It's cool clothes for the coolest girl
Olivier Theyskens, Feature, Net-A-Porter
My idea of elegance – and this refers to women as well as men – is that someone is elegant when he or she shows a good knowledge of what fits them, where you can find naturalness and self-esteem. Not showing off. [...] When you’re not thinking, “This is fashion,” and you’re not buying clothes to create statements, you’re on the right path.
Stefano Pilati, Interview, The End of Elegance, VICE
But nowadays, especially in Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, everything is covered by fast fashion. Faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper. People have started wasting fashion.
Yohji Yamamoto, Interview, The Talks
In the words of Yohji Yamamoto - I hate fashion. Well, to be more precise, the fashion system. Fashion constantly looks for the new, never at ease with the now, and that is a difficult way to live. The anxiety driving things forward is the fear of going from being in fashion to out of fashion. Whereas the cycle can be romanticized as an exploration of the new, of designers looking for something fresh and exciting, the fast pace of fashion makes this a difficult reality. Freedom costs, and fashion is nothing if not a business, so everything has to be considered accordingly. The truly new and ground-breaking is unfortunately often maligned in the moment, usually to be recognized only long after the fact. What is instead sold as the new is now not only widely known to be the old, it revels entirely in that fact. Not the old in terms of historical referencing, but old fashion, often unashamedly bought back merely to satisfy the desire for something new. As Vinken wrote about a certain white-haired, high collared, German designer - "He does not merely produce kitsch, he also shows that what he makes is kitsch. Fashion becomes an over-priced costume drama, driven by the ghost of what it once was."
But I also love fashion. Not the system, not the cycle, not the industry, even though I am interested in the workings and impact of all three, but the garments and those who design them. I tend to approach fashion using three points of focus - the aesthetic, the idea, the personal. Do I like how the collection looks and do I like the look of certain individual garments? Do I like the idea behind the collection and what the designer is saying? Do I want to wear the clothing? The last criteria is perhaps more an underlying factor than a primary concern, for even though I am attracted to any collection that makes me think, I am also a consumer, so I will invariably be on the lookout for clothing I would myself like to wear. The last criteria is also the most critical in its scope, for it is not simply an appreciation of creativity, but is something measured according to my own strict framework - the most basic of which is whether it suits my body, let alone whatever aesthetic it may be that I wish to express.
Remove fashion from the search of the new, and focus simply on the moment, and suddenly everything is more enjoyable and less constrained. I like to approach collections and garments from as personal a perspective as possible, putting aside trends, hype and an industry geared to showing me what I am supposed to want. There should be that initial visceral reaction, then there is time to step back and truly consider. In the words of Barthes, and something I often consider to be a mantra to my approach to fashion, "Mass culture is a machine for showing desire: here is what must interest you, it says, as if it guessed that men are incapable of finding what to desire by themselves." I think the most interesting dresser is indeed one who has found what they desire themselves, according to their body type, their tastes, their personality, the occasion at hand. I know the idea of appropriateness is often seen as somehow beneath the idea of expressing oneself, but I think there is a true skill in being able to express yourself whilst still dressing in a manner appropriate to the situation. Of course the matter of appropriateness is perhaps more a social consideration than a personal one, for even if we may dress for our own pleasure, our dressed self is seen by others, not us (mirrors and reflective surfaces notwithstanding).
My approach to dressing has changed dramatically over the years, and I have made all manner of mistakes, but I think that is part of the fun of being interested in fashion and dress. It is a learning process and one that I enjoy, even when experiments fail. These days I find myself drawn towards a sense of personal uniform: something simple, something understated, something me. From the very basics to the most complex, to consider every choice and decision in detail is for me a very enjoyable and thought-provoking journey. For now I want to understand and explore the fundamentals, that of fabric, hand, texture, silhouette, shape, tone, and perhaps even colour once I am more confident with monochrome. Of course the extent to which my understanding of these factors can ever truly reach from being simply on the side of the wearer is questionable, however I would also like to learn more about the very process of constructing a garment. I find myself looking not for fashionable clothing, but for everyday clothing - clothes I am comfortable wearing and clothes that I feel make me look good.
I think it is important to find designers or brands with a design ethos and philosophy, as well as an aesthetic, that you find yourself in agreement with. The relationship has to be a personal one, and I need to feel a connection (however vague that sounds), otherwise it feels more like costume than dress. I never want to wear clothing that feels like it belongs on someone else. One of my favourite womenswear shows from New York was actually not a high fashion show, nor did it present ground-breaking new design, rather it was something more simple: Theyskens' Theory - cool, modern and wearable. These are not clothes looking to create a new trend, these are not clothes wrapped up in the cycle of fashion, these are simply everyday clothes that I think look chic and elegant (in terms of the show looks, I think it would be more so on women with fuller legs, but thin models is a topic for another time). I like designers who present a full vision, in terms of covering the more casual as well as the more formal, simply because it allows for a greater choice in what one buys and wears. The contemporary fashion consumer has no real brand loyalty as such, but I personally find myself going back to the same designers again and again because I know their aesthetic and their philosophy, and so their garments are as good a place as any to start looking.