Fashion with a capital F.

Much as I love clothes, there are times when I really, really hate Fashion. I hate it for failing to amaze me. I hate it for making me grind my teeth while I click through acres of editorial looking for something I haven’t seen before. I hate it for wearing its lineage on its unnecessarily complicated sleeve and for being so thoroughly predictable. Most of all, I hate it for turning itself into a caricature.

Bear with me. My original plan was to work through Angie’s handy spring style cheat sheet (I scored 9 out of 10) but as usual I’ve got something else to say about what’s happening in Fashion right now. I see it on the cool kids in my town, at the art school where I work, and on the catwalks of New York, Paris and London. It’s not pretty.

Ground Zero for these disturbing developments is Paris based streetwear brand Vetements. Here, helmsman Demna Gvasalia is busy grinding out velour tracksuits and windbreakers so the 1% can spend a fortune on goods they could have bought at Walmart. That’s Fashion’s democratisation apparently, but the press remains politely silent about a certain historical precedent.

There’s more. The Georgian superstar has a second gig at Balenciaga which, classic boots notwithstanding, is all but unrecognisable as the brand that Nicolas Ghesquière reinvigorated to such great effect in the late 1990’s. Their inflatable vest is not suitable for life preservation, as Net-a-Porter helpfully remind us, should you be tempted to wear one on your yacht this summer. To my shame, I find myself actually wanting it, but my budget has its limits so I’m settling for a quilted jacket in YLF citron from Marks & Spencer. Call it this year’s wild card.

Down the road at Gucci, Alessandro Michele presents a meticulously crafted retro chic confection which, minus the sumptuous embellishment, could be replicated at any medium-sized flea market. Utterly gorgeous, entirely derivative. I remember a pair of no logo Italian-made jeans I packed away in 2005 because I couldn’t bear to part with them. It’s always sobering when something you bought as a grown woman finally achieves vintage provenance, but it’s not the first time and they’re a nice pair of pants that fit as well as they ever did. Those are Swarovski crystals, I’ll have you know. But don’t worry, if dressing like a thrift-store urchin makes you queasy, there’s always the branded tees that look like they came from a street stall in Marseilles.

Can you see where this is going? The Emperor has no clothes, or no new ones at least. The snake devours its own tail. These designers, two of the most influential players in the business, are plundering a backlog of urban style so unoriginal it can make a white tube sock look inexplicably desirable to the global elite. This is what had to happen for Fashion to Keep It Real and I’m sorry to say I saw it coming a mile off. Granted, that article is a year old almost to the day, but so little has changed that I can do nothing but shrug my shoulders, climb on board and say I told myself so.

Sigh.

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This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.

34 Comments

  • Suz replied 1 year ago

    Well, all I can say is that notwithstanding the fickleness of fashion, you have amazing personal style and look wonderful in the new citron puffer, the retro jeans, the deconstructed/unconstructed everythings. 

    As for the Vetements dress, it sure looks like a Betsy Johnson I had in the 90s. I mean, exactly like it. 

    I also had -- oh, how I wish I had a photo of this -- a pink ditsy print rayon Betsy Johnson number that involved slim cropped pants and a mandarin collar tie up swing top completely open in back. It was a really fun outfit. 

  • Aquamarine replied 1 year ago

    I didn't get enough sleep to fully digest what you just wrote, but man THOSE JEANS!

  • Janet replied 1 year ago

    I love this articulate rant so much. Yes, I agree. I had that dress in the 90s too, and wore it the same darn way, with black jacket and clunky boots. I guess this stuff looks fresh to the 20-somethings who didn't live through it all before, but other than drooling over those gorgeous prints at Gucci, I'm really pretty meh on it all.

    All the more reason to develop our own individual styles and apply trends judiciously. Rock on, Liz.

  • La Pedestrienne replied 1 year ago

    Yeah, you've struck a chord with me. I have no patience for, nor aspirations to, Fashion. But then I have no desire to posture as a member of the global elite. I see this upscale recycling/slumming as another form of Native Wear, it's just not a tribe I wish to belong to.

  • MsMaven replied 1 year ago

    Great Sunday morning read to bring me back to reality. I remember the dress from the 90s, but what is worse, I remember it as a house dress my Mom wore in a cotton version in the '50s, and what we kids called an "old lady dress" when made out of rayon in that same decade and worn by grandma and great-aunts. Oh, and they bought the dress at Penney's for about $7.50 and thought that was a high price. 

    I've seen some strange items in the stores this spring, and at ridiculous prices. Some of them stir up strange and long-forgotten memories. 

    Yet I still love fickle fashion and still follow it, although I'd rather not wear it. 

    You look great. To me your style is modern and appropriate. Love those jeans. You've proved there is something new under the denim sun. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go hug my Chanel bag for a few minutes. Yes, the one that hasn't been off the shelf for a couple of years. 

  • Gaylene replied 1 year ago

    "Fashion...turning itself into a caricature". You had me at that statement.

    I fell for Fashion--hard-- in the days of Mary Quant, Emilio Pucci, Paco Rabanne, and Jean Muir. The sight of Audrey Hepburn in her Givenchy outfits, Courrèges' furturistic vision, and Yves Saint Laurent's glorious reinvention of the familiar made me swoon. As a teenager, living in a small prairie town, I taught myself to sew and tailor just to try to capture a bit of that magic. I remember puzzling over the intricacies of a pleated Jean Muir sleeve in a Vogue Designer pattern until it suddenly clicked in how something as small as a strategically placed pleat and dart could be so transformative. I was literally struck dumb at the eye and talent which could came up with such a thing. Wearing MY version of Jean Muir's dress and blouse--and the compliments which ensued--made me want to share that pleat and the dart with everyone, much to their dismay, I'm sure.

    Would a teenager today get that excited about a designer's dart and pleat--or would the H&M knockoff sans all that intricate detail be sufficient? If I can replicate the inspiration behind the design by going to a flea market or searching the depths of my closet, does the designer's version mean much more than the snob appeal of the brand name?

    Frankly, I don't pay much attention to the runway collections these days because, with a few exceptions, to my eye they just look like tired retreads tarted up for shock and novelty. My love affair with Fashion continues but more with small, independent designers who still manage to take my breath away with a creative seam or intricate cut.

    Now I'm fixated with that knot on the lower part of your sleeve--verrryy nice drape going on there... THAT inspires me!

  • replied 1 year ago

    This was a very interesting essay, and well written.  I often feel lucky I'm at an age, or live in a part of the world where this is not dictating my fashion choices. I remember when Vetements first hit the scene, and those DHL sweatshirts.......almost offensive.

    Now?  I follow his career with interest, but not aspirationally.  

  • approprio replied 1 year ago

    Thanks for indulging my ranting, ladies. Honestly, I appreciate the talent that's gone into both of these brands, but I can and probably will go on at length about what's wrong with them, only not here. Just because it's brilliant doesn't mean I have to like it.

    Suz: you're so right! I hadn't thought of it but that dress is pure Betsy Johnson! Come to think of it, Betsy would be right at home in the Gucci stable right now too. And I am pretty sure we all wish you had a picture of that two-piece ensemble. It sounds fab!

    Aquamarine: well, any trend that means I can dig them out for a new season can't be all bad, can it? I've fallen in love with them all over again. 

    Janet: Yeah, I'm enjoying the Gucci swag in spite of myself. I can see where he's coming from but it's so frustrating to see a tired old retread being lauded as the Next Big Thing. Then again, it probably exists for the sole purpose of annoying people like me. 

    LaP: I suppose you're right about Native Wear. It's interesting, and not in a good way, to note how those status signifiers have changed. It used to be about craft and materials, now it's a logo delivered to your door in 90 minutes. 

    MsMaven: that's too funny! Yeah, it's quite baffling right now. After family and pets, I can think of nothing better to hug right now than a Chanel handbag. 

    Gaylene: YES!! Substitute Issey Miyake and Vivienne Westwood and I could have written every word of that myself. I've been thinking exactly the same over the last couple of years, wondering how new generations will relate to their clothes while quality declines and the skills to produce them gradually disappear. There's a generation of designers now who don't appear to know how clothes are made.

    Still, I have to hope. The sweatshirt is from the student collection at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. It inspired me too, which is why I'm wearing it.

  • approprio replied 1 year ago

    lisap: cross posted. I first spotted Vetements a couple of years before that with the deconstructed jeans, which I liked enough to knock off. At that time the brand still had some credibility, but the DHL logo shirts were the moment he jumped the shark in my view. They were bad. 

    To be honest, I'm not sure who finds this aspirational as such. I think most people are watching from the sidelines to see what he does next. But there's no doubt the Vetements aesthetic is informing streetwear in a big way. 

  • Sterling replied 1 year ago

    Fascinating read.  Although I could never have articulated it as well as it is discussed here, it is a feeling I have had often.  

  • annagybe replied 1 year ago

    Vetements drives me bonkers!!! I think it only works in certain circles in certain cities.
     As does Supreme, though not to the same level.
    And don't get me started on Yeezy.

    You however, look great.

  • rachylou replied 1 year ago

    You Look Fab.

    And I agree with your observations about the runways. I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact couture is, in fact, dead. It's all RTW.

  • kkards replied 1 year ago

    .and this is not new...and this will pass
    from 1994...
    World's Sidewalk Styles Top 'Catwalk' Fashions

    Where designers once set the standard, street attire now influences collections

    best line in the article;

    'But Paris's haute couture is in deep crisis,'' she adds. ''There's a point in asking some new questions.''

    http://www.csmonitor.com/1994/0131/31141.html

  • krishnidoux replied 1 year ago

    approprio, you are such a delight to read!

  • Runcarla replied 1 year ago

    Food for thought, and fierce style!

  • Sheila replied 1 year ago

    Well, you are completely wonderful and I loved every word you wrote. Not at all conversant in the heady world of fashion, but I am making this humble offering -- my favorite down vest from Lands End. It keeps me from being hit by speeding cars whilst walking in our grey Seattle climate. $29.99, I think.

    ETA cannot get the link to work but it looks substantially like the Balenciaga vest above. And it is 'useful', so William Morris would approve.

  • shevia replied 1 year ago

    Well don't give up yet. Speaking of the 90s, do you remember when Fukuyama published the End of History? Well we have seen how that went. I totally understand you regarding Vetements, although I have to say the new Gucci is quite attractive to me - but I love to dress in vintage clothes that look relevant today. I think I will dig out my vintage Dior jeans with patches and sparkles - but they probably won't fit.
    #4 says it all to me - expression and all.

  • Jenni NZ replied 1 year ago

    Welllll... No idea what to say. I have been so un-Fashion in years past that in the year 2000, when NZ defended the America's Cup for the first time, I ( and many other Kiwis, it has to be said), thought Prada was a boat. I have always liked clothes though. I think many of us here are interested in fashion with a small f. I don't care much about Fashion. I'm interested in how it works and how it affects me, as per Krishnidoux's thread on florals and stripes mixed and that scene about the cerulean from The Devil Wears Prada. But otherwise, couldn't really care less. I do think we're over-saturated and maybe you're getting older and a bit jaded Liz! No offence meant in that at all, perhaps the way of it when we have seen so many decades of trends?

  • Jenni NZ replied 1 year ago

    Oh P.S.- what is Native Wear? Keep seeing that term on the forum. Have no idea.

  • Style Fan replied 1 year ago

    I always enjoy reading your posts Liz.  You look fabulous in your pictures.  
    I do not keep up with all the fashion news but I have noticed that nothing is really new.  In the sixties we all thought we were cutting new ground with our Mary Quant dresses but if you watch the movie "To Sir, With Love" (1967) you will find out differently.  (Why do I remember that part of the movie so clearly?)
    I love wearing vintage clothes or clothes that very few people have.  I have been moving away from fashion and towards something else but I don't know what that is yet.  Beyond fashion wear.  Yet I scored high on Angie's spring must haves.  Perhaps for the first time in a decade fashion is in my favour.  I am finding it easier to buy clothes lately.    

  • Xtabay replied 1 year ago

    Since Marie Antoinette is my avatar, I felt I had to jump in and ask what's wrong with dressing up like a milkmaid once in awhile?  It's nice to have a break from all those heavy wigs and ballgowns.  :)

    I'm in the "don't take all this so seriously" camp.  Miranda Priestly would hate me. 

    Thanks for a very enjoyable thread, approprio!

  • approprio replied 1 year ago

    Thanks for giving me something to puzzle over, guys! I think I've figured it out now and I can sum it up as follows: Michele is brilliant but not original, while Gvalsalia might be original but is far from brilliant. 


    Runcarla, krishnidoux, thanks, it's kind of you to say so. And Sheila, it took me a while to appreciate the wonders of a quilted jacket, but you're right, they're indispensable. 

    Sterling, I'm glad I'm not the only one who's noticed this, and rachylou, you have a point about the death of couture. I've been musing over the article kkards posted, which was published at a time when haute couture was responding to a number of interventions. McQueen was on the rise, Margiela was staging a quiet revolution and Westwood was at the top of her game. All of these labels were very much concerned with tailoring and craftsmanship though. A lot has changed since then, including how luxury brands are perceived. 

    shevia: Don't get me wrong, I too like the direction Gucci is taking, which appeals to my flea market magpie streak (I wanna see your Dior jeans!) SF: as a fellow lover of vintage I understand that desire to wear something unique, or with a history, in a new context. That's obviously Michele's sensibility too. There's part of me that welcomes this remixing aesthetic and it's a pleasure to see it so well done. In fact, one could argue that it's a refreshing way for the business to showcase its heritage in a way that's very much in tune with the zeitgeist. An innovation in luxury branding maybe, but for fashion in general, not so much.

    annagybe: urban fashion is loosing its edge and has been for a while now. Yeezy? I can't even. The Vetements look is definitely A Thing around here, popular among the youngsters although most of my friends are looking sideways. There's certainly a valid kickback against consumerism post normcore at work, but this is completely at odds with their marketing. It's an astounding feat of doublethink.

    Jenni
    , jaded? Moi? :D No doubt there's an element of an older generation looking askance at something we see as unoriginal, because we've been very lucky to live through a period of intense innovation. But the vibrant street style we grew up with - mods, rockers, hippies, punks etc - that's over. The problem here is not high fashion appropriating street style, I wish it were that simple. It's that there's no discernible street style to appropriate.

    BTW: Native Wear refers to the various tribal uniforms you might see in your neighbourhood. rachylou is the resident anthropologist.

    ETA: Xtabay, yeah, she got a rough ride and it's probably completely undeserved :P

    But you know me, can't resist overthinking these things. Fashion isn't just for fun, it deserves some serious critical scrutiny once in a while!

  • Xtabay replied 1 year ago

    You're so right, approprio, and thanks for keeping us on our toes.  Fashion does raise some thought-provoking issues.

  • Sal replied 1 year ago

    I have enjoyed this thread, but do not regard myself as very knowledgable about Fashion...

    Can I paraphrase by saying that many of the current Fashion Designers are derivative of either street style or past eras, and not using specialised couture skills to demand the high prices - it is exclusivity because of the label value/exclusivity only rather than the skill or originality?

    Or have I got this wrong - I may have done so...

    I love your pictures - you can style your own, designer, vintage and chainstore pieces so well to make your own unique look.

  • approprio replied 1 year ago

    Sal: that's most definitely a factor. I'd go further and say that given the state of contemporary fashion, it's about the only way a luxury brand can distinguish itself. 

    In case you're wondering what I meant when I said I saw this coming a mile off, below is something I wrote back in 2011, before anyone had even heard of normcore, in response to this article in Vanity Fair.

    I thought, and still think, that fashion was very exciting at that moment in time, but what I'm seeing right now is at least in part a consequence of what I predicted then. I'm hoping it won't get any worse before it starts getting better.

    [quote]

    Fashion and youth culture as it stands now is a post-industrial 20th century invention, which was made possible by advances in textiles and production technology. A hundred years ago, children were seen and not heard, and most people would have had maybe two or three good suits of clothes which they wore until they fell apart. Not so nowadays.

    The 20-year cycle is still a reality, but until now the shear volume of clothing produced has meant that vintage pieces would reappear after a respectable length of time, to be reinvented and worn by a new generation. Meanwhile, fashion cycles move at breakneck speed, clothing design has become partisan and diverse, while the rise of the street style blog focuses the fashion maven on the "how" rather than the "what". If anything, what we're seeing now is the pinnacle of the eclecticism that this stylistic variety and rich past allows us: rather than "same fashion" we're seeing "no fashion." I think this is a very positive innovation which is pretty unique to this era.

    The problem is that this pattern isn't sustainable, because contemporary production methods are generating too much poor quality clothing, vintage stocks are already dwindling or becoming commodified and it's getting harder for individuals to draw on the past to reinvent it. All the while, a market flooded with mass-produced crap designed to last a single season has robbed most people of the ability to dress themselves nicely.

    [unquote]

    Sorry if I'm bumming you out. The world is still full of wonderful things. We just have to look a bit harder.

  • Bijou replied 1 year ago

    Sometimes I wonder if talent like Alexander McQueen would get recognised today. He did not aspire to create fashion that would be able to be mass produced at a low cost and consequently probably was not a "commercial" proposition. It is a shame when economics stifle creativity.

  • Emily K replied 1 year ago

    From today's news feed -- IKEA poked Balenciaga for making a $2145.00 "copy" of the blue IKEA shopping bag.  http://www.adweek.com/agencies.....on-of-its-

  • Gaylene replied 1 year ago

    Laughing at Ikea's response--reminds me of the old Volkswagen ads which poked fun at how homely the Volkswagen looked compared to other cars of the era. Done well, it's a light-hearted kind of cheekiness and fun which connects us to each other--and a product.

    Cheekiness and humor have always been part of Fashion's vocabulary, but I find myself repulsed when it veers towards mockery of others by highlighting privilege and income disparity. To me, a critical difference is the underlying intent for the appropriation. The luckless Marie Antoinette and her ilk were using their hamlets as an escape from the confines of a highly structured court life--much like a billionaire of today who chooses to spend time at a ranch or austere retreat. Vetements' approach, however, seems more akin to the bored, supercilious aristocrats of that era who found their fun by donning lower class attire to go "slumming" and, more often than not, wreak havoc without fear of being held to account.

    Couture has always been out of reach for the masses, but, in the past, the Fashion industry, with the help of the Fashion press, connected its rarified looks with the masses by positioning itself as a source of creativity and inspiration. My Jean Muir dress wasn't couture, but, as a Miranda Priestly would point out, it let me touch the magic. On the other hand, Gvasalia, and designers like him, turn their cheekiness towards the clothing worn by much of the world--thumping me firmly into my bottom-feeder position in the Fashion hierarchy. Despite their protestations, Gvasalia and his ilk don't design "real" clothes--they design clothes for slumming aristocrats who want to turn my reality into their privileged playground. Maybe it's time to haul out the pitchforks, torches, and knitting needles and call for their supercilious heads to roll.

  • Jenni NZ replied 1 year ago

    Loved the Ikea thing! But didn't we read in the original article that Approprio posted that Gvasalia is the designer at Balenciaga? So it's him, up to the same tricks?

  • approprio replied 1 year ago

    Emily K, JenniNZ: The carrier bag thing is not exactly new - maybe you saw Celine's striped totes from 2013, which attracted similar criticism.

    Gaylene: thanks for articulating why this is so problematic. I find Gvasalia infuriating because he's obviously aware of and totally unfazed by the contradictory nature of what he's doing. Fine, so he's hijacking working-class banality in the service of fashion-meme generation, but it's unsettling to see the media lap it up for being so charmingly "meta" without considering its implications.

    As a counter-argument, I suppose you could say it's a potential leveller at a time when we arguably need new ways of looking at and talking about fashion. Gvasalia's approach invites us to consider the visual language of globalisation and how it permeates our lives - it doesn't matter whether you're shopping Ikea or Balenciaga, you're still stuck on that treadmill. Gucci's curated garage-sale chic appears as a counterpoint to this: why buy something new when you can seek out that quirky vintage piece? Which would be fine if said garage-sale hadn't already been picked over so thoroughly and is now flooded with last year's polyester. 

    Bijou: I've often wondered where the next McQueen will come from, and whether we'll ever see another talent like that. On the other hand, there's potential for a renaissance in independent design, because of the appetite for shorter supply chains and closer links to clients. Do we need to go through this first before we can get there, I wonder?

  • Ledonna N. replied 1 year ago

    What a grand rant. I agree with others about your fashion and style. You make and keep it vividly fresh.

    I cannot even attempt to follow high fashion designers because the do not create for my bidy type. I live in world where many are creative and put there own spin on indigenous fashions or upcycled unique pieces.

  • danielgood replied 2 months ago

    Dunno why but I love these 90th fashion styles, I am feeling kind of nostalgie for my childhood lol. Rather poor childhood, I must admit. Having grown up, I admire something like this https://myitalianinspiration.c.....s-for-you/ and I would never wear these jeans from 90th again.

  • cindysmith replied 2 months ago

    Well, at least I know I'm not the only one looking at things and thinking "I've seen this before and it bores me".

  • Cee replied 2 months ago

    I really hate clothes that disable the wearer.

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