Finally, fashion is starting to make sense
Following the fashion world descending from celebrity castles to TikTok videos, as a bystander
For me, it starts within the deep snows of the Ural region of Russia. My university classmates repost translations of luxury runway shows, show off statement bags and LV checkered patterns. I move through the city wearing a second-hand fur coat, huge wool boots, and up to five layers of pants. It was hard to figure out which one of us looks more ridiculous.
Fashion enters my world as someone’s desperate dreams, so far from my everyday reality that I couldn’t even feel anything about them. “You know what’s luxury” — they whisper — “it’s these Prada shoes, that Birkin bag, that Balmain latex suit”. “You know what’s real luxury” — my grandmother teaches me — “it’s when you don’t let the cold bite you in the ass.”
“You know what’s real luxury” — my grandmother teaches me — “it’s when you don’t let the cold bite you in the ass.”
For a long time, I assumed I just wasn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate the whims of another charmingly insane, detached designer. I’ve memorized the names of the brands, I’ve studied the right tone for a gasp over yet another statement garment. I made peace with the fact that the fashion industry is never going to make any sense to me. That it will remain a distorted, secluded mirror that reacts to the events of our world but never acts upon them.
But maybe it was them who were wrong all along.
When the angels come down to Earth
“Reality Has a Starring Role at Milan Fashion Week” says the title of one of the most shared news articles on the 2020 fashion week. It’s like the Covid-19 emergency was that sharp needle that had pierced the secluded world of fashion designers, the author muses, making them consider natural colors, imperfections, and the backdrops featuring actual streets with real people.
My personal wardrobe is collected using one simple principle: it should feel comfortable enough in it if I’m invited to a fancy restaurant (rare) — and if I’m eating a kebab at 11 pm on the stairs of a train station of a random European town (more likely). I usually find this kind of clothing in second-hand shops and independent designer stores — but this year, the good half of the runway looks are perfect for a midnight snack on the outskirts.
this year, the good half of the runway looks are perfect for a midnight snack on the outskirts.
The understated approach to luxury is not news: it’s a way for the industry to react to the shocks and crises of the outside world. The ripped jeans of the 90s owe their popularity to the grunge style — but also to the very recent memory of the terrorist attacks. Understated luxury is a place of comfort, something that signals “please-don’t-touch-me-I’m-not-rich-at-all” to the outside world.
When the danger is passed, it bounces right back to even more exaggerated, flamboyant, unrealistic, “statement” looks.
But this time, it might be different.
This time, there are much bigger shifts challenging the status-quo of the fashion industry as a whole.
- We’ve got the climate change to worry about — and the fashion industry is responsible for at least 4% of all the CO2 emissions, 20% of wastewater worldwide, and don’t get me started on the luxury houses burning unsold clothes to maintain their exclusivity.
- We’ve started to question the very definition of chic, success, and affluence: we demand brands that have a purpose besides profits, we expect public figures and corporations to walk the talk, and charity activities are not enough to stop the critique.
- Even if the fashion industry might appear as a source of all evil (i.e. pollution, exploitation, and inequality) in the world, it can be used as a tool to fix the same issues: from the simplicity of the bracelets made of the ocean plastic to the complex projects like those of Stella Jean, aiming to give back to the rural, artisanal communities in developing countries.
And, on top of these data-backed, paradigm-shifting concerns,
being down-to-earth is just fun.
This August, a TikToker (is it how you call them?) Morgan Presley made a ridiculous video where she parodied the signature Gucci style. It took off on the internet, as these things do.
What is not usual is the fact that the fashion house had rolled with the joke: it decided to host all the #GucciModelChallenge meme videos on its own page — each one giving a further spin to the ridiculousness to the initial video voiceover.
And yes, this might be seen as a calculated marketing effort to hype up the brand relevance for Gen Z, but it drives the point home anyway: fashion doesn’t belong to dreamy non-existent locations and made-up stories — it is something that lives in messy rooms and busy streets; it is not the territory of the chosen few — it belongs to people who can spot your bullshit and make fun of it any day of the week.
And just like this, fashion is forced to finally make sense.
My personal role within Milan Fashion Week is the one of the background. I wasn’t invited to the runways, — I live here: along with the crones dressed as queens, homeless people with their portable castles, and bankers in Brioni suits cycling to the office. And as the background, this is what I see coming back to my apartment after a late dinner out:
- a family eating outside by a food truck, their dog looking at me with tired, kind eyes;
- a young, skinny prostitute standing on the roadside;
- a flock of foreign fashion correspondents falling out of a fancy location into the chilly midnight streets — shining bare shoulders, velvets, heels, confused shrieks in British;
- two middle-aged Taiwanese men who sat by the steps of my building, sharing a takeout and stories of their lives.
Right now, the above sentence looks like a “find the odd one” exercise, but I’m hopeful: one day, fashion might turn from the language of hate and despise serving to the ruling classes, — and into something that we all might share.