The Total Environment

Psychedelic fashion became a way for external reality to seemingly be transformed by the visions projected on the mind's internal screen. Psychedelic fashions existed within a cultural context that encompassed the radical lifestyles of the hippies, the transcendent "acid" experience as well as constructed environments that sought to simulate the acid experience. These encompassed communal affirmations such as the "be-in," and performance art "happenings." Psychedelic fashion became an indispensable component of the total environment created in discotheques or rock palaces; it allowed an integration of the reformed environment and the remade self. The dereglement de tous les sens that Artur Rimbaud had once propounded, was heightened orally by the fuzz box and "wah-wah" pedal distortions. Light shows at the rock concerts and at the discotheque hurled pulsating appari tions at the spectator. The blinking strobe light atomized the continuity, the gestalt of visual perception. It might be said that under the strobe light, all fashion became psychedelic.

Psychedelic fashion was a quintessential 1960s movement. Although it was eventually, and to some degree opportunistically, embraced by virtually every mainstream design and sector of the fashion industry, it would be hard to isolated a single designer or even a cluster of designers who could be credited for its invention or promotion. Nevertheless, the psychedelic preoccupation with light and the total environment reached a paradigm at the Manhattan boutique Paraphernalia in 1966, when electrical engineer Diana Dew devised a vinyl dress that turned-on at the command of the wearer. A miniaturized potentiometer fit on the belt of the dress and regulated the frequency of the blinking hearts or stars, which could be coordinated to the throbbing beat of the disco soundtrack. That same year, Yves Saint Laurent brought psychedelic light and color to pop art's disembodied trademarks with a bridal gown that flashed an incandescent flower, which enlivened the runway show's traditional finale.

Psychedelic sensibility was essential to the second phase of 1960s' fashion vocabulary, the move away from some of the sleeker and brusquer characteristics of mod fashion. It was consanguineous with the second phase's absorption of folk and tribal lexicon, the experimentation in role playing and persona construction made possible by the improvised costumes adopted by youth cultures and spilling out into the Western world's clothes-wearing population at large. The unprecedented outfits certainly owed something to the phantasmagoria of acid visions. Tribal and psychedelic converged with mottled patterns of African and Indonesian fabrics, the phosphorescent splotches and showers of tie-dye.

Psychedelic fashion was a grass-roots groundswell, a radically demotic movement that eventually generated a ubiquitous acknowledgment. In New York, for example, one could buy made-to-order tie-dye ensembles at both The Fur Balloon on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village and at Halston's salon on East 68th Street on the Upper East Side.

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