Fashion should thus be considered as a symptom of the taste for the ideal which ﬂoats on the surface of all the crude, terrestrial and loathsome bric-a-brac that the natural life accumulates in the human brain: as a sublime deformation of Nature, or rather a permanent and repeated attempt at her reformation. And so it has been sensibly pointed out (though the reason has not been discovered) that every fashion is charming, relatively speaking, each one being a new and more or less happy effort in the direction of Beauty, some kind of approximation to an ideal for which the restless human mind feels a constant, titillating hunger.
Like a suit, a uniform of jeans, T-shirt, New Balance trainers and sporty jacket relies on invisibility. The person (usually a white man) who wears it is virtually indistinguishable from a non-far-right guy in a casual everyday garb. Style is then either thought of exclusively as a tool to assimilate or paradoxically discounted altogether as irrelevant to one’s political beliefs. For white supremacists ditching the skinhead image means leaving behind their status as subculture, which defines itself in opposition to the mainstream, to reaffirm whiteness as the mainstream.
Fashion, as an industry, survives because of commerce, and commerce is the result of carefully planned media exposure: everything that gets in the way, true criticism in primis, is seen as nothing less than danger, a menace to avoid at any cost. A case in point is the discrepancy between the frank and open, if studious and cautious, after-show talk and what actually filters through to the subsequent written reports. Fashion reporters have become masters of insinuation and understatement, and the subtle critiques that materialise often become nothing but passing frissons – background noise for corporations that have understood the value of column inches.
Where women are concerned, then, minimalist clothing advice is aimed at tamping down on overabundant desire. Rather than taking your inspiration from that awesome scarf on the woman at the coffee shop this morning, you’re to restrict yourself to sensible basics. Are you A Woman? You require The Navy Blazer, The Pencil Skirt, and so forth, and be sure to pay full price for each.
While messages of disaster might grab readers’ attention, they come with the same problem as technical and scientific writing. Both communicate through environmentalism, not creation. Sustainable fashion is perpetually presented differently from what is considered ‘normal’ fashion, so much even, that it has come to represent its opposite. It’s as if there are only two camps – either you write about hemp and trees and farmers, or you write about silk and champagne and popstars.
If Hilfiger had a genius, it was less about saying something radically or interestingly new with clothing than about understanding how to curate, translate and market niche aesthetics for a broader audience. His enthusiasm for countercultural fashion, it soon became clear, was opportunistic rather than philosophical. His was a fundamentally pop genius, dependent on his ability to give the mainstream just as much edge and titillation and fantasy as it could handle, but no more.
In 2017, the collaboration has become as common as the collection. It generates unfailing press, both critical and laudatory. In both scenarios, interest tends to hinge on the brands’ differences, on the inherent edginess of uniting them. In the case of Louis Vuitton and Supreme, the story is that the former brings to the table old-world prestige (and high prices), the latter irreverent youthfulness (and fans rabid enough to pay them). Yet it’s worth asking: how different are Supreme and Louis Vuitton, actually?
Behind these images of ‘real’ people – building, plastering, carrying heavy weights, fixing things or more generally just getting their hands dirty – is a not-so-subtle invitation to eroticise the workers, their bodies, their performance of ‘real’ masculinity. The hashtag #realpeople implies a distance, both erotic and social: they are ‘real’ people, we are not; this is ‘real’ work, ours is not.
The stereotype of the self-loathing cosmetic surgery patient can be found in the annals of psychiatry. Lacking much in the way of critique of gender norms, the mid-twentieth century psychiatric discourse addressed women who underwent cosmetic surgery as neurotics, disordered personalities or otherwise pathological subjects.
Fashion houses are more like banks or law firms, their uniforms less a fashion statement than an ethos expressed by dark-hued synthetics. If you leave Louis Vuitton having remembered everything other than what the sales associate who helped you was wearing, the uniform will have done its job.
Before there was Clinton swag, there was Obama swag. Before there was Obama swag, there was Kerry swag. Whom are these items trying to convince? Do we purchase a Hillary Clinton T-shirt to show solidarity, or to build our personal brands? Do designers create them because they will change hearts and minds – or to reassure themselves that their industry has a role to play in their nation’s critical decisions?
If fashion ‘wants to kill’ its practitioners, that’s because it epitomises capitalist innovation at its bare essence, consisting of the sort of change that is only for the sake of the system’s survival. Fashion is what is left when all pretence to consumer utility or social improvement is stripped away. The sacrifice of perfectly useful goods to the ever-shifting demands of fashion is a kind of corrective purge, an obliteration of what the philosopher and writer Georges Bataille called ‘the accursed share,’ clearing the field so that capitalism’s competitive mechanisms and requirements for endless growth can continue to function.