Pas­sion for Fashion, by Philip Warkander On the re­la­tions­hip between cre­a­ti­vi­ty and com­mer­ce

Odalisque - - Yoshi Rotten X 6 -

The bu­si­ness of fashion is or­ga­ni­sed around the pa­ra­dox­i­cal re­la­tions­hip between cre­a­ti­vi­ty and com­mer­ce. This bi­na­ry or­ga­ni­sa­tion was in­tro­du­ced al­re­a­dy in the ni­ne­te­enth cen­tu­ry, when the mo­dern fashion sy­stem first emer­ged. Be­fo­re this ti­me, the con­cept of de­sig­ners did not ex­ist, and ins­te­ad the­re was the tai­lor, of­ten ope­ra­ting at the sa­me le­vel as ot­her ser­vants. Ho­wever, the coutu­ri­er Char­les Fre­drick Worth decided to change the sta­tus of the tra­de. He ba­sed his stra­te­gy on the the myth of the ar­tist created by the art world of his ti­me. As a cre­a­ti­ve ge­ni­us, pro­du­cing in­di­vi­du­al and ori­gi­nal pie­ces, Worth trans­fer­red this con­cept to the fashion in­du­stry. Ins­te­ad of tai­lors vi­si­ting cli­ents at their man­sions, the ni­ne­te­enth cen­tu­ry bour­geoi­sie now had to come to the de­sig­ner in his stu­dio, which was made to re­semb­le the ar­tist’s stu­dio. The gar­ments car­ri­ed the sig­na­tu­re of the de­sig­ner – in the shape of a la­bel – inspired by the ar­tist’s sig­na­tu­re on pain­tings. Ever sin­ce, fashion has been de­fi­ned as a cre­a­ti­ve in­du­stry, re­vol­ving around the idea of the de­sig­ner as the in­ven­tor of new ide­as, sha­pes and cuts, but ac­cor­ding to a spe­ci­fic tem­po­ral li­ne of pro­duc­tion. The me­cha­nics of fashion have been thin­ly vei­led un­der the gu­i­se of a cre­a­ti­ve, se­e­mingly spon­ta­ne­ous flow of new design ide­as. The ear­ly fashion sy­stem used the ca­len­dar ye­ar to in­tro­du­ce a ca­pi­ta­list in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the chan­ging se­a­sons, na­mely the fashion ye­ar. Taking in­spi­ra­tion from how the se­a­sons follow one anot­her – how Spring turns in­to Sum­mer, on­ly to be re­pla­ced by Fall and then Win­ter – Worth sug­ges­ted that this se­quence should be re­flec­ted through chan­ging con­sump­tion of gar­ments. He in­tro­du­ced trends that were spe­ci­fic for the se­a­sons Spring and Sum­mer, dif­fe­ring from the fashion dicta­tes for the Fall and Win­ter that follow. To­day, tra­ces of that lo­gic still ex­ist, but in cur­rent ti­mes the pa­ce has ac­ce­le­ra­ted so im­men­se­ly, and fashion is now ex­is­ting in so ma­ny ver­sions and on all le­vels, that it is now dif­ficult to see any re­al dif­fe­rence between se­a­sons. As the Spring/sum­mer se­a­son de­signs are shown at fashion weeks in the Fall, to be im­me­di­a­tely com­mu­ni­ca­ted, com­men­ted on and tur­ned in­to col­la­ges through Instagram, Fa­ce­book and Tum­blr, by the ti­me the clot­hes ar­ri­ve in the shop, they al­re­a­dy fe­el old. Hau­te coutu­re is fin­ding in­spi­ra­tion in stre­et cul­tu­re, whi­le High Stre­et brands are tur­ning to high fashion for help to in­ter­pret trends. A few, such as Mo­schi­no, Ver­sa­ce Ver­sus and Lo­ewe, have even be­gun to ig­no­re the tem­po­ral lo­gic of the tra­di­tio­nal fashion ye­ar, ins­te­ad choo­sing to ma­ke their clot­hes in­stant­ly ac­ces­sib­le to con­su­mers, on­ly days af­ter they have ap­pe­a­red on the ca­t­walk. An in­du­stry that is al­ways spee­ding up, ne­ver showing any ten­den­cy of slowing down, quick­ly de­ve­lops a need for new blood. In an al­most can­ni­ba­listic man­ner, con­tem­po­ra­ry fashion requires new ta­lents to be im­ple­men­ted in­to the machi­ne­ry of pro­du­cing, pro­moting and sel­ling new com­mo­di­ti­es. Young pe­op­le, of­ten whi­le still en­rol­led in fashion schools, work in­sa­ne­ly long days wit­hout pay in or­der to sup­port the con­stant ex­pan­sion of the in­du­stry. The myth that is of­ten be­ing in­voked is that a pas­sion for fashion should in it­self be a suf­fi­ci­ent driving for­ce, mo­re im­por­tant than an ac­tu­al sa­la­ry or de­cent work con­di­tions. Pe­op­le from a wor­king-class back­grounds are the­re­fo­re now fin­ding it incre­a­singly dif­ficult to ac­cess the world of fashion, as it requires that you al­re­a­dy have mo­ney to sup­port you whi­le you work for free, ho­ping that your com­mit­ment one day will trans­la­te in­to so­me kind of mo­re stab­le po­si­tion. For pe­op­le with mo­re fi­nan­ci­al­ly stab­le back­grounds, this might ac­tu­al­ly be a pos­sib­le sce­na­rio, but for ma­ny, the first in­terns­hip will be follo­wed by anot­her, and then anot­her, and then anot­her, with stab­le work con­di­tions be­ing no clo­ser than when they first started out. In ad­di­tion, when they ti­re of wor­king for not­hing and living hand to mouth, the­re is an ar­my of ea­ger can­di­da­tes who all want to have a go at the sa­me dream, wai­ting in li­ne to ta­ke the un­paid job. This pro­blem is di­scus­sed on a re­gu­lar ba­sis both in fashion me­dia and in cul­tural de­ba­tes in ge­ne­ral, but the mo­re do­mi­nant di­scour­se re­vol­ves around the myth of the cre­a­ti­ve de­sig­ner, who­se pas­sion dri­ves him or her to con­stant­ly de­ve­lop new de­signs, so­me­o­ne wor­king in har­mo­ny with the in­sa­ti­ab­le but se­ducti­ve fashion bu­si­ness. In glos­sy ma­ga­zi­nes, on on­li­ne plat­forms and through smart apps, de­sig­ners are be­ing in­ter­vi­ewed and their col­lec­tions ana­ly­zed re­gar­ding the in­spi­ra­tions and thoughts be­hind the la­test design. To tell the sto­ry of how the gar­ments re­flect a per­so­nal and he­art­felt ex­pe­ri­ence, or to con­nect the style of the col­lec­tion to a jour­ney through so­me re­mo­te and ex­o­tic pla­ce, is ge­ne­ral­ly con­si­de­red a mo­re in­te­re­s­ting ar­tic­le idea than asking ques­tions of how me­a­ning­ful the de­sig­ner con­si­ders the job of de­sig­ning yet anot­her hand­bag to ac­tu­al­ly be. The cor­re­la­tion between me­dia’s in­te­rests and the buy­ing ha­bits of con­su­mers is va­gue to say the

le­ast. The re­a­li­ty be­hind the glos­sy me­dia image is of­ten that de­sig­ners – espe­ci­al­ly tho­se in the niche fi­eld of fashion or in the lo­wer hi­e­rar­chi­es of lar­ger fashion houses – are over-worked and un­der­paid, unab­le to ta­ke ho­li­days or even week­ends off. Even de­sig­ners who ap­pe­ar suc­cess­ful as their gar­ments gra­ce the co­ver of Vo­gue or ot­her high le­vel ma­ga­zi­nes, might have dif­ficul­ty ma­king ends me­et. But becau­se of the gla­mo­rous framing of the work that is car­ri­ed out, it is dif­ficult for pe­op­le out­si­de the bu­si­ness to un­derstand the se­ve­ri­ty of the si­tu­a­tion. Fashion ar­ticles might touch bri­e­fly upon this sub­ject, but the phy­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing com­ple­tely worn out and strip­ped of any cre­a­ti­ve thought due to re­gu­lar­ly high stress le­vels, is qui­te dif­fe­rent from ha­ving it im­pli­cit­ly men­tio­ned between li­nes in a li­fe­sty­le pie­ce. To add even mo­re pressu­re, now even niche fashion brands are of­ten ex­pec­ted to show pre­se­a­son col­lec­tions, which me­ans that the­re is even mo­re work to be do­ne but in the sa­me ti­mem­pe­ri­od as be­fo­re. This de­ve­lop­ment al­so has con­se­quences for the fashion ye­ar, sin­ce at any gi­ven mo­ment the­re se­ems to be a fashion week go­ing on so­mewhe­re in the world. The­se trends about whe­re fashion is he­a­ding le­ad to one ques­tion: why do pe­op­le ac­ti­vely choo­se to work cre­a­ti­vely? What is the driving for­ce between wan­ting to be in an in­du­stry whe­re the re­ward is ra­rely fi­nan­ci­al, free ti­me is kept to a mi­ni­mum and ca­re­er op­por­tu­ni­ti­es are ra­re? The­re are plen­ty of ot­her jobs with far fewer neu­ro­tic di­men­sions, in in­du­stri­es not near­ly as de­man­ding as fashion. Per­haps one an­swer could be that the myth of the pas­sion-dri­ven fashion de­sig­ner has be­come in­teg­ra­ted with our un­derstan­ding of re­a­li­ty, that we ta­ke the cur­rent si­tu­a­tion for gran­ted. We have be­come so used to thin­king of cre­a­ti­vi­ty and com­mer­ce as mer­ged in­to one that we no longer ques­tion the pa­ce in which fashion cur­rent­ly ex­ists. Ho­wever, at the mo­ment the­re is al­so anot­her aspect to con­si­der, as mo­re and mo­re pe­op­le sub­t­ly ap­pe­ar to be re­sis­ting the push for ra­pid ex­pan­sion, in or­der to focus on mo­re ex­pe­ri­men­tal and avant-gar­de ways of wor­king. Last ye­ar, Je­an-paul Gaul­ti­er bid fa­rewell to re­a­dy-to-wear pre­ci­se­ly becau­se of the un­re­a­listic de­mands he felt that it was ma­king, in its quest to con­stant­ly have new things to show. Dutch duo Victor and Rolf soon follo­wed his ex­amp­le, al­so choo­sing to focus ex­clu­si­vely on hau­te coutu­re. In ad­di­tion, John Gal­li­a­no has been ve­ry pub­lic about the fact that the La Per­le in­ci­dent in 2012 was ac­tu­al­ly a kind of pro­fes­sio­nal su­i­ci­de, a trau­ma­tic and last re­sort to way to find an ex­it, al­beit tem­po­ra­ry, out of the in­du­stry that was th­re­a­te­ning his li­fe. I con­si­der the­se small and far-scat­te­red signs to be ho­pe­ful. Even though I do not per­so­nal­ly work as a de­sig­ner, but ins­te­ad as a scho­lar and a wri­ter, I al­so fe­el the pressu­re to be con­stant­ly in­for­med, to al­ways have an opi­ni­on and to be pre­sent in the me­dia. For this re­a­son, I have started to qui­te cons­ciously say, when asked what I think of the la­test col­la­bo­ra­tion or col­lec­tion by the de­sig­ner cur­rent­ly in the spot­light, that I simply do not know. Sta­ting lack of know­led­ge me­ans that pe­op­le can­not ask you any mo­re ques­tions. Ins­te­ad, the­re is si­lence and pe­a­ce. I use the ph­ra­se “I don’t know” as a tool to cre­a­te a pla­ce of still­ness and tranqui­li­ty wit­hin an ot­her­wi­se ca­pi­ta­list in­du­stry. As an ad­di­tio­nal ef­fect, it al­lows me to see whe­re the­re are gaps in my know­led­ge, ways for me to de­ve­lop and grow, but ac­cor­ding to my own in­te­rests and in­cli­na­tions, and not following the pressed ti­me-sche­du­le of fashion me­dia. In the past few months, I ha­ven’t vi­si­ted fashion shops or ot­her re­tail spa­ces as re­gu­lar­ly as I have in the past, when I would fe­el it was my du­ty to be up­da­ted and in­for­med on the la­test in­te­ri­or design trend at Cé­li­ne or to know what Pra­da were do­ing in vi­su­al mer­chan­di­sing. Ins­te­ad, I go to art gal­le­ri­es, watch bad TV shows, re­ad books on sub­jects far re­mo­ved from fashion. The­re is no clear pur­po­se for this, no aim of in­cor­po­ra­ting the­se ex­pe­ri­ences in­to ar­ticles or te­aching. I do it simply for the ple­a­su­re of do­ing things wit­hout an agen­da, wit­hout feeling the need to con­stant­ly be ma­king mo­re mo­ney by pro­moting new things. Becau­se fashion is both a vi­su­al and a ma­te­ri­al ex­pres­sion, both a cul­tural sign of our ti­mes and a com­mo­di­ty with a fix­ed price, it is in­ter­con­nec­ted with all things that sur­round us in Wes­tern cul­tu­re. In my opi­ni­on, this is what ma­kes it so deeply fa­sci­na­ting to think about and to en­gage with, even though it mo­men­ta­rily is lac­king in lus­ter. Ho­pe­ful­ly, the shift in­to slow­ness and a re­newed in­te­rest in crafts­mans­hip is not yet anot­her short-li­ved trend, but a sign that mo­re pe­op­le are ques­tio­ning fashion’s cur­rent lack of me­a­ning­ful­ness. It is ti­me to let go of how old ide­as of what fashion can be, to se­arch for ways in which the in­du­stry can re­in­vent it­self, to ques­tion the nar­row bounda­ri­es of its own de­fi­ni­tion. Re­fu­sing to spend our lives ob­ses­sing over un­der­paid work can al­so be a way to re­di­sco­ver what we are ac­tu­al­ly pas­sio­na­te about. In this way, per­haps it can al­so be pos­sib­le to find new be­gin­nings for fashion as an aest­he­tic ex­pres­sion, but from a mo­re ex­pe­ri­men­tal, hu­mo­rous and less me­cha­ni­cal per­specti­ve.

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