In the age of advanced digital technology, perhaps it is fair to question whether human toil remains the essential component of beauty and craft. Digital fashion is subversive in that it could potentially rewrite the ontology of the fashion system itself.
The meaning of luxury has collapsed not only to outsiders but from within as well. In order to tap into aspirational desires for designer items, executives pushed sales and diffusion lines in the aughts, flooding the market with discounts and monograms in the 2000s. There is now something effortlessly authentic about knock-offs, whereas ironic marked-up collaborations feel overly engineered, cynical, and easily lost in today’s never-ending stream of online clout chasing. When I see Gucci’s Disney t-shirts, I can almost smell the sweat of marketing executives, chartered accountants and IP lawyers gathered in a boardroom.
Next I take out my morning suit – made in 1938 by Airey and Wheeler of 129 Regent Street for my grandfather, GM Jeffreys. Gordon Michael. English. English. The jacket is a beautiful thing: dark and matte and felty black, quilted interior, swooping lines of tails. Two rear buttons a legacy of some long-lost functionality. Like an appendix, a vestigial organ of tailoring evolution. I recently had the sleeves lengthened by an inch and a half, the beautiful stitching around the (non-functioning) cuff buttonholes replaced with a perfunctory line by a person who did not have the same skills or time or who was simply working for a client (me) with significantly less money than the original client (my grandfather). The trousers have been widened at the waist and taken in again. The legs have been shortened, then lengthened again. The waistcoat, dove grey, double-breasted, is oddly backless – compensation perhaps for the warm weighty heft of the trousers. I examine it all closely with a sense of trepidation, And, sure enough, the tell tale signs of mothery.
Fashion was an area of play and analysis throughout Joan Didion’s career as a writer. In the relationship between character and style she made an effort to draw, the subject of fashion gains depth. To her, character meant the inner world of a person, their values, hopes, and dreams, and she viewed the people she wrote about, fictional, real, or herself, through this lens.
Humanistic Luxury brands justify their higher luxury margins by the value they bring to artisan communities by engaging them in an ‘ethical production’ and the value consumers create for the broader society. While these brands charge an accelerated fee for their goods compared to their traditional counterparts, this elevated price manifests under the guise of ‘improvement,’ rather than social division.
I remember, when I was at school in 1902, walking at the back of our Sunday crocodile, and seeing all the girls in front of me, very smart and Sundayfied, going down the hill to church. And I thought (I am afraid, with a touch of superiority): ‘How frightful they all look, and what a lot of trouble they have taken to make themselves still more frightful. I am sure I look every bit as hideous, but at any rate I haven’t taken any trouble about it at all.’
As daughters, we are privy to a deeply intimate space: a space where our mothers could be themselves, where they could be imperfect. All those moments gazing up at them as they prepared themselves: after a warm bath with pink skin and no makeup on, caesarean scars exposed, relaxed in their underwear, and slowly transforming into the most polished versions of themselves, preparing to be seen by the outside world.