written by Seth Friedermann
photo by Aeric Meredith-Goujon
The system of values that governs both the action and conversation in global fashion is horribly askew. If you’re a reader of my writing, have met me, or even vaguely know what I care about, then you will know that I’m not happy about the way the “fashion industry” treats the designers who are in fact the actual fashion industry. The ability to make bank and be seen around celebrities is placed so far above imagination and craftsmanship that the traits are actually absent from thinking and conversation both inside and outside the industry. The ignorant obsession of the fashion industry with everything other than the actual creation of brilliant clothing and accessories is a symptom of a much larger problem.
The heart of that problem is that most people don’t understand the value of arts and literature, and fashion is an art form. They can’t see the benefit in their day-in day-out lives, and that’s where most people make their decisions, and correctly so. The choice to buy a 5lb bag of really bad for you onion rings because it’s $4.99 vs a $7.00 dollar single serving of an organic healthy meal is no choice at all if you’re worried about money, or worse yet hunger. This is the world that we live in, cooked down to its essence. So it goes with clothing. The cheap clothing chains commission companies who pay next to nothing to workers who work in danger and squalor to produce poorly made clothes so that those same chains can then sell $6.00 shirts to those for whom that price is the only way they can afford it. The equation is, the poor make things for the slightly less poor, and people get rich off of it. It’s one of the most perverse equations I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how to stop it.
What I do know how to do is explain to people why things matter. Why literature and art matter, why really amazing fashion design matters. That explanation is simple enough too; it matters because you can’t do it. You can’t make fabric do exactly what you want, fall how you want, move how you want. You can’t construct, let alone conceive, that which these women and men do every year, season after season. Fashion matters because it’s art you get to wear. Most art stays indoors, it’s locked up or privately owned. We build museums and have exhibitions and performances because we understand that art has the power to inspire, to cause change, to move people. We know in our guts that art belongs to the people. Fashion has that power, too but we’ve lost the sense of that. These names; Dior, Balenciaga, Balmain, James, Halston. These aren’t brands, they were people: gifted, extraordinary artists who had a gift from the Universe. A gift they shared, a gift we can wear into the world. How amazing that is.
Here’s what I want. I want you to stop thinking of clothing as a product, as a convenience. It’s capable of being so much more. It can be your statement of beauty and power. It can be elegant and moving. It can be tough and cool. I want you to start to understand that what Naeem Khan does, or Monique Lhuillier, or Eric Kim, or Jen Kao, is make art. Special incredible art that only they can make, art that can help you express something special and incredible too. I know, I get it, it’s expensive, but great work that takes so much time and energy to create should be expensive. So it may be out of your reach except as vintage, though there’s nothing wrong with great vintage. But what about the young designer in your town or in the city market you go to on weekends. Take a longer look at their work, at them. Their work is special too, and who knows, maybe I’ll be interviewing them backstage at Lincoln Center a few seasons from now. How smart would you look then, owning an original that you bought before they broke out?
If you visit modaCYCLE or even look at fashion, it shows it already means something to you. Start to honor that now while the artists are alive and you can say “thank you, and you moved me, and I looked damn good while it was happening thanks to you.” These women and men are special and to be treasured. So, by the way, are you. Aren’t you tired of looking like everybody else who gets their style from some magazine? You can do better, we all can do better. So when you get to that place where decisions are made, make it with your values, choose based on the fact that you value art, and the talent that produces it.