I started with Cathy Horyn's elegiac rumination on the indecisive current circulating throughout fashion at the moment. She writes of the cacophony that is drowning out creativity and freshness, the deluge of commentating voices that swamp the ones that have something new to say. She asks where the discordant visions are, the ones that will provide an alternate vision to counter the rise of popular taste?
I don't read this as Horyn decrying popular tastes, more as a lament for all that fashion could be and has been in the past. At work underneath her post is the memory of Alexander McQueen, 'fashion's most contentious voice', who took his own life just over a year ago. Who will take up his mantle, his fury and resistance, the beautiful decay and ferocious vision of his work? The sense that permeated me as I read the article was that fashion has been taken up in the popular imagination, peopled by caricatures and pop imagery and icons who are remembered for images of themselves rather than their revolutionary work- what of fashion itself?
What is fashion currently telling us about where Western society is at, what we value, what we applaud and what we choose not to see? There are gifted designers creating beautiful collections, collections that seem to simultaneously capture and create what women the world over want to wear right now. Yet here we also are in a time when the industry seems to be in a state of flux- where there are gaping spaces left by leading designers who, for whatever reason, have left or been removed from the labels they have helmed; where we watch television shows about stylist's assistants and wannabe models and are thus fed a simulacrum of the fashion industry passed off as the real thing; where bloggers and young designers and photographers proliferate, all wanting to be the next big thing, the undiscovered gem who, with the right light trained on them, will sparkle into a star. We are surrounded by images of fashion but are lacking the expression of its visionary heart.
I want to experience the shock at the vulgarity of fashion, like they must have witnessed at the beginning of Chanel's career- women without corsets? in pants?! I want to read of outraged sponsors demanding designers rename their catwalk presentations because their original titles are too shocking as in the case of McQueen's 1998 'Untitled' show with models catwalking under streaming water lit by yellow light. The original name? 'The Golden Shower.'
I wonder how designers will react to the contemporary challenge that now confronts their profession. That is their job, after all- not simply to create clothes that we want to buy, but to make comment on who we are and what we value as people of our particular time. I don't doubt that designers can and will find new expressions for our times- I just hope that their work finds recognition, that it it manages to elbow through the deluge to mark the public consciousness. And that it will not be unvalued because it is not commercial and 'cute.'
Image from 'Unbelievable Fashion', Vogue UK December 2008 issue