Some time back in Melaka, Malaysia. Wearing Issey Miyake cardigan (available here) and dress; Adidas tubular sneakers
Some time back in Melaka, Malaysia. Wearing Issey Miyake cardigan (available here) and dress; Adidas tubular sneakers
The alleys of Hong Kong provided the perfect backdrop to take photographs of pristine Issey Miyake garments, some time before the world went (slightly) tits up, what with the Republican nomination, Brexit, rising racial tensions and refugee crisis. In times like this, I keep reminding myself of Steven Pinker's book - The Better Angels of Our Nature. One of my favourite books of all time, Pinker is a prolific writer who spins humour with statistics. The book argues that this is the most peaceful period we've lived in regardless of the illusion of regression that the media is portraying. Most of us live in a world where we can argue over our belief system without getting beheaded. Domestic violence - most of which are targeted at women and children - is no longer tolerated by law in most countries, and that number is increasing. Despite the growing far-right movements in the west, and possibly Japan, the majority of the world condemns them with words and Facebook posts instead of arming themselves. We may be a generation or two away from world peace, but statistical evidence points towards a downward trend in violence while pluralism, feminism and humanism are on the rise.
Humans are strange creatures. We pin our self-esteem on our beliefs. When our beliefs are validated, we feel good about ourselves. When they're being contradicted, we often take it as a personal attack. The same holds true about our choice of dress and how other people view it. We feel terrible when we receive comments that disparage the way we dress, because it feels like an attack on the entirety of our existence and life choices, made by a person who most likely cannot relate to your thought processes or has no knowledge of your life experience nor reality.
I am of the opinion that we should be able to give and take criticisms in our clothing choices. As the recipient, no matter how hurt we feel we should be able to disassociate our choices from our esteem. As difficult as it sounds, it would help us in taking criticisms like a champ by assessing them objectively, and we would not retaliate defensively like a cornered bear. As a critic we should avoid using sweeping statements and ad hominem attacks, while bearing in mind that our aesthetics preferences are no more superior than those of others. This is why Saint Laurent has done so well despite the scathing remarks Hedi had received during his tenure.
Someone else's choice in dress, and any other life choices for that matter, is only the tip of their existential iceberg, certainly no grounds for dismissive insults. We're the total sum of genetics, life experience and education. Exercising a little empathy in any argument would foster a more inclusive environment for discourse, even when debating the most controversial subjects, rather than shutting out dissenting opinions that would eventually burst like an infuriating zit in the most unexpected places (e.g. the rise of Trump). Unfortunately this ability and patience to argue logically against the 'other side' may be at peril when Facebook algorithm and our Internet space increasingly shows opinions that only align with ours (e.g. Brexit). People who resort to name-calling to make up for their inability in providing any forms of logical reasoning are as guilty as smug pseudo-intellects who are not aware of their own biases while dismissing other people's realities.
The Internet has given most of us a voice. It's a pretty splendid place in general, but as with life we're going to meet people who disagree with us. The question is, how do we engage in a productive manner that does not exhaust our patience and mental capacity? I have yet to find the answer.
PARIS, France — Olga Neshivayetska, the wife of an oil oligarch who declined to be named, was sitting at the front row of Chanel when she had to fight the urge to cry. Despite her best efforts, tears trickled down her face - thanks to waterproof makeup her contoured cheeks still remained pristine - as models glided down the runway for the finale. She wasn't alone. Across her, Xi Dengdeng, a famous socialite and alleged mistress of an unknown politician, failed in stifling her sobs. A quick glance to her left would reveal a sharply-dressed lady with even sharper hair that reached out to the heavens, who was dabbing her misty eyes while furiously typing on her Vertu. Anonymous sources confirmed that she was sending orders directly to her favourite sales lady in the atelier.
'After this, I am going to Chanel's atelier,' Neshivayetska said after the show. 'I am excited to order the tweed suit. Look 22 I think. It's different from the last season because the lapels are bigger. I'm going to ask them to add diamond-encrusted pocket flaps.'
The same scene was repeated during Valentino. Rows of ladies wept uncontrollably as long velvet dresses were sent down the runway. It was a collection that transported women into Elizabethan times suitable for dinner parties. For these women from the upper echelons of society, they must hold lavish dinner parties at least once a week. To look like one belonging of the current era is an abomination. One's dress must sweep the floor and be as cumbersome as possible. When a garment will not be worn more than once, there is no need to keep it in pristine condition. Neshivayetska and Dengdeng were most excited about a red dress. 'Thank goodness for this red dress. It's much nicer than that red dress I bought last season.' When pressed what the difference was, Dengdeng declared that this red dress was 'more orange-y in this collection'. Neshivayetska offered a different opinion.
'I think it's nicer.'
'How is it nicer?'
When asked what she thought of Vetements, the maverick label invited to show during couture week, Neshivayetska quickly replied, 'Vayt-who?'
I'm not going to answer the question whether fashion is art as that debate has been rehashed to death. Indeed we are still having problems defining what is art and what isn't. Same thing for fashion really. There has always been this dichotomy between fashion vs style and fashion vs clothing in our sartorial discourse. Let us abandon that for the time being, and look into the love and hate relationship between fashion and art.
For the most part, art has always been relegated to the highbrow section of the cultural library while fashion belongs to the world of design, which unlike art, exists to provide solutions. Sometimes I see design as art's close cousin who's a sellout. Yet despite the quibbles and fraught relationship, art and commercial fashion always find themselves grinding each other in the club. The collaboration between fashion and commercial art did not begin until early twentieth century, as that was the time when commercial fashion began to take shape.
Jun Takahashi is not a name I often talk about on this site. I did love Undercover's Guru Guru collection from ten years ago, but most of the time I just keep up with his works like I would with an acquaintance on facebook, scrolling past photos that are presented to me without clicking further. Women's Undercover in the early years was too raw, flimsy and messy for my liking.
In the last few years, Jun has been shifting his direction ever so slightly with every season. Seams become less sutured, fabrics are given some structure. Then the Borremans collection came along. Models glided to the tune of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails (a clichéd yet timeless choice from one of my favourites), donning wool garments with art works from a Belgian contemporary painter - Michaël Borremans. What would otherwise be classic (ie. boring) outerwear became wearable paintings. I fell head over heels in love.
Borremans's subjects don't seem to be happy campers. They're usually painted in solitude, refusing to meet eye contact with the viewers or turning away completely. The surreality often lies in the subject. What looks like porcelain figures are painted in fleshy, lifelike skin tones. But the brush strokes. Oh the brush strokes. They are bold, unashamed in their imperfection, but so very arresting.
Most fashion historians agree that Charles Frederick Worth was the grandfather of modern fashion, though his business did not stray from the world of couture. He had an equally famous disciple whose name was Paul Poiret. Allegedly described by Jean Cocteau as a man who looked like a chestnut, Poiret too was a couturier, and a brilliant one at that. While Worth kept making fancy corseted dresses, Poiret came up with new silhouettes like the straight cut chemise dress, bell tunics and harem trousers we still wear today. Modernity was his game, though he did not know it back then.
As his fame grew, so too did his clientele. They included heavy-weight artists and patrons of the arts. Naturally they developed a symbiotic relationship in which Poiret collected art works and championed contemporary art movements while inviting artists to collaborate with him in his business, from the dresses to the packaging of his items. He was a savvy marketer who understood that fashion was no longer relegated to clothes. It was also the hats, the baubles, the lifestyle. Before his rival Coco even thought of sewing two pieces of cloths together, he was already selling perfumes alongside his garments. They were packaged in super fancy 'hand-painted bottles; individual works of art that were specially created to harmonise with the perfumes they contained'. Naturally he had famous actresses endorsing them as well. They were dubbed as the 'True Eau de Cologne'. He even set up an art school that made furnishings for his atelier and stores. Before Poiret, there had never been a couturier who 'insisted that chairs, curtains, rugs and wall-coverings should be considered in the choosing of a dress, or rather that the style of a dress should influence the interior decorations of a home'. Margiela may have learnt a thing or two from this guy.
In order to maintain the exclusivity of his products to appeal to the bourgies of his time, he had to avoid the mass marketing tactics prevalent in the 20th century. He did not do large scale advertising (unlike Louis Vuitton). He called himself an artist, not a dressmaker. In his defense, he was still making made-to-measure clothes which could pass off as artistic visual works (unlike Louis Vuitton). And most importantly, he 'appropriated the fine arts to promote the originality, uniqueness, and aesthetics quality of his designs' (ironically very much like Louis Vuitton). But the tide of fashion was changing and even the great Poiret could not help but change his marketing strategy.
Since the dawn of mass production, the creative industry has been forced to conform in a manner that does not allow unique creations to remain an exclusive right to the maker. The industrialised economy would sooner or later reproduce any creation regardless whether permission has been granted by the originator. In the case of Poiret, he made himself so famous through his trailblazing marketing tactics that the demand for his clothes far outstripped the capability of an ill-adapted atelier, one which could only create a limited quantity of high-quality, work-intensive products. The gap between supply and demand was plugged by factories that churned out copies on a mass scale, a precursor to prêt-a-porter as we know it today. He only discovered the damaging consequences of industrial capitalism on his voyage to America for his trunk shows, where counterfeit of his works, alongside many other couturiers', were manufactured with standardised methods and distributed widely in the American market. In order to adapt to the new production and marketing paradigms, Poiret launched a subsidiary line of 'genuine reproductions' of his clothes in America, a departure from hand-made, one-of-a-kind pieces the couture business was based on. Much like Duchamp's 'artwork', the only thing that separated these genuine repros from commodified garments were the labels, the sole mark of originality for a piece of work that was no longer unique.
During the couture years, Poiret saw fashion as the rightful partner of fine arts, both existing alongside each other while basking in the esteemed status of originality. Today, fashion no longer sits on that throne. 99% clothing is made in bulk from a utilitarian perspective - which is a great thing in my opinion - most of them hardly differentiated from one another. But whenever the art world extends its helping hand, it elevates the status of plebeian mass-produced (albeit expensive) goods to artefacts that command an aura of exclusivity, thus validating its higher price tag. Think Louis Vuitton and Murakami, or Yasumasa Morimura and Issey Miyake.
As for Poiret, despite playing a large role in revolutionising modern silhouettes and marketing tactics, he was not someone who was savvy with his money. World War One took a toll on his business, and instead of tightening his belt, Poiret went back to his lavish and soon-to-be-outdated couture ways. In the end, the poor man died a pauper while Coco took over the throne in her little black dress.
Sources for Paul Poiret:
1. Mcdowell, C. (2015). Paul Poiret (1879-1944). Retrieved June 30, 2016, from https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/education/paul-poiret-1879-1944
2. Troy, N. J. (2010). Poiret's Modernism and The Logic of Fashion. In The Fashion History Reader: A Global Perspective (pp. 455-465). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Available on Ebay and Amazon
There are moments in one's life where the downs are deeper than the ups, where the toils of life overwhelm what little joy we have painstakingly build up over time. Everyday we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us that we are not successful enough for society, that we are not attractive enough for other people, that we are not good enough for ourselves. If you forgo your work for a decent amount of sleep, you feel guilty for being lazy. If you are not being photographed in drunken stupor surrounded by drunk people holding up some lit Moet on friday night, you are a lonely loser missing out on life.
Amongst all these self-imposed miseries, the tree of life decides to shed its lemons. Little ones, big ones, medium ones. And we are not quick enough to squeeze all of their juice as they fall upon us. Your terrible boss is being nasty as usual. Your cat gets run over by a car. Your loved one gets into a freak accident and is fighting for his/her life. You watch your relationship break apart in front of your very eyes like a train wreck you cannot stop. Shit always happens. Some of us have come up with various forms of coping mechanism; healthy ones like talking things over with friends and families, going on a relaxing retreat, picking up a sport, petting the other non-dead cat; or unhealthy ones like alcoholism, over-indulgence, violence, and drowning oneself in even more work. There's also religion, which can fall either way depending on your point of view. Despite all these methods humans have come up with, many still sink into anxiety and depression.
I love what I do, and I feel lucky that I am able to eke out a living in fashion. But nevertheless, there are moments where a sense of inadequacy, lack of motivation and fear of missing out creep into my head. There are days where I second guess the major decisions I've made in my life. There are days where lifting weights and meditation do nothing to alleviate the turmoils of my mental state.
But for now I take solace in being able to take a short breather in this cafe, sipping a cold coffee and enjoying the cool breeze from the rain, while a short distance away, a fat cat is napping on a pile of books.
I wrote this while craving for Oyakodon, a Japanese dish that consists of chicken and egg doused in sweet soy sauce served on a bowl of fluffy white rice. Unfortunately I had just had a full breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausage. I realised that my body probably doesn't need the extra bowl of rice, but the heart wants what the heart wants, especially when such a desire for comfort food is fuelled by the hormones of ovulation. That and the crippling obligations a person has to deal with on a daily basis. Comfort food ranks pretty high up in my books, alongside clothes one can lounge around in then run out of the door without the hassle of changing. I would go so far to assert that the Y's sarouels are so cozy, even a t-shirt might lose in a 'cozy garment competition'. It's like the box of chocolate one reaches out for to perk up a heavy day.