Is frivolity in fashion really such a bad thing?
Fashion is frivolous. Isn’t that the conventional wisdom? Trends change faster than you can zip yourself out of last season’s dress, and the industry operates on a hamster wheel set to speed: impossible. Outsiders tend to peer at us through a one-way mirror, judging us to be all fluff and fantasy.
It’s true we are in the business of selling dreams, and our fashion designers have characters as large and vivid as their collections, making us all easy targets for open ridicule. At times, one has to wonder if the designers are not serving up the sartorial with a hefty dose of tongue in cheek. But these accusers tend to forget that fashion is a billion-dollar industry. A well-oiled machine, albeit one wrapped in an opulent cloak of exclusivity and glamour. Of course, being subjected to scorn and ridicule is not exclusively a fashion industry problem, and truly, given the speed our industry is geared at and the volatility of retaining relevance, why can’t we have some fun along the way?
Inspiration is a muse of many faces, and fashion, being the voracious beast that it is, has always had its sartorial finger on the social pulse. Pretty much everything is fair game: art, pop culture, social commentary. Miuccia Prada’s inspirations often stem from things traditionally deemed unattractive or undesirable. She once said, “Ugly is attractive. Ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer.”
In the same vein, could we not say the same for the ridiculous or the outrageous? Alexander McQueen was lambasted when he sent models down his 1996 catwalk in his now infamous ‘bumsters’, trousers cut so low as to reveal derrière cleavage. What was seen as merely designer shock tactics, McQueen was adamant that all he intended was to elongate the female form. John Galliano shows were legendary in their theatrics with the designer himself giving as flamboyant a display in the finale as the models. But there’s the gist of matter right there; these are fashion shows. Just as important as the clothes is the experience, the buzz generated, the social reach long after. And why not achieve notoriety through humor? An ironic sense of frivolity? A wink and sly nod to the satirical?
Miuccia referenced cars in her women’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection, subtly playing off two of the biggest stereotypes that men acquire as trophies. Over at Céline in the summer of 2013, Phoebe Philo (I’m hoping with a twinkle in her eye) told us we can wear fur, all over and under our feet with her begging-to-be-caressed fur pumps and ‘furkenstocks’. This season at Rochas, Marco Zanini absolutely delighted us with his over the top ostrich feather duster flats. Oh, yes they were impractical. Maybe more than a little ridiculous. But they invited discourse. Challenged ideas. And if anything, they may have put a smile on your face.
In the same season, Alber Elbaz sent his model army down the Lanvin catwalk, some armed with trash bags. Glittery, I’ll admit, but unreservedly trash baggy. Was it a nod to the idea of throwaway fashion? Or was it Elbaz’s homage to the trashy disco era, undoubtedly an important reference point in his collection?
Then there are the designers that unabashedly have fun at what they do. Jeremy Scott is infamous for his irreverence and inspires as fanatic a fanbase as any other. The house of Moschino has never designed a collection without some sort of cheek. Anybody who’s following any sort of fashion social media will most definitely have seen the circus of reactions when those two maestros came together for AW14. But that’s another can of worms.
The reality is, no matter how harshly the fashion world’s players are judged, or how unfairly we are measured against each other, it is an undeniable fact that the industry is hard. The pace is unrelenting. All we have to do is look at the sad trajectory of geniuses such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano to see how gruelling it can be churning out six or eight collections a year. All that said, let’s not try to make a martyr of fashion; let’s just give a gentle acknowledgement that people in this industry dedicate their lives to it, and it is not a forgiving mistress. Many will burn hot and bright. Many more will burn out or even fail to ignite. In a billion dollar industry, what’s a little self-mockery and in all seriousness, absolute frivolity? After all, it’s just fashion.