The Cult Of Brands
IT'S OKAY TO ACT LOBOTOMIZED IF ITS LABELLED GUCCI
Don’t get me wrong – Alessandro Michele successfully revamped a brand so boring I could have cried, but this all goes way deeper than assessing whether a designer did a good job of upping sales, and whether he did so utilizing the creativity his status as designer expects him to have.
It’s no secret we live in a world that’s run by brands, and more specifically their powerful logos and projected lifestyles. Gradually, we have come to a point where every profession has come to include ‘creative directing’ and ‘marketing management’ to its job description – and in the ambit of fashion, a business with image fabrication at its core, simple designing, refining the actual product sold, the crux of a brand, just doesn’t cut it anymore. Styling has become ever more prevalent as a necessary requisite, and one only has to take one look around to see just how far its gone.
You’ve heard this to death but it needs to be reiterated: when suddenly, you were unchic if you didn’t mention Vetements at least twice in a sentence, night clubs and bars became littered with adults dragging extra long trousers onto the alcohol/street muck mix on the dance floor whilst attempting to grasp their wine glasses through exaggeratedly long woolen sleeves. Now, Demna Gvasalia's input for Balenciaga's F/W 2017 crystallized in the form of models stomping on the catwalk as if dying for the loo in 'repurposed' coats, pinned awkwardly to one shoulder, leaving hideously deformed fabric creases behind and beneath the opposite shoulder. Now I love playing around with the way a piece is meant to be worn - that's not the point. One can only marvel at the imperfect tailoring from a fashion house known for artistically revolutionizing the fashionable silhouette with unquestionable technique. No awkward loose bulges of manipulated fabric for perfectionist Cristobal, who put at the forefront an aesthetic that valorized the female form through fluidity, grace, and expertly executed pattern cuts.
With Vetements, the fact that we have shifted to applauding the impractical and nonsensical simply for its own sake, as if this were somehow the core of fashion's raison d'être, becomes clear as day.
True, the impractical permeates fashion in a context of art for arts sake, but it’s the nonsensical that deserves a little scrutiny. As usual, fashion reflects the world and the values at its core belief system. Should we be surprised then, that in a world where individuals live complacently with a perpetual overload of advertisements, embedded in every digital and physical space, lurking behind every emotion, experience, and hopeful glint of genuine human social interaction, that the fashion industry’s main drivers, too, have turned away from integrity of product and consumer benefit, and onto superficial image fabrication selling hollowed out dreams?
Lovers of fashion have slowly morphed into lovers of the image of fashion, finding existential solace in cursory identification with constructed lifestyles. At a first glance, it doesn't appear so different to the societal role that dress has always played in signifying status and belonging; what's striking is not the importance that fashion plays in individuals' lives, but in its contemporary meaning - or perhaps, lack of.
Luxury fashion houses continue to hang the superiority of their fine products on their heritage, yet the 20th Century’s democratization of fashion for the masses (read: widen the potential market) has only led to drops in global standards of excellency and cheaper, unethical manufacturing on the sly, in countries that have nothing to do with their history, while somehow furiously upping prices.
Paradoxically, the logo has superseded the product that lent the logo its weight in the first place, when only decades ago it was considered tacky and in bad taste to sport a logo on the outside of your hand sewn, tailored Italian suit. Why? Because it wasn’t about the brand. Style was understood to be innate; a product of soul, personality and approach to life.
With people routinely swiping stacks of elastane/polyester hybrids off luxury shelves in a mind boggling insistence to disregard the hypocrisy of its labels and inexplicable overpricing for the simple fact that they are sporting a currently ‘it’ logo, it has become paramount to stop taking marketing tag lines at their face value and to put a little more thought into forming independent purchasing decisions, if only to be able to distinguish the real from the fabricated.
For the hordes of millenials who pride themselves on the combination of brands they wear as a perceived direct link to expressing their individuality, the question of looking into whether their beliefs stand to reality holds even more weight. Not only because in doing so one might actually be original rather than pretending with a new $1000 shirt, but because this way you could potentially gain freedom - freedom from branding brainwashing and peer pressure from the stylistically castrated; the kind of freedom that channels through the quality of the clothes on your back and into actual values with which you want to live your life. After all, expressing yourself with clothing means nothing if you don't know what you stand for.
Historically, the styled divergence from the masses was determined not just through dress, but through actual behavioral practices, political or social ideologies – in short, there was substance behind every look. People didn’t pretend they were for peace and love – they lived it. They didn’t pretend to be slick streetsters, or starving artists or poetic idealists, they lived realities or choices based on their ideals or on the subculture they defined themselves with and truly lived the consequences of their actions for a long time, becoming defining periods in their lives, and important building blocks of their identities.
Now, subcultures have been boiled down to a weightless purchasing decision, one that doesn’t even last till the next season, becoming but a fleeting part of the identity of the buyer, easily swappable for the next ‘it’ thing with the swipe of a credit card. For the masses of fashion lovers it isn’t about design – it’s about the Instagrammable moment: signifying their belonging to a perceived superior clique who’s in the know about the latest brand’s ‘it’ item by buying into the fabricated lifestyle – and why not? It’s much easier than having to actually learn something, live experiences or stick to some sort of tedious principle.
Brand led lifestyles like the athleisure trend put at the forefront important values, in this case, those of a healthy approach to life and the kind of drive and determination prone to fitness (which both happen to be attributes of success) - or more accurately, the appearance of having values, because donning athleisure is more than enough to signify where you stand. The result? Hordes of delusional girls sipping frappuccinos in high tech lycra pants and sports bras that focus much more on cleavage design than on actual support, miles away from the nearest gym, possibly posting about #coffee on Instagram. Perhaps in the best occasion you find people grocery shopping in their athleisure, since there’s a certain amount of walking to be done, so its justified right? But what’s it to Nike, as long as you think you’re halfway to just doing it after having shelled out an arm and a leg on one outfit made in Indonesia by an underpaid single mom, they’ll keep showing you romanticized images portraying the kind of slums to stars storytelling that keeps raking in millions of dollars.
Unfortunately it’s looking like there’s a lot less genuine individuality, and a lot more of what’s akin to identity patchwork, where a lack of a strong ‘full’ identity leads to filling in the personality voids with brands that do the job for you. All the brand storytelling and imagery, the tag lines and all other carefully constructed facets of a ‘lifestyle’ are easy to throw on and swap around for someone with no stable sense of who they are. Again, its an unfortunate side effect of the world we live in – but it can get worst than just living in a vortex that encourages hiding vacuums with the appearance of depth.
Effortlessly swapping identities, meaning, and hence, values, encourages a passive approach to life, where the opinions of elected authorities on a subject, be they style or other, are taken as your own in a time when ‘authority figures’ are rated more on the image they portray than on the integrity of their statements. The business of image fabrication is big money, and where it may be unclear in other ambits, thankfully in fashion it is all as clear as a slap in the face. When overly excited teens quote fashion publications of influence such as Vogue, do they forget its pages are filled with brand advertising revenues? A legitimately logical question ensues: do these authorities’ opinions on fashion really paint the truth? Most of the time they paint the one they’re paid to paint – but that doesn’t stop the masses following in admiration, ready to spend their hard earned money on meaningless clothing made on seriously questionable values.
Questioning the integrity of content marketing is why fashion and style bloggers emerged in the first place, for consumers to get in on someone’s personal take on style, yet even that didn’t last for long - if it even was ever a genuine phenomenon - and most of your 10k + fall into the trap of boiling down their style and fashion choices to a list of brands that pay the highest commission on sale per click.
You could say its purely business. Sure, like in any field, anything goes if you can make an argument for it – but ideally that argument should also stand to reason on both sides of the spectrum. This mindless brand following resembles the relationship a pastor has with his flock, only in this instance what you are sold is a meaningless sequence of images constructed to produce a deep rooted need to purchase. Just because, profit. Again, you could say that everything is fair in love and war, brands will do what they do best, and in a sea of look alikes and emergents and fashion cycles that constantly need to wow, being competitive is a whole other level of hard.
However, does that mean that those high end luxury brands, the ones that have heritage based on fine materials and expert craftsmanship, need to lose all integrity and, production facilities aside, jump on the next trend setting bandwagon for fear of missing out? And as consumers of countless images per day, be they from fashion or other, have we not yet learned to discern the different and legitimately cool from the needy and fictitiously meaningful? No one is forcing us to indulge the fomo of identity wavering brands and laud and applaud the fickle that ends up making media waves.
When Louis Vuitton teamed with Supreme, it seemed they couldn’t get enough praise, no matter that the two brand identities were clearly inconsistent and it was a clear attempt by giant LV to spice up its brand storytelling by infusing a little bit of rebellious street onto its monogrammed suitcases. What it looked like to the eye of those with a little bit of cynicism was simply a logo double whammy – the Supreme logo X LV’s logo, already profusely overused on the bodies of their products (just in case we weren't brainwashed enough). When a design collaboration looks like what a third grader does to her notebook ie. write her name all over it, well I’m sorry I’m not game. At least have the decency of actually designing something.
And that’s the problem: with traditional principles and values thrown out the window, the whole industry shifted away from what matters - that is, making a garment with exceptional quality, pride and perfect fit to last the buyer many years of reuse - to image crafting to dupe hundreds of thousands into purchasing thoughtless patterns thrown together in a design process so whittled down for speed to market its practically void of the name it wears.
As Raf Simons recently stated, “ There is no more thinking time.” Fantastic. As a true lover of style however, I’ll keep the thinking cap on and hope that what I stand for will inevitably manifest itself onto what I wear.
Set lifestyles propose cutting corners for originality; yet, becoming the self fulfilled, creative and cultured individual that everyone wants to be right now takes time and a lot of learning. Style is a genuine reflection of who you are inside, and inevitably, as one grows, pieces of the old self will be left behind to embrace evolutions, compounding years of built experiences into perfected, stronger identities based on a wider understanding of oneself and the surrounding world. It only makes sense that style would follow in the same vein.
We are not made to be an accumulation of brand identities, but to create our own, find our purpose in life, and get an opinion.
Oh, and just a side note – a couple of years ago I fidgeted with a tear on the inside of my very expensive Gucci leather wallet, only to find linings of old cardboard.
It seems that everybody's trying to be what they're not.