The Lost Art of Fashion

3 May 2017

 

It is nothing short of accurate to attest that fashion is no longer a way of life, but a living. A once opulent, and ravishing artform has over the past few decades succumbed to the realm of being a business--another angle for CEOs, sales, and finance execs to line their pockets by trivializing art. While no artistic or design culture is without its own historical flaws, that of fashion seems to have departed from its socio-economically discriminatory foundations of sumptuary laws, and haute couture, from its universal participation of outcast youth cultures looking for a voice, and reneged into a contemptuously, commercialized financial powerhouse devoid of integrity, and ethical principles.

 

These projections may be harsh, but in most aspects they are self-evident within  the industry. But let's be clear, that this current state is credit not only to the forefathers (and mothers) of fashion who sold-out to corporate interest, but also, and perhaps most detrimental, the consumer base who has continued to buy into it.

 

INDUSTRIAL FLAWS

 

As meta-modernist principles rise to become the generally accepted school of thought, some of the most damning practices of the current industry come to light, namely fast fashion. Fast fashion is the cultural norm in American society. Everyone needs clothes, and clothes cost money. Fast fashion tends to solve the problem of having affordable, stylish options. The H&Ms, and Forever 21s of the world seem to have it down to a science, and more and more fast fashion retailers are emerging, or mimicking the model; yet as economic adage states, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The low cost to you as a consumer often come with detrimental costs to the environment, exploitation of offshore workers, in addition to the plagiarization of designs, and artworks from legitimate fashion houses, and ateliers. Within these "affordable" fashion companies, it is certain employees' jobs to essentially find work they can rip-off, and repurpose for their own profit, whether it be a textile, a vector image to slap on a cute T-shirt, or a whole design that they might just drop the neckline, and add a belt. This is perhaps a very telling reason as to why the world of business and art is such a delicate interaction. This model of design practice (if one could stomach calling it that) is not about creating; it's about selling.

 

However, this phenomenon is not the sole credit of one fast fashion founder who had a skeevy idea. What makes iconic brands like Calvin Klein, or Hugo Boss, or Michael Kors so desired? That is a good question. At the nascence of fashion at a commercial level, the aspect of quality was the determining factor--detailed stitchwork, intricate embellishment, unique patternmaking. Now, those things seemed to be reserved for the runways, and the out-sourced sew-serged garments (often times of comparable quality as the fast fashion-ers) is what we see in stores, but at much higher price points. As a designer who knows the work that goes into making a garment, it is easy to understand why clothing is so expensive. It is also easy from a design perspective to know what high-quality construction is. So if quality really isn't extremely different, the crux of the consumer decision is price; either you buy what you can afford or you buy to PROVE what you can afford. Fast fashion retailers must compete on the basis of price despite other factors of quality, similar styles, etc. because the power of branding is a force to reckoned with... and so the dilemma persists.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

Everyone is a Youtube stylist/makeup artist/photographer/designer. Social media has allowed for anyone with an iPhone to instantly become an expert on anything. Yet codes, and general industrial regulations prevent people from, say, architecture from massing viewers from "How to build your own Multistory Convention Center" hack videos. They tag who they're wearing, tell the world everything in their hilariously all neutrals wardrobe (because that's the unique thing to do nowadays) and viewers mimic them thinking that if they imitate, they too will be cool. It makes consumerism seem like a talent, and it fosters the delegitimization of professional skill. Thus, this projects to the market that consumers aren't concerned with ground-breaking vision or artistry, as much as they are interested in being popular through conformity. Furthermore it illuminates a much deeper consequent to trend culture which is feigned individuality. Buy this cat shirt because you're the only person who likes cats. Buy this bracelet with an arrow, because spirituality, and hardship or something...because you're the only person whom that defines. Trends like fortune telling is nothing more than believing you have an insight into style, and self with a few garments that are quite literally designed to apply to everybody. It is a placebo. Consumers feel popular or included; the firm gets your money.

 

Trends popularize, and promote a focus on being someone or something else, to the extent that young adults, and children alike have not forgotten how to be themselves, yet never learned to do so in the first place. Trend culture encourages us to conform to be liked or appear cool by using fashion as method. As an industry, fashion supports this perspective in the interest of profit. But is fashion about conformity, and hopping on the social bandwagon, or is it about expression, transformation, and standing out? 

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