“Where uptown and downtown meet, but not in midtown. We hate midtown.” – Alber Elbaz
Well, we personally LOVE midtown, and we can’t get into a bow tie right now.
Elbaz’ remark demonstrates the shared belief in fashion that anything worth valuing is found in the upper classes or the artists and innovators, but never, ever in the mainstream. It’s time to upend the notion that fashion moves in a single direction from “high” to “low.” Fashion is choral, rather than oracular. It is a horizontal exploration that will push fashion in new directions. The Internet has already opened the floodgates for a new, more inclusive era of fashion and commerce, so it’s only a matter of time before designers realize the vast openness of taste that we’re seeing. Even if it is true that dress reveals latent class interests, isn’t it more interesting to manipulate these codes, to modify their meaning rather than to assume the status quo? Let’s eschew comparisons of “high” versus “low” in order to find the vitality of the middle, the so-called mainstream.
Midtown isn’t high or low; it’s medium. Medium is ambiguous, and as a style, it’s unpretentious, coordinated, and utilitarian. Progressive fashion is not the extreme (F)ashion fantasy that Victor & Rolf, Gareth Pugh, and Lady Gaga believe it to be. Despite how it may look, the codes of aspirational fashion are deeply conservative and embedded with a traditional perception of class and status. The more imaginative designers are moving towards the middle with their unique ability to reference unremarkable, common, let’s say, “normal” subjects in thoughtful ways. The presumption that fashion trends move from elite tastemakers to early adopters and finally trickle down to the masses is no longer true.
Too many designers cling stubbornly to a handful of fabric swatches and a redundant mood board littered with obvious film stills, tired notions of the past, or representations of the future. Designers can and should look toward mainstream culture for inspiration. We are not talking about designers borrowing from sub-cultures or street fashion or using popular culture in an ironic pretense; we’re talking about designers that sincerely embrace the influence of mainstream consumer taste and global trends. So, who’s doing this already?
Miuccia Prada gave us hospital scrubs as a new style option for Spring 2011. The ER staple was redone with a new rounded shoulder, a full sleeve, a tailored torso and a pencil skirt, all presented in strong monochromatic hues in keeping with the traditions of health care uniforms. Not only did this concept produce one of this season’s best silhouettes, it underscored the media’s current obsession with doctors and nurses as exhibited in shows like Nip/Tuck, Mercy, Nurse Jackie, Scrubs, and Grey’s Anatomy. John Galliano was perhaps even more groundbreaking with his Spring ’11 Christian Dior collection. Whether Galliano was binging on Old Navy ads or watching South Pacific on repeat, this collection had the feeling of Carrie Donovan dancing with monkeys under a palm tree. Galliano went further than anybody else with this heavily merchandised, commercially satisfying collection.
For the past two seasons, Rodarte has been evoking Pier 1 Imports, with their eclectic homespun tapestries, country bedding, Japanese bathrobes, hotel curtains, tooled leather work, Chinese imperial porcelain, and wood paneling that somehow, when combined, make complete sense. Looking like a line of yoga clothes by Kim Kardashian for Target, Dirk Bikkemberg’s Fall 2011 collection adopted the “gym” look, a favorite among college students, celebrities, and stay-at-home moms. Christopher Kane’s crocheted knits are a nod to the blankets that appeared on Roseanne’s sofa, an emblem of American trans-fat comfort. Nickelodeon Network squiggles filled with colorful gels produced an element of pre-school perversion when isolated as extra large spaghetti straps, chokers, and halters. Marios Schwab’s Spring 2011 silk, lace, and leather collection was a rare achievement in that it emulated and legitimized 7th Avenue wholesale fashion aesthetics.
These may be fleeting moments of clarity in an otherwise incoherent moment in fashion, but we hope it’s a sign that renewed questioning is on the horizon and that at least some people are ready to move beyond the self-serving mythology of fashion. Of course most designers will perpetuate the elitism of their brands in order to fool the marketplace and their consumer into buying their product, but it’s an echoed refrain with continually deteriorating relevancy.
By SOLOMAN CHASE and LAUREN BOYLE