Chanel not only invented ingenious ways of making women look twenty years younger, but she also contrived brilliant inventions for making them look expensively poor.
– Cecil Beaton
The Life of Pablo concert started and the migrant chic fashion show started and they were both wonderful.
– Anna Wintour’s much-criticised description of the Adidas Yeezy season 3 show
Anti-fashion, expensively poor, migrant chic.
Men embracing the feminine, women dressing masculine; then the definition of these adjectives shift.
Fashion by its very nature is paradoxical. A trend’s decline begins at the height of its popularity, the look becomes ‘mainstream’ and its appeal starts to plummet. Despite being a much-cited idiom in the fashion industry, anti-fashion should not be a possibility. By its very definition, the act of recognising a tendency towards or away from something makes it a trend. Grunge became mainstream, normcore became normal, and even rebellions against garments’ gender roles are no longer remarkable.
For me, anti-fashion brings to mind people who ‘don’t care’ about fashion. Practicality goes hand in Thinsulate-thermal-gloved-hand with this idea. For many, clothes are for keeping you warm, to stop you stepping in dog poo, or to cover your genitals from those who don’t wish to see them (or from those who wish to see them too much).
I never understood the scene in the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada where Runway magazine’s editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly berates her new assistant for being unable to tell the difference between two to-the-untrained-eye (and to my eye) identical belts.
You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.
– Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
Perhaps Miranda, she bought it because she liked the colour? I’d bet that your poor assistant – along with 99.99999% of the world – doesn’t give a shit that her jumper is a shade of blue christened ‘cerulean’ or that, to quote Miranda, ‘In 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets?’
I laid my kitchen floor with a glitzy pink stone because spilling the contents of my fridge onto the tiles is my favourite post-Pinot activity and it doesn’t stain. I did not choose it because – as it turns out – it’s the exact coral terrazzo that the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are carved from, and I wanted to demonstrate the irony of fame if its crown could be trampled on all day during the very chores from which success exempts you. I just thought it looked cool.
‘Coolness’ is the factor that separates those who are legitimately anti-fashion from those who aren’t. Being anti-fashion can only be achieved by not thinking of fashion or the cool-factor at all. Every ‘anti-fashion’ article I’ve ever read is about caring what people think but looking like you don’t. This is not a new phenomenon.
Ruthlessly women were stripped of their finery… when they looked like Western Union messenger boys, when they had been reduced to chic poverty, then and only then did she drape them with costume jewellery, with great lumps of emeralds, rubies and cascades of pearls.
– Cecil Beaton on Coco Chanel
In 1954, Cecil Beaton wrote of Coco Chanel’s now classic look that she had ‘invented her own particular form of ugliness’. In the late 1980s, the androgynous, scruffy grunge aesthetic was born as a reaction to the ostentatious excess of the 1980s, until Marc Jacobs showed his SS1993 collection for American sportswear giant Perry Ellis. Jacobs had Christy Turlington, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks – models who exemplified the excess of the previous decade – dressed as though they’d rolled around in a thrift store. Jacobs was fired, but not before the industry caught wind of grunge.
Whilst the Anna Wintour was up in arms at the thought of any nobody with a few dollars being able to put together an ensemble that looked like it belonged in Vogue, Steve Jobs was getting on with inventing the Macintosh and changing the world. Jobs famously wore a black poloneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers every day in order to focus his decision-making on more important puzzles like the internet. Thirty years later we too ran out of outfit ideas, and everyone copied him. Normcore had started, and in 2017 we’re still living with its consequences.
London is currently living under the tyranny of one of normcore’s many offspring, which I will call rambling-core. The aim is to pull off the most expensive but most utilitarian garments bought from outdoorsy brands previously only seen on parents lost in the countryside.
Scraping the barrel with Patagonia aren’t we? Where do we go from Patagonia? The other day I found myself searching ‘Donnay t-shirt’ on eBay. Donnay, the poor man’s Nike and the brand my parents couldn’t pay me to wear in my pre-teen years (literally – I did not get my pocket money as I wouldn’t put on a t-shirt). If Instagram had existed in the early 2000s and Rihanna had posted a (sponsored) photo of a Donnay tee stretched across her tits, I would have put one in every colour on my Christmas list.
Fashion is stuck. Recycling the past or the attempted avoidance of trends seem to have replaced innovation. If you choose to engage with social media – to follow or court designers and influencers, or perhaps become one yourself – it seems impossible to avoid assimilating trends. And if you don’t engage, but those around you do, how long until your look becomes the next one?
I recently read an interview with the original online influencer, Myspace superstar Audrey Kitching, and she made a point that stayed with me. ‘Humanity is stuck in this cycle of wanting to be accepted for being something other than what they are’ she explained of the latest crop of internet it-girls and boys. It’s hard to blame us. I’d rather be associated with any generation than the one that put Donald Trump and Mike Pence in charge of the free world.