Op-Ed: If Fashion Is Dead, Where Do Trends Go?

By now, everyone knows the Coronavirus epidemic brought seismic changes. With all socio-economic activities depressed since the outbreak of COVID-19, one of the major areas which have been affected is undoubtedly the fashion industry. Fashion weeks were canceled, cruise collections were postponed or avoided altogether, ambitious magazine editorials became a pre quarantine thing. Overwhelmed, the fashion industry started making baby steps to embrace the chance and look forward to addressing the radically shifted consumers’ needs. It seemed that the fashion system, at least as we knew it, was a thing of the past.

In a recent article for The Guardian, titled Coronavirus is putting the whole idea of fashion out of fashion, journalist Rachel Cooke indeed argued that even the overall perception of fashion has been radically shifted since the coronavirus outbreak. “Fashion, it seems to me, is over, at least in the sense we’ve come to know it recently. No more flamboyant, wasteful shows. No more unnecessary collections. No more department stores in which “exclusive” versions of items from said collections – behold, an ugly zip you’ll find absolutely nowhere else! – may be sold.” she argued. This made me think: in today’s shattered reality, can we actually believe fashion is out of fashion?

Let’s take things from the start. Roland Barthes was one of the first to pinpoint that fashion is a structured system, a visual narrative that goes beyond the surface to express a multitude of things. In His first book on the subject, published in 1967, aptly titled The Fashion System, he analyses the flowery, descriptive language in fashion magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes, in juxtaposition to images printed in such publications. For Barthes, fashion is all about language. “it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream but the meaning that sells” he notes.

Clothes do convey meanings in society beyond the superficial, enacting, and even creating power relations between people. This interaction is so critical to a society it cannot be overlooked. As long as we make the conscious choice of wearing clothes, we are uttering something in the language of fashion for the others to see and react to it. I dress therefore I speak. “We can lie in the language of dress, or try to tell the truth, but unless we are naked and bald it is impossible to be silent.” wrote Alison Lurie in her best seller,The Language of Clothes.

So, perhaps what is out of the calendar are trends as we know then? For those of us who work in fashion,  the radical changes of the corona epidemic have created new consumer habits and trends- trends that were in fact already in the making. Fashion can not only showcase socio-economic- changes-it can even predict them with surprising accuracy. This is hardly new.Anne Hollander, the author of Seeing Through Clothes told NYT in a 2006 article that the French Revolution was heralded by the fashionable folk of the time. Women, before 1789, began to wear “simple, belted shifts,” while men wore “plebeian garb” like “rough coats and unkempt neckwear.”

Ask any fashion forecaster and will tell you that the coronavirus epidemic showcased trends: sweat pants, sheer practicality, and minimalism. Ask again and they will admit those were trends already in the making long before the epidemic. Hoodies, streetwear hype, relaxed workwear etiquette, even masks; everything was there for those that could see it. Trends, trends, and more trends. As Barthes would say: “Every new Fashion is a refusal to inherit, subversion against the oppression of the preceding Fashion; Fashion experiences itself as a right, the natural right of the present over the past.”

After all, today’s no-trend reality is a trend by itself.

The Price of Futility-Say Welcome to the ‘It’ Fashion Mask

 

We live in unprecedented times. With the coronavirus epidemic creating new everyday norms and rituals, protective masks have become an accessory of necessity, practicality to protect our health-and this of others. Go past the clinical needs, though, and you’ll see a new field of fashion antagonism rising, that of the eponymous, the ‘designer mask’.

Take for example much-hyped street fashion brand Off-White. As part of the S/S ’20 collection, Virgil Abloh has released eight new face masks in a number of designs following the brand’s usual street style-meets-apocalypse aesthetics. The unexpected here isn’t the style but the price of the masks – both in the sale and resale market.

Business Insider reports on the resale phenomenon: “StockX, the resale marketplace best known as a destination for sneakers and streetwear, is selling a bevy of masks from the buzzy fashion brand Off-White’s 2019 collections, with some bids coming in at more than $200. One such design, which in previous months sold for an average of $80,  just sold for $211 on the site.” In her recent New York Times article Vanessa Friedman reports that , according to Edited, the digital retail tracking service, there has been an almost 40 percent increase in the number of masks offered by companies in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the end of 2019.

Is a mask of 200 protecting us more than one of 20? Probably not. But perhaps this is not even the right question to ask. When masks migrate into the world of fashion they become something else. They become symbols of not just health or social concern, but of identity, self-expression amidst chaos. Self-expression that oftentimes is not that democratic and inclusive as it claims to be. Today, the ‘designer’ mask is the new symbol of conspicuous consumption much like a Burberry bag and a logoed Gucci T-shirt.

‘Spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power—of the income or of the accumulated wealth of the buyer’ is the stereotypical description of conspicuous consumption. The Off-White mask buyers invest just on this public display of economic power to either attain or maintain a given social status, most often when they don’t actually have it. It’s their fantasy world where they can be what their accessories signify they are. It’s their own “philosophy of futility”.

In that context, “conspicuous consumption” hides a true behavioral addiction, an impulsive narcissistic behavior, or perhaps both. These are the exact psychological conditions induced by today’s consumerism—the urge for the gratification of hedonic expectations- as soon as possible. You can get a more accurate description of the current consumer attitude than this, and overpriced masks are just the tip of the iceberg.

The actual need is to wear a mask, any type of clinically proven, aesthetically pleasing protecting mask. Still, when you need your accessories to shout your class, money of fashion-status, this won’t satisfy you. And that is the pathogenesis of modern fashion, in a nutshell.

 

 

Clothes that say Stay Away: The new fashions of social distancing are here

“The body is a big sagacity, a plurality with one sense, a war and a peace, a flock and a shepherd. ”

~Friedrich Nietzsche

Quarantine has made us questions things we took for granted –and deal with things we never thought we will be dealing with. Enter: the importance of social distancing. Clothes have become the main venture of securing our physical personal space while out-a a physical barrier between us and the others around us.

In a world where going to the supermarket requires ritual-like preservation much like preparing for a matter of life-and-death, it feels natural to question our relationship with the rituals-accessories: our clothes. We now use clothes to cloth us and then-to primarily protect us from the others while out. In fact, as we are running out of social occasions to dress-up, we place function over fashion-at least at first. This way clothes became our physical barrier. And yet this is not the first time.

Clothing has long served as a useful way to mitigate close contact and unnecessary exposure. In this current crisis, face masks have become a fashion accessory that signals, “Stay away.” In the historical past, keeping distance especially at a sociopolitical level (between genders, races, and classes) was an interchangeable part of social life. This type of social distancing didn’t have to do with hygienic rules or personal isolation, the key focus shifted towards class distinction and preserving an etiquette for it.18th century voluminous skirts were a signifier of the upper class in the 28th century-avoiding household chores was a privilege only a few women could enjoy-and thus wear impractical clothing.

In the same sense, socially-distancing large hats with sharp metal needles as hairpins took over to protect women from potential suitors that would set female bodies into the dangerous territory of close encounters with a stranger or worse-a suitor.

So what do we wear today to signify other to keep away-or to force them? If there are social distancing fashions of now-what do they say about our perception of self-and most importantly, of the body we live in? For Henry Miller, “Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.”

Does avoiding the physicality of the other make, over time, sense? When the other becomes the potential enemy, physicality is detested, best avoided. Everything that comes out of a body is problematic and potentially contagious. How this will develop in terms of fashion and trends remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the fashions of the future will be seriously considering social distancing a virtue, reborn.

Fashion has long been talking about the end of the world. Have we listened?

.The Coronavirus pandemic has been a surprise to most. Many countries and governments struggled to adjust to a new reality and take whatever action was needed in those unprecedented -and turbulent -times.

And yet, post-apocalyptical times have long been the topic of fashion. In fact, fashion designers have subtly-or more boldly-been talking about a dystopian end -of the –world situation coming. For those of us who attended last season’s Paris Fashion Week, the examples were more than obvious.

In fact, there was a great part of fashion designers that were dealing with modern man’s fall from grace -offering post-apocalyptic style collections that worked like mini-warnings for all mankind. Paris fashion week 2020 had at least three thigh profile shows addressing the issue of the world coming to an end as we know it because of man’s behavior. Marine Serre, Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga and Jun Takahashi for Undercover did exactly this.

Functionality aesthetics, elaborate protection face masks, utility clothing and staging that made references to post-apocalyptic times told us we need to worry about our future. So how come we didn’t listen?

Clothes are most than a piece of fabric; and fashion tells stories as Virginia Woolf notes: “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us… There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not us them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking”

In that sense, fashion is a communication tool, an expression of social identity and this way one way or another it reflects the socioeconomic status quo Take it one step further, and fashion unveils the true mystery of the world, the visible, as Oscar Wilde would confirm. Fashion’s frivolity is a feast to the senses –but not only. By accurately reflecting its times, fashion in one of the semantic systems to reflect and thus predict the future.

Enter interpretation. Every system that can provide with information is always open to analysis and interpretation. The fashion critic of the past did exactly this-based in scientific knowledge, passion or insight, he would offer a lens through which we could view trends that exposed to forecasting the trends that are to come. Like every true artist, the fashion designer would consciously or subconsciously incorporate his knowledge and interpretation of the world translated into forms, shapes, embellishments.

When designers aren’t artists and fashion critics are fans, no true meaning can be extracted than this: fashion has lacked its unique ability to reflect the world. Can we hold  Millenial and Gen Z’ culture for rendering fashion synonymous with luxury and street style show off-only? Fashion criticism has long given place to relentless praise and press-release reviews that satisfy but don’t offer a view or a new meaning. It was this happy go-like side of the industry that maintained the fairytale-and the fairytale only.

This pandemic is a tragedy that holds many lessons. Let it one be the reinstallation of fashion as a tool for social discussion-and therefore-change. As an opportunity to dive into one of the greatest mysteries of this world-reality.