This character is multi-dimensional Maria Foka, 18 December 2020
Way too often I am torn apart by the brutality of compartmentalization, categorization, and labeling that derive from society’s inability to accept what is not understood as well as its desperate need for order. Agonizingly navigating through a capitalistic everyday mayhem, we tend to find ways to exist, according to our set of values. One of them is to conform to the predetermined norms of living and accept them as a rationalized and idealized expression of ourselves, trying to be the best front-line soldiers of the machine – the richest, the most powerful, the most famous, the most knowledgeable, the most respected – to each their own. But this system is designed to lack a top limit; we can always reach, but never grab. The other path is that of the opposition, in a radical or a reformatory manner. In order to oppose the machine, we have to understand its ways and accept that we perform in it, day in, and day out, as a cog. The problem here lies within the status quo, and existing in it renders us a part of it.
The burning question that torments me is this: how can I, how dare I, love fashion when the business of fashion is a child of this capitalistic, consumer-driven system? How can I distinguish the business from the art and the honesty in creation from carefully calculated sale traps?
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags, 1967
I’ve always given myself the benefit of the doubt, compensating fashion for art, focusing on the expression of it rather than the logistics. But this is a false assumption. The distributors of said art are business people, shareholders, and aspiring billionaires, who (employ people to-) create to earn. They take advantage of the craftsmanship of creatives and the volition of designers to create a sartorial fantasy land, pushing these ideas into press boxes and campaigns, making a profit out of art, and creating a vicious cycle of mandatory creation that often leads the artists to burn out. According to the book ‘Gods and Kings, The rise and fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano’s by Dana Thomas, the latter suffered a breakdown and acquired addiction problems due to rigorous work conditions, following the ‘being as good as your last collection’ pressure and working for more than 30 collections per year. Many designers and their teams have breached their limits trying to keep up with the fashion systems quick paces and constant production needs, fashion week presentations, and requirements to dominate the industry with more campaigns, exhibitions, openings, more perfumes, shows, cruises, resort, ready-to-wear lines, and capsule collections. The pressure expands on retailing, aggravated by the speed of the digital world, consumerism, and the expectation of the linear business model to produce more, produce fast, and produce again. It’s no wonder that the creative side of the industry is for the most part phased out, exhaustively now repeating the past grandeurs in front of glare-eyed front-rowers with the short-term memory of goldfish.
The toll that the capitalistic system has taken on fashion does not stop there. I will rephrase that – the toll that the capitalistic fashion system has taken on fashion art is limitless. For the people, the best thing that is produced and sold by the fashion system is the promise of a dream. The desire, the anxiety of belonging, the pathos of expressing oneself to the best of our abilities. The admiration of bodily expressions of identity, and the re-invention of an otherwise finite medium lies in the heart of the chase towards personal perfection. But fashion products are unequivocally a reflection of the past, an unreachable goal for the present, and a flashback of the future. The machine of fashion has always tried to mirror the zeitgeist, albeit a bit retarded, masking its true colors. We are led to believe that fashion is always one step ahead, an informant of what is to come, thanks to all the marketing strategies. The rather new perception of sustainability initiatives, social justice projects, and inclusion protocols that fashion houses are adopting, is merely an effort to remain relative, to be liked, to be trusted, to be seen as humane, and eventually to be the consumers’ first choice of purchase. Sadly, if we look closely through this façade we will see that fashion corporations have no sentiment, no morals, no identity, and no opinion, nothing but one goal – money. Most of the big fashion names are desperately clinging to an evolving social reform, a response to the complaints and the concerns that evolve around the fashion system’s moral axis. The trend forecasting business rings a bell towards that realization – it is a field that literally predicts the future of the market using past sales, creating the new trends that will be adopted by the fashion houses based on what was previously monetarily successful. The fashion business, especially fast fashion, is based on a linear model of create-consume-waste following an extremely fast pace in all stages. In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled, driven by a growing middle-class population across the globe and increased per capita sales in mature economies. More than half the clothes are produced from non-renewable resources and are disposed of in under one year. This rapid turn-around fueled by consumerism does not take into consideration the amount of human labor, environmental impact, and resources used to please the fashionistas of the world.
Inge Morath, Lingerie shop window on Lower East Side, 1957
Joel Peter-Witkin, The History of Fashion in Paris, 2007
Alas, capitalism took over art. Walter Benjamin declares that capitalism should be examined as a ‘purely cultic religion’, and, truth be told, especially in the last two decades a new way of blind faith in the latest version of capitalism, neoliberalism, has been unveiled. This proves that fashion has become a matter of morals and value or lack thereof. A systemic and radical change in the economy alone is not going to fix the problem of consumption, blindness towards the cost of human capital, and the environmental, social, and economic injustice when a 20$ pair of jeans are seen as disposable. What is defeated by the system is first and foremost our set of values – and to that a crushed-down minimal version of it. Whether we are talking about functional, exchange, symbolic, or sign value-making processes Baudrillard persists that value is created through difference, and that consumption, rather than production is the thorn that drives the capitalistic system, for the simple reason that the need for consumption is what ignites production.
The shift in our values is what is going to help us reclaim the art, and everything that matters to us from the system, and it is a process that will have to happen in a transitory manner with perseverance, unity, and honesty. This transition of values is not limited to moral ones; it is deeply based on how things are valued and how value is created from us. Futuristic as that may be, once value determines price – and not the other way around – and value is no longer solely a financial indicator, a safe space is created for other types of value to have meaning, purpose, and worth in our everyday life, such as social value, humanitarian, environmental, etc.
Looking into that capitalistic society is hurtful, especially knowing that there is so much one can do to shift the notions of superficiality away from a claimed consumerism product such as fashion. Thankfully, the core of fashion – i.e. the how it is created in its first, pure form, is not money, but art. I understand that the system of capitalism has devoured, used, and now starts to spit out fashion, disguising it into a business of fashion, but I am positive that a collective step back to our values and the way we set them will weaken the power that money holds over various art forms. This is why I still love fashion in spite of what it has become. I still view clothing as a visual representation of self that never fails to depict even a small fracture of one’s identity. I refuse to be this or that, a fashion lover or a fashion hater, a systemic naysayer or an haute couture admirer, a fashion person or a conscious proletarian. I am a multi-dimensional character, and if I want, I can be everything, anything, all or nothing at all.