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International fashion & style; The state of Fashion as it is

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op–ed

noun, often capitalized O&E often attributive \ˈäp-ˈed\

: an essay in a newspaper or magazine that gives the opinion of the writer and that is written by someone who is not employed by the newspaper or magazine

Being that I am totally independent of any affiliation it is appropriate that I call this an Op-Ed piece ... well, except that the article doesn’t face an editorial page!

During the past 2 months, I have written what seems to be innumerable reviews of everything from seasonal collections on the calendar to haute couture to the seemingly endless fashion train that began with men’s in January and just ended with the Paris Collections.

Having been a player in the game of fashion for more decades than I truly care to admit to and always having been an avid , if not voracious reader of all media concerning the” business,” this season it struck me in a most blatant way that indeed the “game” had changed drastically on every level possible. The “players” whom will account for the team of fashion; editors, reviewers, designers, conglomerate giants that own large chunks, if not all, of many design firms, and the re-emergence of many design “brands” who were revered in the annals of fashion history and have been so called re-imagined to supposedly fit into the so called current world of global fashion.

What is seemingly ignored is that the fashion business has emerged as one big incestuous family business which involves “intermarriage” of family members, wife swapping of sorts, auditions for successful pairings and even genetically enhanced reproduction; of course all spoken about rather metaphorically but it is all there if one chooses to merely examine it rather than dissect it.

Having just finished Grace Coddington: A Memoir prior to beginning this whirlwind of writing and visual overload, the words that constantly came back ringing in my head was “I liked it better when fashion came first!” Well, indeed I did like it much better then as well. This is not to say that fashion was never a business or to be taken seriously but given the degree of incestuous intermarriage involved today, the business of fashion MUST be taken far more seriously than ever before. Today no matter where you show, we are involved in a global business that has never ever been as widely distributed nor taken as seriously as it is now. My question is really very simple: How much did we ”pay” for this to happen? For me the price has outweighed the end result and on a day to day basis, I am reminded that this is no longer the business of those who had fairy tales beginnings and meteoric rises to fame and fashion superstars. Today is it very simply who has got the biggest wallet behind them, the biggest media machine working on their behalf and under what awning is your business …. Whether literally in the business of manufacture or media.

I am no economist or business wizard or fashion prodigy but I am keenly aware that with our global expansion and with the incessant drive to be bigger and newer and trendier and most embraced by the public and media, we as a business have made a huge trade off in terms of our “quality of life.” What once passed as greatness in times gone by is now looked upon as being not commercially acceptable and conversely. It is difficult to extrapolate talent, meaning it is no easy task to ask what would have happened if Balenciaga started in the year 2000 and the same goes for Armani or Charles James, Anne Klein or even Claire McCardell … ponder it! Conversely, would “designers” like Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Jil Sander or Raf Simons be anything more than designers of uniforms if they had begun or even had a trajectory path 50 to 75 years ago… ponder it.

But I digress here and want to return to the incestuous way of life that now is the new modus operandi of how we know the fashion business in its current incarnation. First let’s look at the designers themselves who are either hugely recognized and part of some huge ass conglomerate that winds up owning many of them either in total or becoming a controlling force in that designer’s business. For a little lesson, let’s talk LVMH who now either totally owns or retains controlling interests in Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Berluti, Dior, Maxime Simoens, Celine, Loewe, Fendi, Donna Karan, Givenchy, Kenzo and more. On the competitive side there is PPR who owns Balenciaga, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, McQueen, Stella McCartney, Chris Kane and Brioni to name a few. Then there are the mega independents such as Prada group, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, Kors and Valentino, to name a few, who may be publicly held but still basically driven by the namesake designer. I would have to say that this is a reasonable core portion of the players that make up the higher end of fashion and control immeasurable and at times endless amounts of advertising dollars.

For decades and decades, there were publications who were regarded as the absolute last word as to who was the “it” designer who had the “it” look and who was going to be fashion’s next sweetheart. The fact is that those days were heady and quite thrilling to be part of as while not always as rational as they were supposed to be in their choices, the publications, critics, editors and reviewers were of a special breed. They were considered to be voyeurs of sorts, clairvoyants, taste makers, the epitome of good taste and while you didn’t necessarily agree with them, each one had an opinion and a point of view. Today the pervasive M.O. is “me too” and we can’t really not like the collection as what happens if we piss them off and they pull their advertising? Today we get “non-reviews” where writers spend more verbiage on inspirations and venue than on collections. The other possibility is getting reviews which speak to some high minded invisible ideal and has not one iota of relevance to what was seen on the runway. In essence, there are no longer opinions, there are fawning, evasive, wildly imaginative creative writing exercises that in the big picture reflects the finances of fashion rather than the fashion itself.

On the more editorial side of things we have Condé Nast who now controls/owns Vogue, WWD, Details, GQ, Vanity Fair, Style.com and most recently a large stake in Farfetch which is an internet shopping portal. Yes, they are a media power house and if you look at it in a certain light, a rather bright one at that, they control to great degree what fashion is looked upon favorably if at all as many of the so called reviews that have any gravitas are controlled by one HUGE mother ship. Are you getting the picture? Yes there is Hearst and newspapers and many niche magazines out there but Condé Nast owns the outlets that count and are most notable.

The next influence that they court is the next step after the review which is the editorial content that appears in the hardcopy magazines for each title. Chances are, the most heavily featured are the largest advertising contributors or whoever the new flavor of the month might be despite their lack of financial clout or talent. So now let’s look at what constitutes editorial exposure which used to be uber visuals that featured clothes that the reader might be able to see, might lust for or just ogle in amazement; think Veruschka and Vreeland, think Avedon and Hutton, Mellen and think mega movie star covers not Lady Gaga and Terry Richardson snap shots and models who look like they are barely past puberty and frozen in time, let alone that the photos are more for mood boards than for the readers of fashion magazines to see the actual clothes. Yes, kiddies, once upon a time you could actually see the whole dress including shoes, and models looked like they might plausibly own the clothes rather than digging them out of mom’s closet and then there are the clothes themselves that spun dreams and inspired awe in the reader. Today, there are times when you have no clue what you are looking at let alone any interest to find out what it is and chances are it is just some other thing from another of their top advertisers. At a time when information far outweighs its need, you would think that magazines would be much more concerned with the reality of selling clothes and not just pretty pictures of indeterminable origin.

Picking up where I left off, let’s discuss the reviews that are meted out to us by the “mother ship.” When reviewing a collection of CLOTHES, that is to say wearing apparel, when did it become “de rigeur” to discuss the physical presentation itself , the models’ names and mind numbing arcane details of the designer’s inspirations that never quite match up to the finished product? For me, I read that these elements allow the reviewer to circuitously avoid any negative comments about the actual clothes hence no review at all, just some high minded nonsense that means nothing! After all, this is not rocket science; this is clothing and not a scientific treatise on molecular theory. Clothes do not come with “romance cards” attached to them on a hanger!

Is there an opinion to be given or not, and if so, get to the point and spit it out; take a stand. Whether Joan Smalls or Karlie Kloss wears a particular garment is of no matter to the reader unless that reader is lost and thought they were reading a fashion review in US magazine, Seventeen or maybe Glamour; none of which are highly regarded for their expertise on matters of fashion or style for adult consumers who follow the upper end of designer fashion trends. These models are young 20 something women, who in today’s world, are paid to robotically walk down a runway or stand like a deer in the headlights for an editorial but they DO NOT HAVE any say in what they wear on a runway so what’s the point and when photographed “out” at an event they are wearing clothes that were loaned to them; in essence not a shred of good or any taste is being offered? More wasted extraneous verbiage that bears no relevance to the matter at hand… a review which is supposedly a thoroughly unbiased opinion of a designer’s seasonal collection of CLOTHES!

To be perfectly clear on the subject, in the genuine glory days of fashion, “when fashion came first,” we had mavens like Hebe Dorsey, Bernadine Morris, Carrie Donovan, Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn who weren’t always fawners, and loads of regional fashion critics who were just doing their job and doing it well and all working independently rather that for BIG BROTHER! And yes, they had their: pets” and their favorites and that was the point!!!! THEY HAD A POINT!!!! If there is no real review to be given then one might as well just present the images and as so many 21st century bloggers, THE ONES WHO JUST OWN KEYBOARDS, and supposed “critics” do … well with just a one word assessment...Fierce or Fabulous or just Meh!

People want to see, yes, and so many want to be educated about fashion whether it is their occupation, pre-occupation or just a form of entertainment. Today’s critics don’t seem to have the fashion education, resume nor the chops to make any kind of insightful historical comparisons as their memories and/or resumes only span 10 years or minutes, or even a proper frame of reference , so why bother. Instead we are insulted by glaring and preposterous statements and comparisons that, on the face, are absurd and or then subjected to some information or terminology that a curator at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute would find arcane and useless!

To be fair, reviews will never be perfect but they should demonstrate some shred of independent thought based on an intelligent career path/work experience that has led the writer to offer this most current evaluation of this designer’s current body of work. As the saying goes … “You are only as good as your last collection!” Based on our contemporary viewpoints, many designers are just fierce or fab based on their inspirations, choice of venues and who they select to style their shows and model in them. Again, none of this has to do with the clothes! As I have repeatedly stated… DESIGNERS DESIGN... it is their job and every time they expose themselves to criticism by doing a runway presentation, they add to the opportunity and being either harshly criticized, highly praised or merely just given a line or 2 so as to prove the critic attended the show.

But today, seemingly, it is also important to know who sits in the front row as if that matters since most of those so called luminaries of the A-B-C variety will wear or receive their designer wares via a loaner or freebie or even worse will be paid to wear it to a high profile event. Let’s get real here; Laurel Smith Jones from Boise or even New York City has no clue that Jane Fonda’s custom made Versace may have cost upwards of 100 grand or that Charlize Theron’s seemingly simple haute couture dress might have cost upwards of 50 grand nor can they fathom it. So indeed what‘s the point unless the only point is to hopefully sell a stick of Dior lipstick or a tube of Versace deodorant. But I digress; the front row means nothing except when, in fact, the people who inhabit that row supposedly contribute to the success or failure of that collection.

Okay, this should just about finish my thoughts on the state of fashion up until today, that is! I have talked about the “consolidation” of fashion as well as fashion reviews and the sameness of fashion. I have covered a lot of ground but there is more on the horizon that is unfolding right before your eyes but you need to be aware and take note of it and take heed!!

I incorrectly referred to Condé Nast as the mother ship when in fact it is Advance Publications that is the mother ship as they are the awning under which all else is housed.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_Publications#Publications).. This is truly enlightening.

Condé Nast is the arm or division or “area” which is most powerfully influential to me as it is they who decide on the dissemination of a tonnage of fashion information. Yes, this is a deliberate effort on their part as to what can only be termed fashion a monopoly or purveyor of fashion propaganda. And, if there is ONE person who will ultimately and probably already has been written into the annals of fashion history in the 20th and 21st century, it is most certainly Anna Wintour who has now added “Artistic Director for Condé Nast” to her litany of titles as of this very week; a new but sweepingly inclusive title that supersedes anyone or anything else within the fashion media business.

Let me backtrack this a bit, we have Signorina Nuclear Wintour who 25 years ago came to Vogue and in that time has redefined fashion on her terms, all based on her ideas and her theories of the who, what and where of fashion. You with me?? So she starts in print or ink as an editor and then with the passage of time and a few continents, she has insinuated herself into almost every aspect of international fashion from show calendars to special events to the good, bad, the bad, the ugly and who is fashionable and who is not. Oh and did mention her skills as head hunter/matchmaker? Hang in there as it is about to get more interesting.

She is now the “godfather or Popessa” of fashion in terms of who will “get in” or “stay in,” receives honors, will be blessed, pardoned, ignored or sentenced. Instead of seeing George Washington hanging in the classroom you will be seeing Anna with her bob and dark glasses peering over the future of fashion. A dreary thought but indeed possible given her Herculean ambitions reach and powers. Still with me here?? By the way, ring kissing is acceptable behavior here as she must be adored, admired and obeyed!

The bottom line here is simply that Anna Wintour will, if she hasn’t already, eclipsed every major fashion personality and fashion titan of the 21st century when it comes to the dictates of fashion. She may not be revered in the same way that Diana Vreeland has been but there is no question that her influence will far outlast the legacy of Mrs. Vreeland. Mrs. Vreeland changed our fashion perspective for a “moment in time” in magazines and museums but The Kaiserine Wintour will have changed our view of every facet of fashion for possibly generations to come… this is not a thought that sits well with me but I feel it is much more a reality than a fantasy. She is part editor, CPA, ATM, branding expert, dictator and star maker.

Within the recent past , Advance or Condé Nast, in essence, one of the same, has invested in a couple of internet shopping sites. Granted this may not seem like a game changer but chew on this for a bit … Anna has changed the way we see the business of fashion, literally, like it or not, she has influenced what we think of fashion with her all inclusive vision and leaden sway... This is evidenced already in magazines, on line magazines, fashion websites, reviews and all things within the orbit of fashion. With me here?? So now it makes sense, that Missy , the center of this universe, will soon be curating how you shop for fashion by influencing who, what, where and how you shop via these websites with the same ardor she has utilized in printed and internet communication .. Are you reading me loud and clear? I don’t want to make it sound that she is a one woman censor but that aint far from the truth given her spheres of influence and the loyal minions and outlets at her disposal. So, I am thinking that now, more than ever, is the time to speak up and make your feelings known about this “fly” in the ointment. Today it is a fly or a little pest and soon, without notice it will be Rodan or the fly that took over the world...think on it!

For me, I will speak as loudly as I have been and I will retain my own view and perspective on the world of fashion as there is more than one way of seeing it. The paradigm of fashion power shift has forever... well maybe not forever... been transferred into the hands “one person” and that is not something that should have happened in this business. In a business that prided itself on independent thinkers and individual schools of thought we have allowed ourselves to be held captive by the hubris of a woman who has steamrolled over an entire industry to “see it her way!”

I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet!

P.S. this article has been redacted from a piece written one year ago… the only changes are the ones that concern employees of fashion publications and newly anointed fashion deities.

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