Fashion has long embraced the diagonal motif with a passion, which characterizes what fashion is all about. Diagonals move the eye of the observer freely across fabrics, which also slide across the forms of the body. Diagonal motifs introduce novelty, that translates into allure. A diagonal line flatters a body and makes it appear slimmer.
It is known that diagonals carry cachet and offer a note of prestige. A great fashion designer who worked extensively with diagonals in the 1920s was the French artist Madeleine Vionnet. She was called the Queen of the bias cut. She trained in London before returning to France, where she established her first fashion house in Paris in 1912 and went on to influence the likes of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1920s.
The Italian fashion house of Missoni was established in the early 1950s. Their signature zig-zag chevron patterns are still popular after seventy years. Zigzags are seen as playful and creative as they catch the eye more quickly than unidirectional lines.
The art of origami came onto the fashion stage and inspired many designers around the world. Jule Waibel, Issey Miyake, and Azzedine Alaia, to name a few, created futuristic designs for men and women. The crisp edges and complex folds gave energy and a sense of whimsy to a surprising variety of materials.
Abstraction dramatically influenced the art world in the 20th century and fashion design was swept up in that movement. Diagonal motifs are not limited to clothes as they appear in jewelry, accessories, hairstyles, and makeup. In 1954 Vidal Sassoon opened his first salon and revolutionized hair styling. His angular, “architectural” haircuts were the rage in swinging 60s London, followed by New York and Los Angeles.
Diagonality imparts drama and intensity to the fabric and the wearer. They are found in chevrons and herringbones. It also appears in triangular silhouettes, necklines, panels, darts, flared pants, raglan sleeves, lapels, and collars. Diagonals can appear to lengthen the face and neckline, and slim the bust line. Diagonals can “correct” figure issues. Zigzags are seen as playful and creative, they catch the eye more quickly than unidirectional lines.
Vidal Sassoon (1928-2012) was a British-American hairstylist who was noted for a geometric hairstyle called the bob cut. In 1970, already a hairstylist since 1954, he moved from England to Los Angeles where he opened the first chain of worldwide hairstyling salons. He said he wanted to “get down to the basic angles of cut and shape.” It is believed that Sassoon’s angle cut was inspired by the bias-cut developed in the 1930s for fabrics Madeleine Vionnet and others.
Diagonals can take the notion of the Daring Diagonal to absurd extremes and fashion, as in architecture, is no exception! Comfort and functionality are thrown to the wind.