Paranoid Coffee or how to kill Trends Supremacy

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Let’s try (and fail) to draw the oddness away.

I found myself feeling, well, a bit paranoid today, as I was watching people walking down the street, behind the glass of the café I was sitting into. I was observing the not so weird similitude between everyone’s outfits, and I began to wonder if any of our opinions was not a simple result of the “trends supremacy”.

(Me, paranoid and melodramatic? Never. Ok, I am now seriously wondering what exactly was put into that coffee.)

I think I awkwardly tried to draw this feeling away.

Are we completely determined by trends ? We live with them, we live by them.

In fashion, trends walk in packs and work in circles, popping up, disappearing, and sometimes managing to come back, a few decades later. They are the products of our evolving cultures, yes, but I can’t help but feel anything but active in that process.

Maybe, deep down, I just want to believe, believe in the existence and true power of the underestimated individual creativity. Believe that even though we see ourselves as determined by higher powers, and gladly often follow their leads, we remain free, and that we can choose to do things a bit differently, alone, scared, but finally true to ourselves and to that inner truth we refuse to listen to because it does not fit in the classical pattern we’re in, a pattern that reassure us and smother us gently at the same time.

That’s, I think, what I tried to express, in my weird paranoid haze.

(Well, well, ok. No more coffee for me, that’s well-noted.)

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The deadly nonchalance of T-shirts : serial killers of creativity ?

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The Universe Irony : + 1253 points

After the intriguing John Galliano Fall-Winter Fashion Show, I went to the Palais de Tokyo library and bought a copy of a wonderful Illustrating fashion magazine called Dash. Maybe you have been able to read by now all about my love story with my red shirt, so you will understand why this article called “Thoughts on T-shirts” particularly caught my eye. Indeed, the author, Sophie Joy Wright, explained how, according to her, nonchalance killed creativity and how T-shirts are the ultimate symbol of this murder. (I know. That’s appealing, right ?)

Reading about the death of creativity in fashion at the gates of a fashion show possesses a peculiar charm. A gentle irony.

The author explained how T-shirts are, for her, the symbol of what she called the “scrolling culture”. Indeed, this term characterized our culture, in which, in order to be able to process the massive amount of information we receive every day, we only engage superficially with a bit of everything, instead of really focusing on one thing that interests us. We scroll through information in every aspect of our life, as we scrolled down websites and adds in front of our computer screen.

This indifference is not new at all and is indeed linked for her, with what the German sociologist Georg Simmel meant in 1904 when he talked about the “blasé” world he was living in. “He identified the blasé outlook as a symptom of an environment full of messages: the city. I consider that what he saw as “indifference to distinction” has evolved into the act of scrolling.” She then explained how this indifference and this “scrolling culture” could be found in fashion as well. Indeed, to be able to differentiate themselves in this supersaturated field, brands don’t try to be more creative, they only try to communicate louder than the others, to simply make more noise in order to be more visible.

Here we find again the “spectacle” aspect taking over the creative spirit that hit me during the fashion show. Many brands of “fashion houses” don’t want to innovate or purely create, not really, they have to sell, they want to sell and they know that in order to do that, in order to catch our eyes as we scroll down through everything, being loud is more efficient than being different. And T shirts represent that, as they could be defined as the reduction of an original idea in a standardized and infinitely reproducible format.

She takes here the example of these last rounds of fashion weeks to illustrate this death of creativity. Facing the accusation of lack of originality, everybody was trying to blame everybody: “First the designers were blamed, who responded by saying they design what will be bought Then the buyers were blamed, who said they buy what will sell.” But for her, maybe the real people to blame are ourselves, in the end, for being unable to react against this culture and for loving the reduction of creativity we wear as shirts everyday.

She may be a bit harsh, but I cannot help but think she has a real point here, as it is really linked to what Li said and what I am beginning now to truly observe .

But Sophie, even if your point is more than interesting, I am definitely not thanking you for making me see now a bunch of colorful murderers when I open my closet every morning.  Not cool.

« I’m drinking non-diet coke with models ! » : the perks of sneaking into a Fashion Show

Truly, it is becoming quite clear these days, the universe is gently messing with me.

I wrote one article about the mythical Li and her brutal vision of the obsolescence of the fashion industry and a few days later, I found my self having the crazy opportunity to sneak into a Fashion Week Show and actually, for the first time, catch a glimpse of this system from the inside.

To give a bit of context, a friend who works as a fashion photographer could not attend this peculiar show due to another work obligation and in his glorious magnanimity decided to give me his backstage pass. It is possible that when I look at the red pass tied around my wrist, I began to bounce on my seat & scream a little (with a lot of dignity, of course. obviously). The pass was for John Galliano Fall-Winter 15-16 Fashion Show, for the feminine ready-to-wear Paris Fashion Week. It still feels kind of surreal.

I mean, I am not going to lie, being able to see a huge fashion show like this one was  truly part of these embarrassing (because, let’s face it, a bit unattainable) childish dreams. And, honestly, what could be better for this quest about fashion, that to enter the system a bit for a few hours ?  (Of course, I am not trying to justify myself, why would you say that ? Shhh. )

So, last Sunday, I found myself (with a friend who manages to sneak in as well), in the backstage loge of the show, surrounded by a continuous flow of make-up artists, photographers, fashion journalists, all revolving around a few (unfairly beautiful and weirdly calm) models. And all I could think about when I managed to grab a drink at the refreshment area was how absurd and slightly wonderful my non-diet coke tasted. I was drinking it with models, nothing made sense and for a few moments, I think I just believed in the eternity of our obviously glorious fashion industry (ok, no, I promise, there were no illegal substances in that coke. Just my usual amount of weirdness).

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But, concretely, what happened ? 

Well, after that perfect coke, we decided to take a look at the second loge, the one in which models were dressed with the actual looks of the show. The atmosphere was a bit oppressive as we entered the room at the same time as dozens of photographers. They needed to take the better shots they could for their magazines, considered the crowded space, and everybody was pushing everybody, trying to catch a glimpse of the (still incredibly calm and beautiful) models. Even with hills, I am still the size of a baby toy, so I admit I didn’t see much of any looks at this point. A few minutes later, security asked the press to leave the room and we were pushed towards the exit. As the show was about to begin soon, only the people with a black pass (“fashion show” pass, and not only “backstage” pass as the red ones, like mine) were allowed to stay. But (for once in my life) I had an idea. I grabbed my friend, put away my camera, hide my red pass under a scrunchie,  and we stood in a corner of the room, near a team of make up artist who were our age, as if we were part of the team. We didn’t talk and hold our breath, looking at each other as security, getting a bit angry, was throwing out the last of the photographers. And… it worked. It oddly worked!

We were able to stay in the room, with only a few people left, and watch the looks hanged on the walls and worn by models, as they were just standing a few inches from us, having a make up retouch or chatting a bit with each other. It was strangely peaceful, everybody looked a bit tired, but not that stressed out, they were laughing a bit, talking about the new looks. We were not supposed to be here, and the sense of prohibition added certainly something to the felling we both got at this instant. A taste of secret, maybe. It was like observing the quiet spirit behind the huge machinery we had just seen before. And this ambivalence between the craziness of the show, of this “spectacle” aspect and the professional, quiet work and spirit behind it may be the thing that hit me the most.

We sneaked out after a bit, in order to try to find a place for the fashion show. We ended up sitting on the floor, but the view was quite great for people with no real passes, (or, uh, real right to be here), and we felt pretty lucky. It began… and as I was thinking “please, make this continue endlessly” it was suddenly over. The fashion show it self lasted 30 minutes, not more. And it felt like it was 30 seconds. The rhythm of the loud and vibrating music, the pace of the models walk, the movements of the clothes, everything melted perfectly and it felt like being plunged head first in a huge bowl of intensity. The ambivalence was here again, seeing 6 months of intense work reduced in a crazy 30 minute spectacle.

I couldn’t help but think about what Li said, about the death of creativity and clothes being designed now only for pleasing the audience and “be liked”, not in a true attempt of creation and originality. I think I felt that too, as I was watching the looks, so elegant, sharp and colorful. They were “perfect”, that’s it, they were exactly what everybody expected for this peculiar show and of John Galliano,  but I was a bit surprised by their amount of “perfection”, or their lack of craziness, precisely. It was beautiful, it was magnificent for some pieces, but it was not crazy, individual, or different. Because it was not the point. Because it isn’t the point. Not in this peculiar field anymore, and not for big fashion houses like this one. I caught a glimpse of what Li was talking about.  I saw our current model put on its favorite “show” and, oh, the spectacle was incredible.

I didn’t know how to feel when I left and I think I still don’t know actually, everything still seems too surreal. But what I do know is that, above everything, my non diet coke will forever taste like wonders and absurdity.

“No, really, you don’t know Li ?” : an Anti Fashion story

Today was not a red shirt day. But cosmic revelations have weird ways to find you, don’t they ?

Today was a « No, really, you don’t know her ? » day.

I had an appointment with my director of studies. I wanted to have her opinion about my chances to work in Fashion Design with a Marketing degree obtained at a Science Political university (yup, normality). She ended up talking to me about the death of creativity in the field and about a strange and mythical women with an unspeakable name, that has been apparently predicted all of it for years. She has even written a manifesto about it, recently. « No, really, you don’t you know her ? » Well, uh, she really has an unspeakable name.  But shame on me, I admit it, there was no « Lidewij Edelkoort » in my address book. And I decided it was time I knew a bit more about her.

She appears to be a famous Dutch trend « forecaster » based in Paris, named in 2008 by Time Magazine  as one of the 25 most influential people in fashion (so, indeed, shame on me), and who presented at the beginning of February her « Anti-Fashion Manifesto » or the 10 reasons why according to her, « our fashion system is completely obsolete » (as we are going to see it, moderation is not Li’s cup of tea).

However, here, when we talk about “Anti Fashion”, it is important to understand that there is a real difference with the nineties movement represented by designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and the brand Comme des garçons with Rei Kawakubo. This “Anti Fashion” movement was questioning our connections to our body and our vision of beauty, but was reviving the codes of the industry, not pointing out the obsolescence of the entire system. Presented at a Parisian conference as a prelude to her design house “Trend Union” introducing its new predictions for the 2016/17 autumn and winter season, this text divided into 10 chapters deals with every important aspects of the fashion industry : education, manufacturing, designers, retailing and marketing. She examines the changes that actually render this system “completely obsolete.”

According to her, it indeed starts with an inadequate education still centered on the expression of exceptional individuality in a work environment based on the principle of collective creation. Indeed, “Fashion schools and colleges continue to teach young students to become catwalk designers, divas. They keep on being led to believe that what awaits them is a life of fame outside of the rules. In other words schools are continuing to teach the principle of unsociable individuality to young people whose environment, in these days of social networks, is based on sharing and creating together. In reality, training in fashion has gone out of fashion.”

Moreover, the interest in textiles, in fabric, in clothes themselves are lost, as the students are more trained to communicate about their design than to actually design them and work on their creativity. ”Students are being taught to become little Karls(…), to arrange the show, brochures, communications and photography – all in three years. And during these three years, little time ends up being dedicated to clothes, which are just one element among many.” The studios have been sacrificed on the altar of globalisation, the formel small labels have been integrated into huge groups. The ancient techniques are not perpetuated and Li finds it « terrifying » (moderation, always).

She then challenges the quality of the press and its content, by underlining the lack of   basic education of fashion editors: “We have seen, for example, in major magazines such as Vogue or Marie-Claire triumphant announcements rejoicing in the return of prints. Do your homework madam editors and stop talking about prints when what is meant is actually jacquard.” (you don’t want to upset Li)

She denounces the naive attitude of consumers ignoring the exploitation of the workforce producing the cheaper clothes they buy in mass, an attitude encouraged by the well-known and oh so brilliant position of the media :  as we all know it, wearing the same outfit twice is pure evil. (of course, of course.)

Finally, for her, it all comes down to a creativity crisis, the imperative need to sell in mass having limited  the possibilities of pure creation. “When you add them up there are no longer any creators really creating fashion. To put it simply, this is because marketing has killed the fashion industry by over-exploiting it, by subjecting designers to unbelievable stress (they have to do everything) and where their originality is sacrificed in the constant quest for the slogan, by saturating the market with products made to create nice images designed to be ‘liked’ (in order to sell perfume) to the detriment of clothes made to be worn. »

That was one nice checkup for fashion.  With no quick fix on the horizon.

But if you follow Li’s analysis, there is a possibility of redemption. « Clothes », or the renewed interest in them, are going to be fashion salvation. Returning to « the basics of ‘couture’ with its genuine interest in the fabric and the ‘way’ that we examined them before the invention of prêt-à-porter clothing. » would revive creativity. « Fashion is dead. Long live clothing » or the economy of clothes replacing the fashion industry => Li Edelkoort has weird ideas.

But after finally knowing a bit more about her, I can’t deny I am currently training to pronounce her name out loud. Maybe because her weirdness possesses such peculiar accuracy, I currently want to do one thing and one thing only : turn over to the next person and ask her with incredulity :

« No, really, don’t know her ? » 

(You got me, Li.)

It’s not my fault, it’s Oscar Wilde.

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”     Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Sometimes, the universe is really trying to send a message. And sometimes, like yesterday, it has the shape of an old red shirt and an annoying Oscar Wild quote.

Of course, that day, like any other, I woke up too late. I had to run around my room half asleep, looking for every bit of clean (well, more or less) clothes I could find, as I started to realise that my 30-minute lateness would probably not be considered fashionable.

So I ended up wearing my eternal black jeans with an old red shirt I found hidden in a corner of my closet. The shape was a bit odd, the colour had faded and it was ripped on one side. I was still strongly in love with it. It had lived a little, but, eh, it was clean. That was something. And I was ready for my day.

But then, a bit later, the quote happened. It was my teacher’s way of introducing the current and prevailing vision of fashion.

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

That immediately annoyed me. However, at first, I could not exactly see why. I mean, there was obviously truth in it.

Indeed, I knew what the definition of the word “fashion” given by most dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster was: the « prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time ». I also knew that the current prevailing style was the one given by the “fast fashion” model.

Yes, you know, the “fast fashion” or this constant renewal of clothing collections, a model that tries to reproduce as fast as possible the fashion trends observed at one point, by selling accessible and representative products; a way to incite the consumers to quickly renew their wardrobe with new products. “Every six months” said Oscar Wild. The fast-food of clothes. Even if I doubt the Retail Empires of Zara and H&M  would appreciate the parallel.

I also thought about the strong bound existing with Haute Couture and the work of extremely famous fashion designers.

Finally, although fashion was, with Haute Couture, linked with luxury, quality, uniqueness, whereas the fast fashion model of ready-to-wear was more linked to low cost, poor quality, common and disposable clothes… Both oddly included the notion of “waste”. Waste of money, waste of fabrics, waste of natural resources, waste of time.

Consequently, fashion was then not only a form of “ugliness”, fashion was a waste, and an endless one, as it seems.

I took a look at my faded red shirt. And for once, I felt the need to argue with Oscar Wilde.

I mean, well, maybe it is a bit ugly, but what about that not so ironic idea of permanent waste and dissatisfaction? Hm. No. In this 3-year-old shirt I have never stopped loving, I was wearing evidence to the contrary.

Counter-models do exist. The terms of “slow fashion”, “green fashion”, or “sustainable fashion” touch the same reality, that is the possibility to produce, consume and live fashion in a way that can durably respect our resources, without waste and with less dissatisfaction, (and the website of The Centre for Sustainable Fashion explains it so much better: http://sustainable-fashion.com/ )

Non-profit fashion organizations exist as well and try actively to use fashion as an effective way to improve the situation of people in need, with for example the eco fashion charity Fashion Fights Poverty, or Dress For Success.

Unconventional aesthetics, different from “the prevailing style” also have their place and beauty.

As they are not part of the “prevailing style”, does this means that these counter- models can’t belong to the fashion universe? That this is not fashion, only anomalies?

That’s what I would like to explore with you, that is, if you tolerate questionable sense of humor and weird stories about the universe sending you cosmic message through old clothes.

Orson Welles (1915-1985) said it best :

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn” 

Message received.