Features, Trends

Gucci Gets It Wrong

Recent headlines:

  • Gucci and Prada Aim for Outrageousness, Instead They Get Outrage (CBS Moneywatch)
  • Gucci Apologizes and Removes Sweater Following ‘Blackface’ Backlash (NPR)
  • Spike Lee, T.I. Boycott Gucci, Prada over “Blackface” Fashion (NBC)

One credible explanation for the recent spate of designer looks spit out by the culture is that there are racists in couture, as there are nearly everywhere else in society. But another explanation is actually more troubling: As Big Luxe has become ever bigger business it appears probable that some of the design houses are becoming too far removed from the lives and likes of their customers. They clearly seem to be too aloof to be able to make use of one of the great charms of great fashion: wit. What does wit require? A common understanding of the culture and its ironies.

Think for a moment of Gucci, Moncler, Adidas, Prada: each has had its run in with relevance and been found wanting. The journalists of the fashion pages of The New York Times bemoan the lack of message and meaning within the preponderance of mayhem on the runways. What are the designers saying? How can we decipher their message when they can’t articulate it?

Fashion design is an art. And like all great art it is meant to influence and be influenced by cultural and social forces swirling around us. It is meant, indeed, to help us understand those forces that confuse and confound. Done well, it helps us express ourselves to ourselves and others. It helps us lay claim to the world in which we live, or at least a corner of it.

Done poorly, it is merely a billboard that tells people we had $3,500 to spend on this bag or $1,500 to pay for these shoes. Done poorly, fashion simply feeds the trough of the one percenters who vault beyond conspicuous consumption to Olympian ostentation. All the while design house functionaries benefit from these customers enabling them to buy the next Benz or shelter in a better summer rental zip code. In short, even the top dogs at the fashion houses have become further removed from the incongruities and absurdities of the lives of everyday people and the relevance that real fashion once commanded.

The Inconsequential Doesn’t Command Respect or Purchase

One can feel the desperate attempt to add cultural meaning back into a sweater. “I know, Black Lives Matter. That’s a thing, right? So, let’s put our tongues firmly in our cheeks and wink at our customer. Let’s put a bit of a Black face trope on the rolled collar. Then, let’s call it a “wool balaclava jumper!” Amusing, right? That’s worth $890, right?

That seems to be the thought process going into a relatively inexpensive (in designer terms) item of apparel. No one high up in the designer cogs at Gucci gave it much more thought. Everyone has a little fun. Just a funny mouth designed into it and not much more than that. This is why fashion critics are important assuming they ask the right questions. “What’s the back story? What’s the point? What are you doing?” The maw of the great, ferocious machine of Big Fashion chews up ideas and spits them out. But wither genius? Wither wit? Wither wisdom?

Yes, Fashion is an Art. Where are the Artists?

So, I return to the refrain: Fashion design is an art, thus It requires an artist. An artist like Basquiat or JayZ or Banksy or Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Artists who stay so close to the cultural shifts and drifts they both follow and lead. Artists who express the zeitgeist in such a sovereign and ferocious way they seem to indelibly brand their moment. And then the next one. And then the next one.

In the rarefied echelons of Big Fashion, one has a hard time imagining a great deal of time spent attempting to articulate the Vox Populi. It is arguable, however, the Vox Populi is precisely what needs to be heard in those rarefied and preternaturally becalmed bastions, in those thick plush-carpeted, louver doored temples to affluence. Honestly is precisely what’s needed. We want our designers who ask us for our hard-earned money to support their vision to be interpreters of our times for us and to badge us with their art and intelligence. Instead we get a privileged, few working furiously to acquire sufficient wealth to invite us in on their private jets on the pages of fashion magazines that worship these gods. We are seeing more of the same-old, same-old different day boring predictability laced with banality that we’ve grown used to and fatigued by.

The joy of well-designed fashion is the daily joy of the well-made, impeccably constructed and impossibly clever approach to the moment. It is the wisdom and wit to dress me for the life I am just on the edge of living, anticipating my needs and clothing me for my tomorrow. How do we know it is well-designed? When we discover its small and intricate perfections.

Instead, we buy the $890 status sweater in the hope that it telegraphs our modern sophistication and discover quickly we have instead invested in a badge of our or our designer’s inadvertent, mindless, clueless racism. We would be so much better off as brands, consumers and culture if designers could be bothered to get closer to the culture as it really is, problematically and sometimes painfully evolved, rather than as a fantasy imagined in the pages of Vogue.

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