Style: Lost in Transience

In his lecture, Garmento editor, Jeremy Lewis mentioned that from his experience of working as a trend analyst, he came to the realization that with time the runways seem to have “less and less” to do with the lives of real people, alluding that authenticity is fast becoming a lost concept in the fashion world. Lewis’ critique of the frivolousness of fashion mirrors Elizabeth Hawes’ puzzling work; Fashion Is Spinach (1938), in which the author and couturier warns us about fashion and its parasitic nature. She blames the “deformed thief” that is fashion, for stealing the real value out of what we buy while encouraging false needs which lead to the ultimately unsatisfying consumption of clothes: “Fashion gets up those perfectly ghastly ideas, such as accessories should match, and proceeds to give you shoes, gloves, bag and hat all in the same hideous shade of kelly green…”

Hawes’ extensive discussion of the wickedness of fashion’s wiles brings to mind Giacomo Leopardi’s poetic work, Dialogue Between Fashion and Death (1824), where “Fashion” is similarly presented as the villain responsible for inflicting unnecessary human suffering. Leopardi amusingly yet convincingly establishes fashion and death as closely interlinked. It’s interesting to note how despite the fact that Leopard’s work  is written before long before the development of the fashion industry into the Modern system as we know it as today, the concept remains powerful. Not only is as historian, Ann Hollander notes that “Fashion itself is now founded on waywardness, nostalgia, fakery, and so forth, certainly on markets.”. popular trends in fashion more so now than ever before tend to continuously revolve around the symbolism and representations of death (McQueen’s skulls anyone?).

So how do to steer away from ending up on a-one-way road to fashion dystopia? Hawes suggests an antidote: style, which she equates to functional and durable clothing. As fashion designer, Hawes’ concern was  to make something as beautiful as it is useful – clothing that retained its innate appeal no matter what the fashion du jour might dictate. Though perhaps not trending at the time, Hawes solution is inseparably tied with the concept of sustainability. If the essence of style is flair and longeivty, sustainability is essentially the sign of a good design. 

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One response to “Style: Lost in Transience

  1. Sofia, I think the argument you made about the ephemerality of fashion and the symbolisms of death was very interesting! That kept me thinking about the dichotomy of ‘ephemeral’ clothes versus ‘timeless’ fashion.

    As you pointed out, ideally, fashion would be functional and durable, regardless of what the industry might dictate. In her essay on Alix Grès, Hollander claims: “Her clothes, so detached from normal fashionable life with its trends and fads, are therefore called timeless.” On the other side of the spectrum, fast fashion companies are the pure representations of ephemerality. Undeniably, fashions die before they are born.

    More recently, Christina Moon’s lecture also touched upon this topic, in her study on fast fashion retailer Forever 21. Christina pointed out the bible verse printed in their shopping bags (John 3:16), which states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is curious that a brand that sells ‘disposable’ fads prays for an ‘eternal life’. Fashion is indeed full of contradictions, and to achieve the degree of ‘timeless’ does seem a utopia in today’s business models.

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