold back. Writing with palpable excitement, Isabella “Babs” Bouët-Willaumez proclaimed the high-low collaboration a “basic design of perfect proportion and line for which haute couture has always been famed.” The partition between haute couture and off-the-rack had been all but eviscerated. This was the democratization of fashion in action. “Now the women in the street, the government clerk, and the busy housewife shall have a chance to buy beautiful clothes, suitable to all their lives and incomes,” she gushed.

Bouët-Willaumez could have dashed off those words yesterday—about the H&M and Erdem alliance, say, or Target and Victoria Beckham’s cheap-chic pas de deux. But she wrote her review not in 2017 but in 1942, at a time when Great Britain, still battling the Germans in the Second World War, was in the grips of government cost-cutting measures known euphemistically as “austerity.”


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