The last year or so I’ve been working on a book about the phenomenon of democratization in fashion – why and how fashion became the material sign for an array of liberal democratic rights. (The period I’m working on is 1980s-present.) So I was surprised to learn that democracy has also been cited as the reason for fashion’s demise!
Yesterday, while doing some reading, I came across not one but four instances in which people assert that democratizing fashion would lead/has led to the end of fashion.
- In his book, On Human Finery (1947), Quentin Bell predicted that the spread of democracy would make fashion irrelevant. Presumably, democratic societies would not be interested in maintaining the class distinctions that are associated with and secured by fashion.
- In an October 2005 New York Times article (just found it!), Suzy Menkes recalls her prediction about the end of fashion 10 years earlier: “There may soon be no such thing as ‘fashion’ – meaning a new development in clothing that grows from a designer’s creative intelligence, hits the runway, is bought by exclusive shops and is worn by a fashion-aware elite – before the concept is widely disseminated. Instead, everything from Helmut Lang’s ribbed hip band on pants, to Comme des Garçons’ floral patterns or Gucci’s latest belt will be instantly available in some fast-fashion version.”
- Menkes believes her prediction has been realized and asks, in light of the “frenzy of fast fashion and the global dissemination of shows . . . what about the essence of fashion itself?” And just last month, Menkes was asking the same question in her talk at the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
- The designer Raf Simons seems to agree: “I am not sure that real fashion can be for everyone . . .The luxury of real fashion is that it is something private. It can’t be for everyone.”
I’m not saying I’m surprised that there are some in the fashion world who want to hold on to Fashion’s aura of exclusivity. But because the discourse of democratization has been so widespread in fashion over the last 10 or so years, I am interested in what the contradictory relations between fashion and democracy suggests about the meanings of democracy. Certainly, none of the above people would say that they are opposed to democracy. As I mentioned before, Menkes has been generally supportive of bloggers and the democratization of fashion journalism. So, how are they interpreting democracy in relation to class difference?
By the way, blog activity will likely slow down for awhile. Mimi’s in London giving a paper at a conference on feminism and citizenship. She’ll be there for the next few weeks where I hope she’ll manage to catch glimpses of Wimbledon, eat a couple bags of Walker potato chips, and generally have some fun. Meanwhile, I’m finishing edits on a journal article on the politics of fashion blogs due the day before I leave for my own vacation in Tulum, Mexico.
Addendum: A sign that the pendulum has swung back to the side of exclusivity?
Last year, the fashion press was abuzz with news about bloggers’ ascendance to the front row of fashion shows. (Remember Gawker’s hilarious post about the blogger/front row trend piece?) But if bloggers’ presence in the front row suggested the democratization of fashion, then does BryanBoy and The Sartorialist‘s removal from the front row signal the end of this era of democratization? According to the bloggers at e-coolsystem, both these star bloggers were removed from the front row and escorted to the third row (BryanBoy) and some nearby steps (The Sartorialist). (I get the sense, too, that the e-coolsystem blogger is more than a little giddy about this but maybe I’m misinterpreting?)