What is fashion now?
I think it may be easier to tell you what fashion is not… It’s not what you see hanging on rack after rack in stores. It’s not what you see on the runways of fashion capitals. It’s definitely not what you see on the backs of “influencers” on Instagram or TikTok.
What I’ve just described to you is what people wear. It’s tops and bottoms, jackets, dresses and pants that provide a uniform that gets you through the day. It’s uninspired, but acceptable. Popular and commonplace. The fact that top-selling collections at retail are referred to as “essentials,” should clue you into the fact that there’s something wrong with this “fashion” picture. These are just clothes.
Fashion to me is wearable art. Something with a point-of-view. Pieces that feel new or out of the ordinary… special.
The first time I was made aware of what fashion was was in the 1980s. I lived in a suburban world where women who worked wore trim Anne Klein, Liz Claiborne or Jones New York suits. Formal dresses were tiered and ruffled frocks by Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax or taffeta monstrosities inspired by the Christian Lacroix “Le pouf.”
But one day, I wandered into a boutique I’d never seen before and was struck by what I saw. It was like a soft sculpture — oversized and powerful through the shoulders and sleek and formfitting through the body and legs. It was being sold as a jersey dress by Norma Kamali, but to me, it was fashion with a capital “F.” Her status as an artist was cemented with iconic items like sleeping bag coats and bustier bathing suits, but interestingly her’s has not been a blockbuster business.
The challenge in considering fashion as art is age-old. American fashion, in particular, has always had an art-versus-commerce conflict, particularly when its fashion is seen as the workhouse of the ready-to-wear fashion world.
Here’s what I see as the crux of the problem — the education designers received when attending fashion school used to consist of things like sketching, draping, pattern making and even sewing classes — clothing design was truly taught as a discipline of the arts. Then our more modern and business-oriented times created the necessity for designers to know how to market themselves, balance a spreadsheet, drum up financing and all the other non-artistic elements of running a fashion business.
Does this foster creativity and encourage the creation of fashion as art? The answer is a capital N.O.
So we look for the next generation of fashion creator — many of whom we believe are featured on these pages. This new “fashion designer” is not a designer at all. What they do is too complicated and new to be considered in the same arena of what is “fashion” today.
This new breed is highly influenced by a world where a side-hustle is necessary. Perhaps for financial gain, but really because one medium, one job, one concentration is not enough to allow one to express themselves completely. I mean, when Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon sidelines as a DJ and New Yorker writer Bill Buford sides as a line cook, you know everybody’s doing it.
Adam Frost explains in Love magazine: “I’ve always written poetry, which turns into a song, that then leads into a painting, that goes into a print, transforms into a garment, that goes into a visual, which in turn is made into a film. The end product is raised into a production or a collection of art/fashion.”
It’s a cycle with so many levels of product — how could anyone classify this as coming from a fashion designer?
And each one of these artists are illustrious. Supriya Lele was a finalist for the LVMH Prize. T-Label has changed the meaning of what functional gloves are. Katya Zelentsova has taken traditional impressions of her homeland and set it on its ear. Richard Quinn’s presentations are statements all themselves juxtaposing explosions of color with an absence of color. Gui Rosa’s over-the-top-ed-ness feels just right for today. Miss Sohee embraces volume as an antidote for so much simple, simple. House of Sheldon pieces are riotous sculptures. Ding was the winner of the 2019 International Talent Support Award (ITS) in Trieste, Italy and acts as though surrealism is his religion. And my personal favorite — Florence King — experiments with volume and color and prints that is reminiscent of my first fashion fixation, Norma Kamali.