“Its an ill wind that blows no good”, my granny used to say. Before Christmas, when the planet was still warming, environmentalists were on the pig’s back. Now that we find they may have been over-egging the pudding, it’s the sceptics who have a spring in their step. Just as well we’re all endlessly gullible! And the more I look at it, the more it seems to me that the same applies to the world of high fashion, my natural milieu but all too often a self-congratulatory bubble where creativity and craziness have more in common than the fact that they begin with the letter “c”. The catwalks are choc-a-bloc with examples of just how gullible we are …
Take, for example, the late and much lamented Alexander “Lee” McQueen who died just a matter of weeks ago in February. The highlight of my 2009 in terms of sheer haute couture craziness may well have been his infamous python-skin high heels, an extraordinary 12 inches off the ground and instantly nicknamed “armadillos” because of their uncanny resemblance to … ant-eating leathery-shelled mammals. In my extremely well-founded opinion, not alone were the “armadillos” heavy, clunky and horrific looking, but the fact that they were made from python skin made them worse rather than better, adding an unpleasant touch of indulgence-at-any-cost, but especially if it manages to shock. And those zips down the inside … in fashion terms, I shudder!
And of course they were designed to shock. The fashion world needs to keep itself in front of its public, at all costs. In fact, not many people know it, but a little Texas-based company called The Global Language Monitor – www.languagemonitor.com – has made something of a name for itself tracking usage trends in various languages, but particularly English, and making those trends available to various industry sectors, including the top fashion houses.
Why should you care? You should care because – having unleashed its Predictive Quantities Index, a proprietary algorithm that tracks words and phrases in print and across the electronic media, including the internet and social media – The Global Language Monitor has been able to tell us that the Top Fashion Buzzword of Spring 2010 is Lady Gaga, that 23-year-old genius of fashion and self-promotion (of whom more another day).
Did my – or rather the late Alexander’s – “armadillos” feature on the list at all? Although I shudder again at the very thought of them, strangely I would actually like to see that they made a bit of a splash in terms of consumer consciousness if not in fashion terms. And yes indeed, there they are at Number 10, just after the term “hippie-luxe”. I’m delighted – yet further incontrovertible evidence of my oneness with the Zeitgeist!
It’s evidence too, I contend, that there are two quite distinct forces at work in the world of international fashion – high-end design and over-the-top hype … and never the twain shall disentangle, it seems, even in the much-heralded brave new world of “green”, “sustainable”, “organic” and even, honestly, “pre-organic” fashion.
Indeed it’s this brave new world that seems determined to stretch our seemingly boundless gullibility to the breaking point, with its skin-deep conversion to the A-word, austerity – as long as it doesn’t cost too little. Did we see any sign of austerity at New York Fashion Week in February? Not if you started with the champagne, newly-trendy cupcakes and gold jewellery at the Lulu Frost evening in a chic apartment over looking the Hudson River, then continued on to the Rare Vintage evening, with its stunning little collection of Balenciagas and Valentinos, and eventually managed to make it to the memorable Donna Karan bash marking the end of a week that sapped the energy but rejuvenated the spirit …
The A-word, it seems, has been replaced by the H-word, hope … hope-against-hope that the price cuts that the top designers were forced to make last year to keep their merchandise moving off the shelves are already a thing of the past – a momentary aberration like the outcry over bankers’ bonuses, now happily restored to seven-figure pre-recession levels.
And so, as austerity gives way to hope, so the stresses and strains of trying to figure out what was meant in the first place by “green”, “sustainable” and eco-fashion have taken their toll on the denizens of this highly-strung world – to the extent that they’ve apparently given up that fight too as just too much to take … and reverted to doing things the old way. Champagne anyone?
Here, for instance, is Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Editor of the venerable Financial Times, recalling the onerous demands of a United Nations conference on sustainable fashion held in Copenhagen recently – and how uncultured people scoffed cruelly when they heard where she was off to: ‘Sustainable fashion?’, friends and colleagues would chortle. ‘What’s that?’ Good question. And here’s the truth: having spent two days in Copenhagan immersed in the concept, having thought about it over the weeks since then, and having canvassed a wide variety of fashion figures, I can honestly answer … no-one knows. And the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it becomes.”
In my experience that condition is what’s known as “information overload” or alternatively “paralysis through analysis”: when you’ve done all the research you could humanly be expected to do, but still you just can’t make sense of it all – perhaps because it never made sense in the first place. Didn’t I warn you all in the last issue about the dangers of knitting your own pre-organic bamboo sandals … ?
So perhaps it’s not so surprising after all that the fashion world has fallen back on what it knows best: excess, frivolity and petulance, abandoning all pretence of those dim, distant recessionary qualities, austerity, prudence and a new spirituality. I mean we may be gullible – but we’re not that gullible! Now where is that champagne?