More than ever, there seems something dated in the existence of these people, publicists who glory in their task as guardians of precedence. Like the eunuchs of the Ming dynasty, they tend to forget their place as servants of the imperial luxury goods industry. And, like the eunuchs of the Forbidden City, they may wake up one day to find that those with real power — in this case, Bernard Arnault, Robert Polet, François Pinault — have noted that the bottom line is not being well served by lackeys with attitude.
Guy Trebay in The NY Times on fashion show publicists and their Marie Antoinette complex
Everybody knows everything- because they hear of or see every single thing that happens in fashion these days- within seconds of it happening. Or in some cases in advance of it happening. On thefashionspot, fashionolgie, fashionista, frillr, MDC's Feed, NY Mag's The Cut. Style.com's blog, on the Women and Supreme agency blog and admittedly on TI...insider information is gushing forth without stop-gap or filter. This is the way the world is. Working in this business I think we're all just going to have to learn to adapt to this culture of glut.
Fashion's creative community it seems, has two classic paths put before it. One is to engage the world as it is and mirror that reality , whether with or without comment or analysis. Like a Warhol you occasion the great reward of becoming a telling symbol of your times. Or you could reject the world as is and build an insular, hermetic and private universe that defies (when it does not ignore) the rest of the reality churning around it . Think Cristobal Balenciaga. But what happens when the mobs show up...not just your restricted circle of friends and supporters. What happens when thousands clog your doorway, all waving invites? What becomes of your underground value then? And are these people buying or wearing any of your creations? Does it matter if they do?
That conundrum pretty much describes my experience of Paris Fashion Week SS 09. It was when I read Guy Trebay's piece in today's Times that the thing that had bugging me all week clarifed itself in my head. It is true what he was describing. And it was the "avant-gardists" that had been drawing the mobs. there they were...outside Rick Owens, outside Bless later that day and then the Margiela and then around the whole feeling of Balenciaga with its 5.30am call time for the models. You got the feeling that those brands that were built on a primary variable of restriction were all having a hard time coping with the masses that turned up in response. Is this some kind of revolution? Things which because of their esoteric nature, which should only be appreciated by the very few are embraced by the many. Eighteenth century aristocrats especially in France, are said to have justified their privilege by holding themselves up as leading lights of progress for society in general..as it was clearly (in their minds) beyond the hoi polloi to advance the great causes of civilization. Lord knows "fashion publicsts" still keep calling up the ghosts of Louis the XIV's court in its seating arrangements but that's a whole other post. A lot of fashion critics these days still seem to want to reach for the snuff box at the sight of the peasants braced against those gates of restriction but maybe this idea that fashion is such a difficult thing to understand is as much a myth as the idea of "aristocracy".
I think that confusion is what critics sensed bubbling under the cold reflective surface of Balenciaga SS 09. It felt like Ghesquiere and Anne Marie Sauve, his stylist were just exhausted at the weight of expectations and anticipation they've been working through. There was something of a defiance and a frustration in the way they girls were leashed and bonded and sheathed. One commentator at "On The Runway" used the word "mumified" and I got that energy too.
The way in which designers like Gareth Pugh, magazines like Purple, stores like Colette and brands like Bless have become fodder for the wide wide blogsphere is clearly bewildering to a generation of talent used to the effectivity of cultivating a cult. If everybody's editorial, how the hell do you edit? How do you tell Elle's Anne Slowey from some impeccably dressed fashion student skirting the perimeters ? With cool going universal and every night of Le Baron fed to the mass market, what is the value of exclusivity?
I'm asking questions I don't have answers for but what I find heartening is the shattering of the illusion that a large audience needs any kind of taste tutor to tell them what to think and what to feel about what they're seeing. I watch the way the old guard of fashion newspaper criticism have found themselves incorporated, not as the ruling point of view, but as an informed if completely relative opinion. I've learnt to love them as a kind of dwindling aristrocracy...eccentric , charming and so very sentimental in their evocation of a time lost.
But I also love the democracy of the blogsphere and I love how it spreads the details of every invite for every insider show, after-party and showroom. Score one for audience participation. It was the great ideal of avant-garde theatre from Brecht to The Living Theatre and more and more these days I experience fashion as a form of community theatre. I'm finding it, right this moment to be a fascinating form of subversion as no one is making money off of it. It also tells me, there's a difference between marketed exclusivity and organic exclusivity. By organic exclusivity I mean designers who acquire cachet as a by-product of the quality of their work and ideas , as opposed to designers who move product on the assumption of cachet and status.
Perhaps the future lies in that store or that fashion show or club or after party that doesn't need a velvet rope or a clipboard or a password to burnish the cachet. I dream of a show or a party where you go because you know and because you know you are welcome. Maybe it is a young designer who nobody else knows but you respond to in an honest way. Perhaps its a place where something like good manners and respect for the audience that has chosen to come explore your work is held in high regard. And when the party is over, some-one says "Thank you for coming".
This is the reason why I still love, in Paris, the cliches like Colette because I always walk out of that venue feeling like someone respected my intelligence, my taste point and my aesthetic concerns. And of course I inevitably walk out with a bag filled with books and magazines and on this trip, a limited edition matte black watch which I really ought not to have bought. But I was seduced by the immaculate way in which it was displayed and the enthusiasm of the salesman. I like this open-minded brand of exclusivity and that might be very well be the key to survival for a lot of companies in the coming months. Inclusion or exclusion? How about synthesis.