Parachute: Subversive Design and Street Fashion

Image of Parachute: Subversive Design and Street Fashion
Release Date: 
May 7, 2024
Reviewed by: 

“aesthetically embodies the era it is celebrating, and it does it flawlessly.”

Parachute: Subversive Design and Street Fashion is the book you wish your favorite fashion label would produce. Teaming with exceptional photography and detailed reproductions of ephemera, the volume is like stepping into an archive filtered through the creative lens of the brand. It is a true gesamtkunstwerk of a publication.

There is one problem: the brand itself is so niche and so little-known that this book may not find as broad an audience as it hoped. Born in Montreal from a partnership between the American architect Harry Parnass and the British clothing designer Nicola Perry, Parachute reflected the 1980s New Wave scene of the city. It prized individuality and self-expression, and attempted to cater to young, artistic types by hosting fashion shows in nightclubs and advertising through clandestine flyposting campaigns. The issue, of course, with targeting the counterculture as your primary audience is that most of them, especially in the 1980s, did not have much money, and true artists don’t typically buy from just one brand.

In an accompanying essay by the Associate Curator of Dress, Fashion, and Textiles at the McCord Steward Museum in Montreal, Alexis Walker details the subversive nature of the designs, but goes into great detail explaining essentially why the business failed after 16 years. Comparisons are made to the previous generation’s Biba and Fiorucci, yet both of those brands were still able to find mass-market appeal while maintaining a je ne sais quoi coolness.

Parachute never quite got there—but, based on commentary from Perry and others who collaborated with them, it may not have wanted to. There’s a repeated emphasis on the desire to stay a brand for those “in the know” rather than something for general audiences, a need to maintain control not only of the specific styling of the garments but also the stores (all located, incidentally, in off-the-beaten-path locations before Google Maps could help you find them). It was a brand devoted to its original clientele—a noble and honest commitment, but one that would ultimately lead to its downfall.

The book itself, however, is nothing short of fantastic. Printed in both French and English, the layout mimics the best glossies of the 1980s and ’90s, with faux-torn photographs, layered juxtapositions, mixed typography, and visually exciting compositions. It aesthetically embodies the era it is celebrating, and it does it flawlessly.

In addition to the standard editorial photography of the time as well as images of the clothing on museum mannequins, the publisher has also included an exceptional amount of archival material, from snapshots in nightclubs to outtakes from joyous-looking runway shows. In one particularly clever moment, there is a reproduction of a poster that, when you turn the page, is shown from the back, as if the viewer were looking at it from the inside of a bus shelter. Such instances are peppered throughout, allowing the reader to continue to be surprised even after the third or fourth time flipping through the book.

It speaks well of Rizzoli that they would print such an intelligently thought-out publication on a little-known brand. Stemming from a corresponding exhibition in 2021 at the previously mentioned McCord Steward Museum, where Parachute’s archive is held, this book hopefully draws needed attention to a street culture designer that, until now, has not been as talked about as its contemporaries.