Monday, August 27, 2007

Why So Few? Gilles Lipovetsky's View

It seems I am not alone in my inquiry. Here is how Gilles Lipovetsky's starts his book, The Empire of Fashion.

The question of fashion is not a fashionable one among intellectuals. This observation needs to be emphasized: even as fashion goes on accelerating its ephemeral legislation, invading new realms and drawing all social spheres and age groups into its orbit, it is failing to reach the very people whose vocation is to shed light on the mainsprings and mechanisms of modern societies. Fashion is celebrated is museums, but among serious intellectual preoccupations it has marginal status. It turns up everywhere on the street, in industry, and in the media, but it has virtually no place in the theoretical inquiries of out thinkers. Seen as an ontologically and socially inferior domain, it is unproblematic and undeserving of investigation; seen as a superficial issue, it discourages conceptual approaches. The topic of fashion arouses critical reflexes even before it is examined objectively: critics invoke it chiefly in order to castigate it, to set it apart, to deplore human stupidity and the corrupt nature of business. Fashion is always other people. We are overinformed about fashion in terms of journalistic accounts, but our historical and social understanding of the phenomenon leaves much to be desired. The plethora of fashion magazines is matched by the silence of the intelligentsia, by its forgetfulness of fashion as both infatuation with artifice and the new architecture of democracy.

What can I say, except "Amen."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why So Few?

While StyleZeitgeist is down and I hunt for a new hosting provider, I thought I would manifest in cyberspace a thought that is intermittently on my mind. Rather, I will pose the same question to you, "Why are there so few genuinely intelligent people concerned with fashion?" I know several people (and I thank them for making my life more stimulating), but that is all. Do they hide in some hole? Are they ashamed of something? Or do they simply not exist? Is fashion not important enough? Not interesting enough?

From what I've gathered through numerous conversations and observations, the answer is pretty elusive. It seems that there is definitely a certain kind of shame for an intellectual to be associated with fashion, at least in America. Fashion has a deep reputation of a shallow, materialistic enterprise. Granted. Yet, this is incredibly reductive. One cannot write off an entire sphere of human enterprise just like that, especially a sphere that is clearly creative. Why is architecture not considered shallow? Art? Theater? Music? Yes, especially music. Do people stop listening to Mozart just because Brittney Spears tops the charts? No. Yet, fashion is peculiarly singled out as a scapegoat. Want to talk about superficiality? Materialism? Shallowness? Ostentation? Fashion is an easy target.

For a while the obvious answer was lack of information. Just like with any sphere, those looking from the outside are not educated as the cognoscenti. That answer no longer satisfies me. If Brittney Spears (to continue the music analogy) is on every fucking billboard and radio station screaming at you, does that mean you don't know about Mozart? Does that mean that Mozart's value has been somehow discounted? Increasingly, I think that the answer is that fashion is not taken seriously enough to begin with. This means that for most people, intellectuals included, there is not even ground to make the distinctions. To them, what equates Hussein Chalayan and Louis Vuitton is the high price tag (and, yet, you don't hear much complaining out of the same people about art prices), and scorn for the people who pay it.

So, that sense of shame, I've sensed it. An intellectual will not concern him/herself with fashion, because fashion = materialism, and because it is shameful to be materialistic. "I am not going to be like THOSE people," an intellectual will say. Not like whom? Not like the bitches on Madison Ave. with their pocket dogs in Gucci collars and crystal dog-food bowls. Ok, neither would I, nor any person who has an ounce of intelligence coupled with an ounce of humility. I can see stupidity oozing out of their faces. Maybe they aren't even people.

But, back to intellectual shame. Thorstein Veblen sanctified it in academic circles, when he devoted an entire chapter to fashion as a mode of conspicuous consumption in The Theory of the Leisure Class. Thank you, sir. I wish you would've written about cars, or Manhattan rents instead of womens dresses. Things are even bleaker today, thanks to the idiots at institutions like The Met, who deem some parasitic socialite's wardrobe museum-worthy.

As a result (with many other things added, of course), to be an intellectual is to be utterly unconcerned with material things, and therefore to be unconcerned with fashion, and therefore to be unconcerned with appearance. Yet anyone who claims to be unconcerned with their appearance has always seemed like a hypocrite to me. One is ALWAYS concerned about ones appearance, and some people who choose to dress in ill-fitting clothing from bargain bins just may have put more calculation into how they look than a person who throws together a well-designed outfit. So, the problem is the same - the problem of image. Both the Madison bimbo and the scruffy teacher are fakes.

I don't know if intellectual shame is the whole answer. Most probably not. I am sure there are other reasons for so little intellectual inquiry into fashion. Yes, you may say, these inquiries exist, but they mostly exist as efforts of condescension, a la Veblein or Barthes. There is no body of work that I know of that is a theoretical work that treats fashion as an art form. This leaves no framework from which to begin discriminating between good and bad. Oscar Wilde praised fashion, but he did it in a sarcastic manner. His was a certain kind of sarcasm that characterizes a person so tired of explaining his point of view to an stiff-necked audience that his own wit becomes his only refuge. I think I am the only person who thinks that, 'One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art ...’ is a statement not pompous, but tragic. Its tragedy lies in having to make loud statements for lack of understanding.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another One (NYC Neighborhood) Bites the Dust

Free Hit Counters
Hit Counter