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011 - Welcome to fashion’s dystopia era: it’s hell here! by @dankartdirectormemes
For my first foray into writing anything bigger than an Instagram caption, I have decided to start delicately and take on: the end of the world.
Before we begin, one feels the need to just take a moment and let out a big collective ‘fuck’, so let’s do that: one, two, three: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC…
Truss Out and Rishi In, Cruella Suella’s leaky emails, Jeremy C*unt, the to-and-fro on fracking, St Agnes beach in the shit; it’s all been looking mighty sparse for good news, and that’s just on this side of the Atlantic…
In short: the world is going to shit, and it seems we’ve crumpled along with it. Things ‘don’t work like they used to’, but we can get shiny new versions to fill the void, Next Day Delivered to the homes we can hardly afford to live in (thanks Tories!). Our phones have better cameras to document our increasingly lonely lives. Our fancy clothes, now much like us, come pre-distressed, for an often hefty price. Plugging in for your daily doom scroll has become par for the course for us all, and our feeds are sending us one clear message: the world is in shutdown.
How are brands responding? By leaning into a very noticeable aesthetic. Clue: it’s all doom and gloom.
Who’s leading the charge?
Spanish behemoth Balenciaga, which has sent out carefully curated catwalk looks to blasts of sludge, flood, wind & fire, to warn us of how ecological and social destruction are at our doorstep. Big Bal has been reminding us of our impending demise since their Spring 2019 show (the fiery one), and every season since has offered us front-row seats to the progressively worsening fate for mankind.
Fire, Wind & Earth – Balenciaga, not a tribute to the 70s funk/soul band
There’s usually a nicely PR’ed sheet of A4 to explain what it’s all been about (as if being kicked in the head needs a debrief) which, for the most part, cues a bit of well-meaning chin-stroking and some applause from the big publications. But it fails to really stick the message under a microscope (or even a pinch-zoom).
In the most recent show, a sludge-pit custom-scented sinkhole mess, Balenciaga once again used crisis as a vehicle to sell thousands of pounds-worth of clothing. It’s tricky: Demna Gvasalia literally fled war when he was a boy, so certainly has valid life experience most of us cannot even imagine. But clothes need to sell, and it’s hard to ignore the sad truth that the current system revolves around investors’ pockets.
Not to mention the fact that only a small handful of the looks actually seemed truly relevant to the surroundings – Kanye in his tactical get-up and mouthguard was perhaps the most resilient outfit for the end of the world. The rest of the show could’ve taken place anywhere else, under any other general theme, and wouldn’t have particularly appeared out of place.
Disgraced ‘genius’ Kanye West, suited and booted for another day battling himself in public…
When the clothes themselves don’t follow through on the message, it begs the question: is the climate crisis theme just a case of Doomwashing?
It’s not just Balenciaga that has dabbled in dystopia for their shows and collections, it’s flanked by other well known names: Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, Givenchy, Alyx, Yeezy, among others have all leant-in to the ‘fucked’ side of things to sell us something expensive. The latter even went to great lengths to undo the ‘luxury shopping’ experience, having garments tossed into statement rubbish bags in GAP stores, intentionally meant to cause a bit of a frenzied scramble for the garment. Akin to Black Friday sales, or the last can of food in a zombie movie…
The problem with luxury brands telling us we must do better is the hypocrisy: every season, the favourite looks get quickly gobbled up by fashion magazines and influencers, flown all over the world with a huge carbon footprint, and are recontextualised simply as credits in to please the advertisers (these same brands who paid for a world-ending carrion call in the first place…) The Creative Director’s message intended to ‘shake us awake’ as one reviewer put it, seldom passes beyond that 20 minute runway spectacle and the reposts on IG. We await the next season to find out how much more fucked we are than 6 months just gone.
We all know that if these luxury brands really wanted to highlight some good, they could spend the £100k+ (I’ve seen better and worse) campaign budgets on contributions to causes actually affecting that change. But instead, the comfortably wealthy are profiting off our impending demise as a species. It’s an easy ‘out’ to them needing to face up to anything they could otherwise have done to promote messages of bettering the place. Who’s gonna hold the big people accountable when we are being told that none of us are gonna live to experience the aftermath, anyway.
Beyond the doom
At the moment it seems many of us are willing to play along with the idea that the planet is beyond salvation (it’s just easier, isn’t it?) Nobody loves the tree-hugger, you don't win friends with salad etc. Just look at the Just Stop Oil gang - every fair-minded sympathiser met with an angry mob writing off the impetus for the whole debacle as ‘silly’ or ‘pointless’. We’ll keep on shopping, regardless.
I’m not perfect, I’m not even close, I still shop from ‘bad’ brands because I like good looking clothes and we’re all gonna die, anyway (remember?!) But whilst I’m able to do so, I would consider questioning themes when you see them creep in, don’t just take the regurgitated press release; they’re often trying to make sense of it just as much as the audience. Don’t be afraid to question what is laid out in front of you, it’s good for your mental agility, if nothing else.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my jaded soul, I do think there’s still a glimmer of hope (there’s got to be, right?), and it should be those at the top, brands included, setting the tone and the example. Thank god, then, for the brands that are sticking to the mission. The big outdoor, big money giving, Patagonia, as well as the more luxe leaning of mega-veggie Stella McCartney (the brand, at least, is pretty well validated as conscious) have been chiming on about doing better for a while now, to the point it’s probably overlooked, but it’s valid.
Newer and more editorially attractive brands, like Chopova Lowena, Robyn Lynch, Collina Strada, Noah as well as a whole host of other new gen names are committing to enacting tangible change, even if it’s just making what we’ve got seem enough, or exciting again and again.
Chopova Lowena, Robyn Lynch, Collina Strada & Noah – not going down without a fight
Mega-upcycler Nicole McLaughlin, who at this point I don’t feel needs introduction to an audience such as yourselves, feels like someone who (should they wish) could head-up a big meanie and face it towards the light, instead of shying away from it. Arc’teryx, another outdoors giant, made some good steps by bringing the designer in as an ambassador; but could it go harder, stronger and more permanent? Could someone on a board, in a suit, see the benefit of such an approach in the long run? The curiosity and excitement that comes when creating from an archive; a wealth of existing, recycled materials repurposed, shouldn’t be a novelty moment we just enjoy through passive ‘likes’ – it could even spell big money to a brand stuck in the same old routines.
The only way we can move beyond this quagmire of faux-sympathy? Lift those up that are making a concerted effort to do real good, and do a sprinkle of real good yourself. You know it by now: consumers are increasingly more willing to spend money with brands they trust to do right for the world. It may be easier to do good on the (relatively) smaller stage than the mega brands arena-sized one , but maybe that’s the way things need to go. As these priorities get brought into even sharper focus (the world is ending, remember), the smart thing for everyone to do is to stop Doomwashing and start doing their bit. If we’re going down, we should go down swinging.
As ever, till next time misfits 😈