Good day to you, lovely readers. This is Liverpool calling – and welcoming you to your regular (well, not lately, I know…I apologise profusely) helping of What Am I Wearing?
As some of you will know, I am currently ‘between projects’ – yes, that means exactly what you think it does – and have more time on my hands to devote to you, dear readers. I no longer have an excuse for neglecting my obligation to discuss and/or criticise style, in a sane manner, on your behalf – and will endeavour to do so in my usual non-committal way. Whilst I often prevaricate and procrastinate, I hope that I manage to present all the options so that you can make an informed decision about whatever products that fashion are pushing this season.
So often we are both the customer and the potential victim of the fashion industry’s huge economic power – as Miranda Priestly said of the everyday (i.e. high-street) clothing we wear, it ‘represents millions of dollars and countless jobs’. Make no mistake – the industry wants to keep it that way: to this end, they use expensive marketing departments (whose budgets are a lot bigger than ours) and have the magazines in their pockets. Their advertising campaigns appear in the magazines that choose their clothes for editorial. And they are not afraid to hold the glossies hostage. There is a clear correlation between American Vogue’s September edition (now, immortalised in the documentary ‘The September Issue’), which is funded to a significant extent by advertising revenue, and the editorial and photographic fashion journalism which appears throughout the following year.
When you consider the figures, it’s understandable that fashion ‘people’ (whether or not they are human is debatable) want to protect their golden egg. Great Britain’s high street fashion industry is worth an estimated £44.5 billion and employed 150,000 people in 2007. In 2009 UK retail sales were over £285 billion – compared to the £450 million per annum that designer fashion makes to the UK economy – and the retail sector generates 8% of the Gross Domestic Product of the UK.
Whilst we probably look at these stats and think ‘well, look at that – I play an important part in making money go round and keeping the economy buoyant’, fashion ‘people’ (yes, I’m going to continue to use those inverted commas) seem to think that they can pitch any old shit at us. They either expect us to read the glossies but be completely indiscriminating in our pursuit of current style (i.e. fashion suckers – or victims) or be completely uninformed about what’s hot and what’s not (i.e. teenagers). What’s worse is that some people actually are. Not us, you understand, dearest readers – we’re (mostly) of a sensible age.
This means that we are in possession of pictures that show that even we’ve had some ‘moments’ of madness.
Let me share a few of mine with you:
A/W 97/98 – ‘Brown is the new Black’. Of course it bloody wasn’t – if it had been, Anna Wintour would have worn it. She was too sensible – I should have been too.
S/S 96, then S/S 97, then again S/S 98 – yes, I’m talking clogs. I’m a sucker for them. Or should I say, I was. Ha ha ha, fashion ‘people’ – not this time round. And certainly not Crocs. I distrust any shoe that won’t die – Jimmy Choos wear out, Manolos lose their sheen sooner or later and so do Christian Louboutins. It’s sad but true that they are only immortalised by our memories. As a girl who grew up in the Hermes Birkin Bag of England (well, Kent has the ‘garden of England’ moniker), I have a love of leather craft – not that type of leather craft, perverts – ingrained in me. Tannin practically runs through my veins (Google it – it’s not just prevalent in bad red wine) like iron and it’s catching – even the Olney in Maryland, USA has a tannery. My version was in North Bucks, for the record.
Anyway, back to my catalogue of disaster and I have to mention my 93 – 95 mistakes. Catalogue is the right word – I fitted them all in during the early 90s: a little bit of grunge, baker boy ‘chic’ (but I didn’t go for any flat caps, thank God), colour combos like pistachio and lilac and tiny skirts – but I could totally wear them back then, I swear. The crowning glories were Calvin Klein-style, just a little bit sexier than a nun’s habit, black dresses and some androgynous stuff which offered complete coverage of anything you might consider a ‘physical asset’ and which were totally unflattering to anyone female. At that time I had no hips or arse but – most deadly – I was in denial about my upper body shape. Fashion preyed on me and I was too interested in looking current than looking good to see the light. In my defence, I did pull out of this rut in spectacular style.
It all stopped in 1995 with the re-birth of what Madonna called ‘Gucci, Gucci, Gucci!’. Due to the success of Tom Ford’s phenomenally beautiful A/W 95/96 collection, the high-street could not help but react. Don’t misunderstand me here – the retail branch of the fashion industry was interested in profit, not selflessly thinking of offering a flattering alternative to the hideous preceding trends. However, what happened was we got to buy bootcut trousers and fitted blouses in luxurious fabrics and luscious colours. Yes, ladies, your most flattering jeans (like skinny jeans are the best, fat day pair in your wardrobe – grow up!) are all Tom.
And then an interesting thing happened – more women started to inform themselves about fashion. We even began to use the names of the labels we could never afford as adjectives. Retail went crazy: all those fashion students who’d had high hopes of becoming the next Lagerfeld – but got boring jobs designing for Phase Eight or somesuch – were given more freedom. They could play around, they could use high end to inform their work. They could copy – to some extent – the work of people whose work I often (but not always – due to my discriminating taste, obviously) consider to be the equivalent of practical art.
So now…we get back to our perpetual dilemma – if fashion designers really produce art that we can wear, then why do they often give us such unflattering options? .I know why the big fashion houses do it – for column inches. But are the designers at the retail giants just taking us for mugs?
Maybe they’re just a little bit bored with copying (sorry ‘being inspired by’) the more wearable stuff they see on the pages of Vogue? Do they fancy going a bit fashion college avant garde to keep themselves stimulated? After all, recreating a mock-up of the look of, say, Alexander McQueen (admittedly, the man whose bumsters were reinterpreted as the hipsters that we all wore in the early naughties) must be more fun than opting for a chic little Carolina Herrara style number. To mangle the words of Mr T (a man who really owned his personal taste), I pity us fools.
Well, to counter all the crap we are offered by fashion, I propose to do all the wondering and considering you may go through when faced with a harem pant for you. I promise not to be judgemental. Really. Well, I promise to try not to be – I think we all know I might find it impossible in practice.
So, to close, I leave you with a quote from my favourite living God – Tom Ford: ‘As a fashion designer, I was always aware that I was not an artist, because I was creating something that was made to be sold, marketed, used, and ultimately discarded.’. Well said, my imaginary GBF, well said.
On that note, and with the accompanying picture to keep you warm at night (yes, it’s Tom himself), I bid you adieu and happy hunting. Remember – fashion should earn your money.