The Diminished Shock Value in Fashion

TopIt’s that time of the year again were designers wipe the sweat of their foreheads and see models strut their latest designs on the runway whilst hoping their creations end up in our fashion lexicon. AW15 tries to expand our conversation on how we perceive fashion whilst being scandalous, bold, or outrageous. *Cough.*

It’s 2k15 and I’m done with the antics in fashion. Well, as sociologist Elena Esposito points out: The power of fashion [..] lies first of all in its admirable ability to combine paradoxes and to make them work, making fluid the dynamics of society that bases on in transparency its way of managing complexity …’ Right. It’s a shame, really. The antics of menswear almost felt like a failed throwback to the innovative time of the 1980s and ‘90s. Or maybe it’s just that the shock circle jerk in fashion is just not riveting any more.

This menswear and couture season gave us the ‘triumphant’ return of Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens who decided to bust out the penis flaps since ‘nudity is the most simple and primal gesture – it packs a punch’. Ok, Rick. And I can’t leave A.P.C. designer Jean Touitou behind. Touitou thought he was innovative whilst naming his bland and beige collection ‘Last N*ggas in Paris’, a tribute to the song by his ‘good friend’ Kanye West. Reportedly, he also said the word. A.P.C. did issue a statement from Touitou: “When describing our brand’s latest collaboration, I spoke recklessly using terms that were both ignorant and offensive. I apologize and am deeply regretful for my poor choice of words, which are in no way a reflection of my personal views.” Sure, Jean.

The sexual intrusiveness of Owens’ collection made me barely raise an eyebrow. Friend and foe generally agree that the status of fashion is highly ambiguous. The paradoxical nature of fashion is simultaneously its raison d ‘ être. Fashion is subject to constant change, and this seemingly without any reason, purpose, or progress, so the link between irrationality, arbitrariness and superficiality is faster made. The constant change has almost no telos. The new replaces the old, and is only appreciated for its newness – bla, bla, bla. It just seems the easy way out to quickly garner the public’s attention.

Sure, designers feel immense pressure to churn out new collections in a short amount of time. Fashion is after all characterised by its imperative nature: designers need to stand out in the constant stream of designs one sees daily, and this can be fast and easily reached by searching the limits of acceptability. And yes, of course, a designer can express the tensions and ambivalences that we experience with regard to the socio-cultural constructs in ourselves, and our social environment, through fashion. One can also display an image through fashion in a hyperbolic way to criticise and focus the public’s attention to it. Fashion does and can enable paradoxical language as a self-relativistic system. Meh, that’s not really the case here.

The fashion industry needs to find a balance between opposites. Is Owens’ penis flap really boundary-pushing or just pointless? The paradoxes seem insoluble, but by fashion, we avoid the negative of the impasse. The industry allows the paradoxes together and neutralises conflicts. However, this neutralisation is not a permanent solution, it’s a constant process of deliberation between the paradoxes. Perhaps the designer’s quest for the authentic design is really just a creation of authenticity, which is a paradox in itself. Or maybe I shouldn’t think too much….

The fact that designers feel entitled to copy and colombus baby hairs and ‘urban’ culture was annoying enough. But resorting to nudity and trying to co-opt a loaded word just feels like a tireless attempt to create shock value and drum up some much needed attention for otherwise mediocre collections.

It’s time to change the conversation.


Words by Giselle Defares