What Is Clothedom (I)?
A very dear friend, who was writing a masters thesis on theology, asked me urgently one groggy night: What is Fashion about?
Like when a mathematician is asked why 1 + 1 equals 2, I flinched at the fundamental thrust, a little miffed by the phlebian undertone of the query.
So much has been said about fashion being that gray area straddling between art and commerce, and what’s that mean, really? Like the rest of those academic bullshit, it sounds very high-brow but inherently means nothing if it is not explained with a true internalized meaning of what the point of fashion is.
So then I hear my voice saying: “Fashion, is not about clothes. It is about the body.” (My friend, that lil’ dear Michelle, had her eyes literally glazed over.)
If fashion is about clothes, then fashion becomes commerce, business, demand-supply, selling, buying, industrializing and so on. These clothes make no pretension that they are made to dress the person so s/he can function to serve the needs of society. It is not about the body, but solely about the clothes because such utilitarianism and functionism and uniformism is what societal norms demand. (Any fashion company in this category that tells you otherwise is just plain old marketing spiel. “Be yourself/Unleash the inner fashionista!” …. yeah, right, unleash that inner fashionista so you can function in that outer world to clock that 9-5 and claim that 401K.) So brands like Urban Outfitters, Gap, D-Squared, Diesel, Abercrombie & Fitch, Levi’s, Zara, Anne Klein, and ck, DKNY, A|X, etc all the bridge brands of the upper-tier mothership labels are the clothe-makers. In fashion-journo-speak, we call them various names: sportswear, contemporary, petite, misses, junior, denim, bridge, better, diffusion … … Sounds lower-browed, but hey, it serves its function as functioning everyday throw-on clothes. Surely you don’t dine at the Mercer Kitchen everyday, you eat out at St Marks’ BAMN food vendoring machines too, yes?
But if fashion must remain fashion, then fashion must be about the body, in the same way that art is not about art, but about springboarding from and sometimes, questioning the fabric of reality. So designers like Kris Van Assche, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Prada, and most couture brands like John Galliano for Christian Dior, Poiret, Garbielle “Coco” Chanel are the body-makers.
But if we push further and insist fashion must be something more, then fashion must ceased to be about the body. Fashion then becomes about the mind .. in the way abstract expressionists like Clifford Still and Louise Fishman tried and try (respectively) to finger beyond reality and that we do not yet see, feel, think, hear, and so on. So in this part of the firmament resides Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons, Elsa Schapparelli, Hussein Chalayan, and a host of fashion school graduates who think they are the next generation of zealots. Whether some or all are delusional, artfully pretentious, blindly determined, or geniuses not udnerstood in their time … we do not know, but the fashion media always like to be excited and enthralled by something. Madness, in this part of the world, is endearing.
There are of course, fashion people that are mobile within these three divisions. The boy-man everyone loves to love, Olivier Theyskens, for example, engages both the body and the mind when he designs for Rochas and now Nina Ricci. He was more a mind-maker when he was designing his eponymous line. But if you follow his career from Rochas to present-day Ricci, you somehow get the notion that somehow his lofty, dreamy, visceral ideas about form, space and light somehow weave themselves into a net and falls ever so lightly on the body as wispy, wistful and oddly-romantic clothes.
So what is it that you want to ask about Fashion, again?