As the Italian philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The past, it seems, is present – whether we know it or not. Instead of being ‘condemned’ then, what if we pranced around the halls of history, gathering inspiration for our creative process as contemporary artists and designers?

If anyone was under the illusion that time was linear or that crazy contemporary fashions coming down the runway were, in fact, new, spend five minutes with Amy Bond and you’ll think otherwise. A successful fashion designer, historian and professor at Otis College of Art and Design, Amy Bond has created a course that for the first time combines art history with contemporary design; research and practice. This has long been an open secret of the most successful designers – Fendi, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen to name a few – but in her brilliant new class at Kadenze, designers of all kinds will learn to fold history lessons into creative process.

As is her way, we had a casual yet mind-bending chat with Amy about fashion, the cyclical nature of time, lycra, the fashion-culture connection, and lots more…

How would you describe the fashion moment we currently inhabit?

What is happening now in fashion is actually kind of a societal argument between the ‘Style Icon’ influence and ‘grassroots’ creativity. At the pinnacle of the former, we have so-called designers like Kanye West parading thousand dollar sweatshirts to the star-struck population in the name of fashion, while those interested in the art and newness of design are helping many emerging designers and independent capsule collections actually get a footing again. For such a long time – long for fashion anyway – since the latest recession starting around 2007, the only goods that were really selling were those with logo-brand status. If you weren’t heard of as a label you were sunk – that’s why so many celebrity driven companies and endorsements took over the market, edging out any struggling labels. People were cautious with their money and unwilling to buy anything that didn’t have immediately perceived value. Now that the economy has crept back, it has opened the doors and wallets of consumers, who are now feeling freer to choose things they might actually like, regardless of the label, and who also are looking to make an identity based on being creative with their choices. The influence of the fashion blogger and personal Instagram accounts have driven this forward, since individuality is what sells in that realm. So now the upstart creatives have a niche again, existing on the other end of the spectrum from the status label types.

Why is it important to understand the past when creating original and ‘new’ design?

The practical importance for the designer, and ultimately the one tasked with creating garments, comes mostly from understanding why things developed the way that they did. What changes in culture and innovation changed fashion? Why have we moved from stiff corsetry into body shaping spandex? The emotional excitement comes from seeing what artists before you have done – every single art form looks at its history, and fashion should be no exception. It’s just interesting, really.

Who is your favorite contemporary fashion icon (well known or up-and-coming)?

It would be hard to peg who is in the ‘up-and-coming’ category that will end up being thought of as an icon; after all, no one believed figures like Mary Kate and Ashley would ever be taken seriously as designers. As to the past and present, I love true attitude and concept pioneers like Leigh Bowery, Nick Cave (the soundsuit one) and Viktor & Rolf. I think weird is cool.

Amy Bond Interview Soundsuits by Nick Cave
Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, Fowler Museum, 2010

Why is fashion so cyclical? Is this as true for other kinds of fashions, in architecture, art, music, etc.?

I think reason behind the cyclicality of fashion is two pronged – subconsciously, I think people have a need to relate to what they wear and see, and being able to rehash a historical precedent is reassuring; consciously or otherwise. Secondly, I think it is because of the ultimately limiting medium that is garments – every single garment design you see now is an amalgamation of things that have come before, and that acceptance holds interest and the desire to try it again “your way”.

I think fashion is unique in this way, as straight up as it is, but every art form borrows from the past. There are modern homes being built with truly classical elements, and contemporary music with full on baroque string sections. Only in fashion though do these throwback parts become an actual new trend adopted by many designers at a time.

Are fashion and culture connected? How so?

Fashion and culture are deeply connected. It can be something as general as the reflection of military influenced styles that emerge when the nation is at war; such as when Camo saw a resurgence after Desert Storm after 1991; or as specific as when a painter such as Lichtenstein either has a high profile show or respark in popularity, and inspires fashion design very directly.

Amy Bond interview Lichtenstein
Iceberg Collection Inspired by Lichtenstein’s work, 2001

In a time of ‘fast fashion’, do you tend to embrace current trends, or is your sense of style influenced in some other way?

Oh geez, once people take the class I think my disdain for fast fashion will be embarrassingly obvious! The garments I actually buy for myself are all scavenged from resale shops and sample sales, and supplemented by my own work or rework. I am not pulled in by pretty much any retail situation where there are many multiples of the same thing. I do love high fashion and follow the shows and designers to enjoy the level of creativity and the innovations in textiles and construction, but have little interest in wearing overall trends.

Do you have a personal style philosophy?

Discover what clothes excite you and what makes you happy to wear.
Most of all understand your body type and wear what suits it best. Fit is everything.

Does what we wear affect state of mind, or other things?

If fashion wasn’t emotional then advertising wouldn’t exist. We buy things we desire, so what we wear is a reflection of how we are feeling, and conversely what we wear can affect our mood greatly. Just think how good you feel when someone pays you a compliment; “what a great skirt!” can make your day. Which if you think about it is kind of odd, since unless you made the skirt you really have no hand in how great it is, so what that compliment is actually saying is “I like your taste” which is reassuring to our egos.

If you could live in any country or era, what would you choose, fashion-wise?

I’m pretty happy with this era, and do feel like I can live wherever I want. I’m not done moving! Fashion wise, at this point the industry is at the pinnacle of innovation from all previous eras, and comfort has a strong hand in fashion, with which who can argue. Aesthetically I love the 20’s the most, but would be hard pressed to give up lycra in my everyday life….!

Has this course ever offered in this way before? How did you design this course?

Before I presented this idea, I thought a lot about what I wanted people to see. There are fashion history classes, pop culture classes, and design classes all across traditional and contemporary platforms. The general awesomeness of Kadenze is in developing classes and content that are not seen in its particular approach and viewpoint in any other place, and this fashion class is right in line with that, as it is totally unique in its blending of research and application.

I know you have a lot of experience with online education, as a teacher and as a student yourself. What inspires you about learning in this way?

As much as I love the experience of being in a physical classroom setting, when I was ready to go back to school it just wasn’t a practical option. I was married, a mother, working at my own business, and not living anywhere near any of the programs I was interested in. No way could I uproot the family and source of income to fill my creative desires! The online program I found is one of the first of its kind, and gave me the opportunity I needed. Online classes are not ‘easy’ as such – even though you can access them whenever you want, they require a great amount of self-discipline. Learning how to manage your time and projects become an even stronger necessity than it did when I was a traditional student.

What was most amazing about the online system was the dedication of the teachers and designers behind the classes – they understood that what they were doing was going to be greeted with scepticism from the academic community, and required a very thorough understanding of their potential, since they were basically creating everything from scratch. I met (and still correspond with!) some amazing individuals and attained a level of growth that would have been impossible without the online platform.

Is this course primarily for fashion designers?

Heck no; its for anybody who likes forms of design expression for any reason at all. If you are an artistically curious person generally, you are interested in how all types of artful products are made, and would just as soon want to see how cars were designed and glass blowing developed as you would want to see this angle on fashion. It’s not technical or skill-specific, and as such totally approachable and entertaining.

Anything you’d like to add?

True love not shameless plug – The Fashion Department of Otis College of Art and Design is truly an astounding place, and keeps its general teaching philosophy firmly rooted in the traditions of design and construction. Unique and inspirational; like Kadenze!

Find more of Amy Bond’s designs from her 2012 runway collection here.