Now that fashion editors the world over have trooped back home from the Spring/Summer 2014 collections, most that most will take with them (aside from the freebie designer handbags and that gorgeous little thing from Colette/10Corso Como/Club Monaco – delete where applicable), is a shopping list of trends. All those shows and all those frocks and all those hours of sketching, pinning, stitching of fabric and scratching of head on behalf of the designers and their teams will be reduced to a list of hackneyed themes and ‘must have’ items. It seems, at the moment, for many, fashion has become nothing more taxing than shopping.
And it’s not just the editors. Designers are at it too.
I was recently invited by Nick Knight to take part in a SHOWstudio discussion about the influence of PUNK. The assembled panel included accessory designer and style icon Judy Blame, stylist Simon Foxton, milliner Stephen Jones and the Independent’s new fiery fashion editor, Alex Fury. While attempting to unravel the genesis of the punk look we also pondered how designers, old and new, have interpreted the style, eventually coming to the conclusion that today the punk look has become little more than a clichéd shopping list of stylistic motifs – safety pins (tick!), zips (tick!), tartan (tick), mohair (tick), rips (tick!), graffiti (tick!), neon (tick!). The original originality, subversion and shock factor inherent in the Dada-esque sartorial assemblages fashioned by those early punk fans has been all but destroyed with punk now viewed as just another dependable theme in the style lexicon of the designer or stylist looking to pep up their catwalk or pages.
There is nothing authentic or gutsy about ticking the boxes. Yet this prescriptive approach is now all pervasive be it the latest check list of CoolBrands (the implication being that to classify as cool you should own products by the brands listed), including Apple, Stella McCartney and Heston Blumenthal, or the cutting-edge fashion fan that scans the credits of a glossy editorial for names that confirm (in their minds at least) the credibility of the images. This might go some way to explain the ever decreasing pool of photographers who, as Knight himself points out, appear to be shooting everything these days.
At the other end of the scale is the cache of designer label prizes – Apple (again), Prada, Victoria Beckham, Mulberry – offered to competition winning viewers of TV’s Lorraine Kelly. A Generation Game-style conveyor belt of goodies that not only emphasises the desire (or should that be need?) to own or admire the right stuff is undeniably democratic and no longer dependent on privilege or price tag, but also highlights how the universal appetite to consume now demands not one prize but a ‘car full of prizes’, and often the car and cash thrown in too.
I have never been a fan of the kind of prescribed shopping list culture (be it Chanel or Charles Eames, Lanvin, Leonardo or Lavazza), that has produced the homogenised landscape along with a proliferation of In and Out columns. Well, not since I was a teenager and was desperate to fit in by wearing a Crombie coat and Ben Sherman shirt. And maybe that is the clue. Shopping from an expert (or more so celebrity) endorsed list offers the comfort of a security blanket and little room for social mistakes and mishaps. It also sidelines uniqueness.
Back in the early 1980s I found myself in the midst of a new generation of would-be artists, musicians and fashion freaks that emerged from the London club scene and whose singular endeavour was to construct an alternative to the mainstream. We had no desire to label ourselves – sartorially, personally or otherwise. We celebrated individuality. A lack of funds forced us to make the most of stuff around us, usually the stuff other people had thrown away. This haphazard experimental, eclectic approach offered exciting opportunities as we took uncharted leaps into the unknown. Today, people appear only too happy to buy into brand culture under some illusion that to achieve success is to package and brand themselves with photo-fit perfection.
Fashion is in desperate need of difference and so I am happy to report that recent run in with young folk (fashion media students at CSM and first job journalists), attest that they too are unhappy with the bland diet they are being force fed and are looking beyond the confines of the internet search for inspiration.
Even Madonna has thrown herself guns blazing (literally) into the debate with her new Art For Freedom project. At one point during the 17minute film Secretprojectrevolution, she co-directed with Steven Klein, the ambitious blond intones: ‘I hate labels’. Perhaps, along with plucky Sinead O’Connor, she has the power to turn the tide of production line pop stars that are happy to fit the trendy template – witness the meltdown-in-the-making of Miley Cyrus and her shopping list of outrage – freaky haircut (tick!), sexed-up dance routine (tick!), sticky-out tongue (tick!), saucy photos (tick!)…
Funny to think that branding used to be a form of punishment.
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