Thumbing through racks at a familiar department store left me wondering where my style cues are headed. I recognized that I’d been indulging in fashion that I wasn’t sure I appreciated for the sake of fashion — or possibly because this was the piece that Vogue had featured in all its glory an issue earlier. I had to ask myself, would I wear this if it weren’t by X designer? But merely having to ask this worried me and before I knew it, I was moseying through additional racks at the same department store, trying to blind my eye from the label tags.
What I found: far less enthusiasm for much of the clothing I had previously admired and new cues sprouting in store sections I’d never even stumbled upon. I recounted the situation to Charlotte and she looked at me as though I’d clearly not been clued into something the rest of mankind already had:
“We’re blinded by the label,” she said. “You don’t know if you love what you’re wearing because it’s either designer or a perfect reinterpretation of a designer, but either scenario does not equate to real love.”
Eureka! I thought. Blinded by the label.
And when you have to substantiate your purchase by validating the designer name most typically means you’re in the trenches of the blindness. I’d been there before, that was for certain. What with this new enlightenment, I couldn’t help think: was everything I’d ever invested in a lie?
Take the photographed black mesh Isabel Marant long-sleeved shirt for example. It’s the perfect gay man repeller: tight mesh and a hairy chest. Unusual, interesting…a conversational masterpiece — but would I have appreciated it in the same capacity had it not been labeled Isabel Marant?
And those python print Margiela open toe booties. Cool for the sake of novelty or genuine interest in box shaped shoes? I just couldn’t tell anymore and began to wonder if my fashion tendencies were just an outstretched manipulation of the fashion industry at large. Would I have really wanted that Hermes Collier de Chien bracelet had it not been Hermes?
And not because all of a sudden I hated my clothes. Quite the contrary: I probably loved them more–I’d have bought the jeans photographed whether they’d cost $20 or $300, but this unleashed a larger issue: the manipulation in question wasn’t really tainting the clothes. It was tainting the psyches of the people who wear the clothes.
To add insult to injury, I got to thinking about Zara, the mecca of reinterpretations.
Charlotte recounted a story describing triumph in finding, recognizing and purchasing a $60 sweater from Zara that had all too keenly resembled a certain something from Chloe’s Resort 2010 collection. Wearing it one afternoon after enduring a series of jabs at it, she asked: have I just been blinded by the ability to procure such a close replica for such a low price? Was this top even cute to begin with? Would I have been interested in the knock-off version if I didn’t make the connection to its inspiration source?
I didn’t have the answer, my mind was too deeply invested in a feathered skirt from Forever 21 that I swear-to-God looked exactly like a Junya Watanabe piece I had seen just a week before at Barney’s.
What is it with the designer allure? Are we dying for acceptance and approval? Initiation into a club, ostensibly mandated by high end, fancy craftsmen that exists only in the most self conscious versions of ourselves?
You know, for a while, I couldn’t understand why Anna Wintour, a woman with the most abundant access to lavish designer fashion, would abide solely by three key outfitting pieces, period. I wrote it off as the line she drew, a detachment from the industry in whatever capacity she could control — but the more I think about it, the more I can appreciate what she might be getting at.
Here’s a woman who sticks to one shoe (a Manolo Blahnik sling back), one coat silhouette (typically knee length and of the exotic skinned variety) and elegant dresses (slim fit and modest that fall parallel in length to corresponding outerwear). It’s like she’s found the medium that won’t leave her blinded and she’s running with it.
This can conceivably be likened to the theory of a certain Clement Greenberg. Maybe Anna Wintour has preserved a tiny fragment of Greenberg’s uptight standards of modern art. In his eyes, what characterizes a piece of work as truly modern lies in its ability to be completely self-referential, allowing a clear visual experience completely void of external conditions. But if these standards of an autonomous viewing experience were impossible in the mid 1900’s, when Greenberg introduced his theory, how can there be expectations for us to have an unclouded visual experience today?
Especially with tools like Pinterest–one that only makes it easier for us to draw immediate visual connections between a work of art and its inspiration source. Is it even possible for us to disregard labels when they constantly surround us?
Perhaps Anna Wintour can only find this sense of visual purity that seems extinct by maintaining an uncompromisable personal aesthetic. Maybe, in fact, we can all benefit from taking a page from the Wintour book of style and try as we might, let our clothes speak for themselves.
Co-edited by Charlotte Fassler