What is creativity? How are ideas generated? How do we define a creative person? Such questions have probably crossed our minds more than once, but rarely do we realise how much we depend on this very special output of human intelligence. If we look at the products around us, most of which today are manufactured industrially rather than handmade, we can appreciate how their design is related to creative thought and to the necessity for innovation and change. As the Chairman of the MaxMara group, with an annual turnover of £600 million, more than twenty separate collections and 600 stores situated around the globe, I have been confronted quite forcefully with this thought. I have devoted this chapter to discussing creativity, ideas of what it is, and how, in my experience it can be organized in order to originate some of the remarkable results that industry is capable of achieving, particularly in the world of fashion.
The first personal intuition I had about the importance of creativity was through the Disney character, Archimedes; the light bulb that appeared every time he had a good idea fascinated me. It may seem an unintellectual approach, but I have always liked the idea of invention as sudden intuition, and the magic behind it. The abstract concept of creativity can be linked to the selection, from thoughts and things, of those which lead to innovation, change or improvement. Creativity can be formatively defined as behaviour which includes such activities as origination, organisation, composition and planning. Any definition we may try will not be fully satisfying because, in order to make creativity distinguishable from mere arbitrariness, there must be a sort of legislation. We are perfectly aware, in the world of fashion, for instance, odd does not mean fashionable. There are plenty of examples, from the past and in the present. George Brummel was a fashionable trendsetter, while Liberace was an eccentric oddity; Chanel was a priestess of style whilst Mae West was provocative, amusing or comic.
Creativity is often associated with irrationality or pure intuition, but this, in my view, is an erroneous belief. I believe that creativity has to be part of a system or structure, if we want it to be a useful instrument in helping us to understand or improve our social and physical environment. That creativity flourishes through being subjected to constraint may sound like a contradiction in terms, but I believe that it is not. Perhaps as a consequence of an overall attitude to the world based on daily experience, many today regard creativity as being linked to disorder; abstract expressionism is evidence of this. Yet as recently as the eighteenth century, Pascal asserted that order was sufficient (and necessary) to define creativity,1 though I find myself doubting this when I find myself in the chaos of our design department.
In my opinion we tend nowadays to rarely abstract the idea of creativity. We tend instead to regard it as an attribute of certain individuals. 'That is a creative person', we are used to saying. What do we mean? Do we judge outward appearance, the image we are offered, someone's behaviour or maybe new ideas, something done in a certain way, a project or performance with a particular style? Any of these would show us to perceive creativity as 'something different'. We tend to believe that normality does not favour a creative attitude, or if you like, that human beings are not 'normally' creative.
A great and fascinating debate on creativity and genius enlivened the psychoanalytical studies of Freud and Jung. The former thought creativity to be the artist's tool, by means of which he could express the contents of his unconscious. In the writings on Leonardo and Michelangelo he analysed the two great masterpieces St Anne and Moses in which he could see turned into art, the nature and the inner secrets of the artists' souls as individuals.2 For Jung, on the contrary, the creative person was one, who, through his or her work, is able to emancipate the self from his or her own individuality to become an interpreter of the universal themes of mankind which he, unconsciously, activates.3 Jung's model seems to be the one which most accurately defines creativity in the context of fashion,4 where the creative challenge is to divine unconscious collective desires, as I shall discuss.
The Italian writer, Italo Calvino, in connection with some lectures he was to give at Harvard University within the prestigious Charles Elliot Norton Poetry Lecture Series, wrote some very interesting papers entitled 'Six Memos for the Next Millennium'.5 They list the essential literary qualities for writers of the future as being lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity and consistency. Unfortunately, his sudden death prevented him from giving
1. Pascale, B., Pensieri, Turin: Eindaudi, 1962.
2. Freud, S., Writing on Art and Literature, Stanford University Press, 1997.
3. Jung, C. G. The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, Princeton University Press, 1971.
4. Arieti, S., Creativity - The Magic Synthesis, New York: Basic Books, 1976.
5. Calvino, I., Lezioni Americane, Milano: Garzanti, 1986.
the lectures, but his texts help us to identify some of the peculiarities of creative thought. When he writes about imagination, for instance, Calvino defines it as a list of potentialities, of hypotheses, of what was not and may never, but might have been. What is important to him is to draw from this gulf of possibilities, to recreate all the possible combinations, and to pick the ones which best fit the purpose.
As I have suggested, many who have dealt with the concept of creativity have used it as a label or accolade for individuals whose output is different in a striking, even obvious way. In my view, it is erroneous to make such evaluations without taking the context into consideration. Take, for example, Renaissance artists and their works. We would be obliged to regard their creative value as slight, to consider them as minor artists, if we did not judge their work in the context of the strict patronage; the political, social and religious reality they were commissioned to represent. By extension, products that vary only slightly from the established norm, contrary to their immediate appearance, may in fact be the result of great creative thought. In fashion, a 'commercial' product can be as much the result of creative 'genius' as an extravagant catwalk creation.
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