Avant-Garde Against the Real World: Is Experimental Fashion Still Relevant?

Joshua Nqobani

In a period of social injustice, political theatrics, and economic crisis, it becomes hard for one to validate the importance of ‘fashion’, more specifically the Avant-garde, in such a panicked world. Could it be the case that experimental fashion is simply no longer relevant? Joshua discusses.

Despite this notion, it is amid social unrest that the most inspired works of art are cultivated. Fashion designers have played a unique role in enabling societal discourse. A brief example of this is Vivienne Westwood’s 1989 Tatler cover in which she posed dressed as Margaret Thatcher, to embody her disapproval of the Tory government. Through this example, we can understand that the fashion industry can be a tool towards making socio-political commentary. Without sparking controversy, change is near impossible.

Essentially, Avant-garde and fashion itself can be interpreted as a reactionary statement that responds to its environment. In essence, it is a communication between the designer and the contemporary audience through provocative experimentation. Through the popularisation and increased accessibility to archive fashion, works of the Avant-garde are still evoking dialogue today.

The following images are a look worn by Joshua Nqobani (myself), inspired by Thom Browne’s runway collections. It is a testament to the challenging of traditional norms, in this case, the suit. Browne intends to critique formality within traditional gendered proportions in fashion.


Despite Browne’s work centring the suit (fundamentally a ready-to-wear co-ord), his constant reinventing makes evident to us a clear example of aimed experimentation and exhibits change being applied to what traditionally is left, quite ironically, unaltered. Thus, creating an effect of mass controversy, which is practically essential when making large-scale strides towards societal development.

In both the case of challenging the gender normative and speaking out against governmental powers, art and fashion seem to speak for these designers without them having to say an actual word.

The fundamental reason behind the reverence surrounding high fashion designers may be partially due to the exclusivity and element of ‘luxury’. However, the global impact these designers have, has given reason as to why their works are to be discussed, critiqued, and held in such high regard. This is accredited by their prowess in garment making and equally important ability to strike a conversation and unveil taboos to the masses.

Its ability to provoke thought and spark truly important conversations is fully made evident

In summation, the Avant-garde seems to have less of a harsh contrast against matters of the real world when its ability to provoke thought and spark truly important conversations is fully made evident. The Avant-garde will continue to evolve and perhaps become more relevant than ever, especially in current times of socio-political uncertainty.

Joshua Nqobani


Featured image courtesy of Gez Xavier Mansfield via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 1 courtesy of AnneSophie Bruttmann via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 2 and 3, courtesy of Joshua Nqobani, hair and makeup courtesy of @ayishablu. Permission for use granted to Impact. No changes were made to these images.

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