Fashion Journalists Need To Up Their Game.
21/09/2016 § 2 Comments
In today’s Guardian lead fashion article, How The Real World Hijacked Fashion the fashion editor, Jess Cartner-Morley, presents a broad selection of ideas and in a few hundred words covers issues like identity politics, gender, diversity, the notion of time, élitism, and cultural appropriation, and ends with a soupçon of sycophancy for the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Where to start?
Let’s start by pointing out that nothing is outside of the “real world.” Everything that is known, and experienced, is a part of the world as it is understood by human individuals. Not everything is known and experienced by everyone, of course, but just because something is not a part of your world doesn’t mean it is not a part of the world. Fashion is just as much a part of the world as poverty in Africa, the works of Plato, homophobia, the Empire State Building, and everything else.
And now we can move on to the recognition that “fashion” and “the fashion industry” are not one and the same thing, We can differentiate between literature and publishing, between art and the art market, so why not? When we do that, we will see that the fashion industry is no more or less diverse than any other industry, and racism and misogyny are as much of a problem in fashion as they are in finance, law, technology, and all the rest. The fact that the fashion industry has been attacked more than other industries and is responding with diversity is interesting, because it does make you wonder what fashion has done to deserve the grief it gets, while other industries, with the exception of the occasional well-publicised employment tribunal hearing, get off pretty much scott-free.
I’ll answer that question for you. Fashion is the only cultural form that defaults to the feminine, and because we live in a masculinist world anything that does not default to the masculine is of questionable worth. This is also why fashion and the fashion industry are synonyms – because in order to give a feminine cultural form value and relevance, we have to trumpet about how much money it makes for the economy. Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas is a triumph of shopping hype, and has little to do with creativity or aesthetics, which are what underpins fashion as much as any other art form. It is masculinist profiteering and so is an example of the clothing industry, the rag trade, more than fashion – although clearly this distinction is lost on the Guardian’s fashion editor.
Which brings us neatly to the question of femininity – a matter that Ms Cartner-Morley seems to think is a straightforward emanation of woman in sartorial form, formed of floral prints, flowing chiffon, and an unholy emphasis on tits and ass. What Ms Cartner-Morley has forgotten is that when Ru Paul modelled womenswear for Thierry Mugler in 1993, and became the face of Mac in 1995, when Casey Legler modelled menswear in the early noughties, when Rick Owens is designing clothes for the queer performers Ms David Hoyle and Christeene in 2015 and 2016, fashion burned her understanding of gender to the ground. When fashion talks about femininity and masculinity, these are transgressive states of mind that reject the conformist, normalising ideas of men and women that Ms Cartner-Morley clings to.
And then there’s time, which Ms Cartner-Morley thinks is simply a matter of rapid turnover. Maybe so, but in the fashion industry there is also the counterpoint of “slow fashion” as an ethical response to the exploitative work practices that the demand for clothing in the west has engendered. More interesting, though, is fashion’s relationship to time, and the way it constantly reflects on its own past and how the past is inevitably a part of the present, but is never the same as it was in the past. Fashion exemplifies the sticky relationship humanity has with its past, the way that the past never stays where we leave it, but builds up in, under and around us, and is as much a part of us now as a part of then. But why tackle difficult questions about time, history and humanity, and how fashion can be a vehicle for the articulation of these themes, when it’s easier to talk about retail?
At over 700 words, I’ll stop there.
Fashion deserves better writing than it gets at the moment. I’ve written this piece because I love fashion, and because I am tired of being disappointed by fashion journalists anti-intellectual acceptance of the inevitability of capitalism, when there is so much more to talk about. There are some good fashion journalists – and most of them, as far as I can see, are employed by the New York Times. I challenge the Guardian to up its game in terms of its fashion coverage. Whether it can, or will, remains to be seen.