In this ADD-addled world of Snapchats and Vines, of people vocally pronouncing the acronym IRL (which, as Abbi correctly pointed out to Ilana, is the same number of syllables), I find myself thinking a lot about memory. Tradition. Antecedents.
Now firmly ensconced in my 30s, I’m old enough to mourn for the sense of tradition lost, yet young enough to implicitly understand the impetus for change.
In the world of fashion, there’s a weird half-life that I’ve been clocking, which shrugs its collective shoulders at that which has come before, and seeks nothing more than immediacy and attention. So profits, then, basically.
The history of the great houses has been obfuscated and ignored, with all the anterograde amnesia of a Klonopin addict. It’s discussed at great lengths by the very perpetrators, who, adhering to a sort of po-mo litmus test for successful artists, are often better at discussing what they’d like us to see in their work than actually showing it in their work. Gone are the days of Jackson Pollack, who was so embryonically inarticulate that, for the eloquent dissertations of Clement Greenberg, we might never have realized that those canvases were anything more than discardable drop clothes. Today, you dazzle with your wit at all the right parties, then try your level best to create the works of art that your grandiloquence suggested you already have.
The Hubert de Givenchy who dressed Audrey Hepburn would roll over in his grave at the work of Ricardo Tisci (imagine Holly Golightly in a sweatshirt that says Pervert 17). The Belgian ghost himself, Margiela, must have cut off internet access wherever he’s decided to self-exile in order to avoid the overt maximimalism of Galliano.
And, while our memories are short these days, I suspect there’s another, more practical reason for this phenomenon. In emerging economies one notices interesting things when major western brands come to town. The understanding of these brands is entirely different. Their position (as a world-famous entity) is known, but it arrives completely free of both context and history. Like moving cross country in the pre-Google era, because you slept with your neighbours husband. Scarlet Letters being notoriously adverse to jet lag.
When they arrived in Beijing, American Apparel (told you I was in my 30s) tried to go upscale. Their shops were next to Comme des Garçons, rather than Claire’s. Vero Moda (Danish for Zara) featured Giselle and Kate Moss in their ads. Ports 1961 (who made those nanny red bluchers your grandmother wore to go sailing) pretended to be Fendi, with giant, luxe boutiques Manolo walking distance (read: about 100 feet) of the Ritz Carlton.
But these recontextualizations can work. Vero Moda is the most successful single clothing retailer in mainland China (with something absurd like 2000 shoppes). And ateliers such as Coach and Louis Vuitton are making great strides redefining themselves as sartorial powerhouses, through the masterful work of Stuart Vevers and Nicolas Ghesquiere, respectively. Though, neither of those houses have a rich tradition of clothing design and were traditionally malletier’s.
Everyone seems to be struggling to keep up, with the current pace, but also with increasingly non-existent borders. A collection has to appeal to dozens of national identities, tastes, styles, climates. And, in doing so, we’re losing the art of specialization. Versace doesn’t need to make tights, that’s what Wolford is for. And who in the actual fuck wants a Gucci car? Honestly. Whatever happened to just doing what you’re good at? It’s not like it hasn’t worked for these companies thus far.
Sure, I’d love to see Raf at Calvin Klein. If Raf designed a spaceship I’d probably suddenly develop an implacable urge to go to the moon. But is his outre avant-minimalism really in any way comparable to the post-Halston ascetic af Americana that was heyday-era CK? Wouldn’t Shayne Oliver make a better choice?
George Santayana famously said, ”Those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it.” But fashion, like all artistic metier, is an iterative exploration of form, so maybe a little repetition is just what we need. After all, specialization is kryptonite for homogeneity. No homo.