Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Two Minds

Marcus Dawes for LFW Daily

The Topshop Tumblr

Cognitive dissonance is a phrase used to describe being in two minds at once – the ability to hold entirely opposing views at the same time. It’s the perfect definition of my current feelings towards London Fashion Week, and by extension to the industry in general.

I love fashion. I wouldn’t have this blog if I didn’t. I think that dressing up is magnificent, with personal style a powerful and satisfying form of creativity. It can be playful, whimsical, dramatic – whichever adjective is best suited. My friend Stella claims that: “every outfit reflects a bit of me, a piece of art that I have created.” ‘Expression’ is an over-used term, but it captures the essence of the potential found in clothes. What you wear can tell a story, convey personality (or obscure it), provide an antidote to routine and make life a touch more joyous. I have a wardrobe pregnant with velvet and tulle, seventies dresses and kilts, printed shirts and fringed tops. Hats cover every surface, jewellery drapes the dressing table and belts hang like creepers on the back of my door. My room is glutted on style, and I relish the prospect of getting dressed each morning.
I’m also entranced by those designers who elevate cutting and stitching to an art form: the late Alexander McQueen placing models in Russian princess style costumes, Mary Katrantzou enlarging a type-writer print on a cape that wouldn’t look out of place in the Bodleian library, Corrie Nielsen tailoring dresses to mimic flowers. The brilliance of fashion is demonstrated in these designs – in the colours, the structures, the narratives behind the collections. It is an industry of rich heritage – from Schiaparelli’s avant-garde creations to Chanel’s casual couture – with new innovators emerging every year.

And yet, beneath this beautifully trimmed exterior, there are elements of the fashion industry that I am less comfortable with. I’m uneasy in the knowledge that many clothes (high street and high end alike) are produced in factories where workers are exploited and rivers stained with dyes and chemicals. I have qualms over the body shape that models are expected – nay required – to conform to. I’m aware that there is something suspect in the success and celebration of a luxury market at a time when unemployment in the UK stands in the region of 2.56 million. These are brief generalisations, but typify a few of my recent multi-layered thoughts. How do I reconcile promotion of and immersion in a world I don’t always feel proud of? Can I enjoy certain aspects of the industry whilst criticizing others?

The short answer is ‘of course’. As humans we naturally hold conflicting views and are fickle in switching when suited. Opinions evolve and change. But these chattering questions became clamorous at London Fashion Week. The experience is always intense – both incredible and ever-so-slightly unsettling. As usual, I was swept away by the theatricality (which I discussed in an article for Lionheart magazine) - with the combination of collections and well-dressed attendees providing a visual feast. Bora Aksu’s show was ethereal and fairytale-like; Fyodor Golan suggested both fragility and strength in a corset of shattered porcelain; Ji Cheng’s pieces inspired by Chinese tea-brewing rituals were airy and earthy. I eyed up Pachacuti’s hats in icecream shades and stroked Junky Styling’s practical, boy scout-esque capes.

I also had fun planning what to wear – with Charlotte Taylor silk prints on one day, and a second hand Moschino floral-embroidered blazer on another. However, I left LFW feeling a little ambivalent about the nature of street style. I’ve listed a range of talented photographers before – Dvora, Vanessa, Candice and Marcus among them – whose work I value and enjoy. LFW affords the chance to dress up in the company of other people interested in aesthetics. Nonetheless, this season I realized that I subconsciously judged my outfits according to how many photographers asked to snap it. It’s a precarious point to be at, where self-worth (or at least satisfaction) is reactionary – informed by the opinions of others. I like to stress the importance of doing things for oneself, but it is easier preached than practised. The outfit pictured above roused the most attention, and as a result I felt happy with it. It has no more intrinsic worth than what I wore on the other two days, and of course style is also in the eye of the beholder, but does that mean that it stands out as being the most ‘successful’?

There has been a general cloud of chatter around street style this season, focused primarily on two criticisms: outlandishness and commercialism. The former is harder to define, as some of the best-dressed people I know are deliciously outlandish. But they are authentic – not ornamenting themselves purely for the flash of a camera. The latter, commercialism, is manifested in the showcasing of the ‘latest’ heels or the ‘hottest’ handbags on the arms of show goers. Again, I know there is a gossamer thin line to tread. I  asked to borrow a Charlotte Taylor top because I completely believe in her vision, and wished to wear one of her beautiful pieces. I received no financial compensation, and chose the cabbage pattern as being something I would want to buy and wear myself. But there has been a general shift from street style as a celebration of creativity to a further form of (often covert) advertising.

This is neither a full-blown criticism of the industry, or a defence of it at all costs. I like to challenge those who claim that fashion is frivolous or without substance, but also want to acknowledge that it is by no means a perfect business. The first step to change is discussion. I haven’t suggested any ways to rectify the issues I have raised (although I certainly hope to explore this in the future). I just wanted to air them – shake them out and hold them up in full view. 

Dress - sixties' vintage (a Christmas present), felt hat - vintage (Oxfam), chelsea boots - charity shop, socks - formerly my grandma's, pale grey long jacket - Max Mara (charity shop), belt - great grandmother's, jewelry - family hand-me-downs, small blue satchel bag - charity shop.

By the way, I finally set up a Clothes, Cameras and Coffee Facebook page - a little empty at the moment, but hopefully not for long. 


Jem said...

Rosalind, you summed up so many of my thoughts on this issue so succintly, I'm neither a fashion blogger nor a follower of trends (generally speaking) - yet I do love keeping up with the collections of my favourite designers and seeing the LFW posts from my favourite fashion bloggers. What I enjoy most about your blog is that you delve beneath the purely aesthetic and raise thoughtful points with almost everything you post!

Jem xXx

Sacramento Amate said...

You are a ray of blue light in each photo, Rosalind.
About the rest, perphaps we could talk over a cup of tea one day, Wouldn´t it be grand???
Much love and admiration ALWAYS.

Vix said...

I'm not surprised you got snapped and admired, of all the Fashion Week street style photos I've seen you look fabulous but totally natural and non-contrived.
I can't give an opinion on fashion as I know nothing about it. xxx

Fashion Tales said...

I believe in wearing what's true to yourself and not just for the flash of the camera or authentic as you've stated. This is a good discussion shared. You look radiant in blue. I was just off to see if the lovely Dvora captured you as well. -xx/Madison

Closet Fashionista said...

Oooh I love this look, definitely worthy of lots of photos!
And you raise so many great points, I agree with them all its funny how we can love something and still have objections to it as well. Hopefully some day things will change

Jean at www.drossintogold.com said...

Ah, the conundrum. Fashion is like money, neither good nor bad, by itself. The question is what is it used for and what drives it? Is it commercialism/greed/the I-ME-MINE mentality, or is it a generosity of spirit/creativity/art that embraces many voices and consequently inspires more creativity. We have to be conscious and selective of who/what we embrace, and why.

As a beautiful young person, you have the opportunity to question with a louder voice, one that can be heard in a marketplace that's potentially corrupt. But as you point out, there are designers who have integrity and vision. I appreciate your discerning view.

In the meantime, let's play dress-up as we did when we were children. The magic is there, for all of us.

Melanie said...

I relate to your feelings about fashion or styling in general. I lament that I don't see more individual style on the streets, but I also feel deflated when I see conformity through style trends. This year I saw young children in TV ads promoting clothing brands for back-to-school, which makes me anxious for families that can't afford these clothes for their children, who are under style conformity pressure at younger and younger ages. My thoughts blow wildly on this topic and this post is refreshing.

You look stunning in every photo. It's funny how our outfits affect others' perceptions of us - same person, different fabrics.

styleeast said...

I think a lot of us have been reflecting similarly after this season's fashion week (Jen from Syle Crusader did a post about streetstyle and the comments are fascinating). Personally, i'm in a similar place to you, torn between what I love and what I feel less comfortable with. As a streetstyle blogger, however, I feel sad that things seem to be changing (and that I get fewer shots every season)...until I remind myself that I'm fortunate to be there at all

Emalina said...

What a thoughtful piece of writing Rosalind, which really sums up my ambivalence about fashion.

I make a distinction between enjoying beautiful clothes - my granny was a couturier, and dressing up is a joy to me - and appreciating the 'fashion world' with its elitism and focus on consumerism and trends, which I reject. The values of the fashion industry become increasingly meaningless to me as I grow older.

It must be a challenge, if you're thinking of making a career within the fashion industry or editorials, to know how to remain true to your conflict about the methods and values of fashion. But I'm sure you'll find a way to make it work and explore your ambivalences from within.

Anonymous said...

This post really resonates with me, as I'm sure it will many bloggers and fashion lovers alike. As you rightly say, there is a fine line between celebration, fun and frivolity, and the connotations, work conditions and enforced ideas of beauty that come with fashion.

Street style is something I have personally become disillusioned with after it turned from genuine 'in the moment' photos to constructed images of models, or celebrities and bloggers paid to wear/advertise a particular brand/product.

Thrifted Shift said...

Thank you for bringing to light here so many issues that are important to me as a clothing consumer and citizen of the planet.

Willow said...

I love fashion (even if I don't follow it) and like you I have opposing thoughts about it. And you've summed them all up perfectly.

I love your outfit (the pattern of that dress looks like a combination of blue roses and stormy clouds.) I also saw your Charlotte Taylor ensemble in a photo posted on the blog 'Colour Me Nana.' And I loved it!

adrielleroyale said...

Very interesting thoughts...beautiful colors on your dress, brings me back to summer :)

Fashion art and other fancies said...

Beautifully wriiten, Rosalind. You are such a bright light. I adore being playful. frivolity is my inspiration. I love being comical, on the other hand, I don't know much about Fashion, but I adore being creative.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

My thoughts echo yours completely. I often berate myself for getting satisfaction from of compliments on my appearance thinking I am falling prey to this side of fashion and image. So often, I remind myself -- with everything I do in life -- that it is "Substance" that matters. But what if that substance is aesthetics and creativity? Does it have to be hideous to be intellectual? Can't the substance be accessible too? So yes, I live in a perpetual state of arguing with myself!

I was in ballet class a few months ago, desperately trying to get back into physical shape after a year of barely dancing. When I commented about how dejected I always got looking at myself in the mirror, another dancer told me "Just don't look anymore!" I realized I had to rely on the internal joy I felt from the movement rather than the disappointing reflection. But now, I am getting my strength and flexibility back, and I am again falling into critiquing every line I present in space ...

You look lovely as always. That starburst belt perfectly radiates towards those clouds of blue in your dress! -- J xxx

Rainbow Gatherer said...

great colour and lovely photos.
I'll be happy if you check out my blog too=)

Zoë said...

I love the way you write, and how you're not another 'fashion blogger', all pictures and no substance. You're the thinking teenagers pin-up, truly an inspiration. The comments and feedback you receive in each post are a testament to the depth of thought you put into every sentence you write, you've got a loyal group of followers and it must be so reassuring to find so many kindred spirits when you read your pending comments!

Fashionistable said...

Ah so this was the lovely outfit I missed you in. But the others were beautiful too. I like to think I cover all the facets of street style and do this because I don't just shoot during the fashion weeks. It is certainly easier to shoot during the fashion weeks as there is a huge amount of people who go to great pains to look wonderful - whether sponsored or not. The trick is finding the gems on regular days and takes longer but it is wonderful to go hunt for them. Xxxx

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more. Other than what you've mentioned, I feel that although the 'glamorous' aspect to the industry is certainly appealing, the preoccupation with parties, photo-shoots and events can easily divert an individual from what they truly wish to achieve from the fashion industry, which is to express one's style, to be confident and to respect and appreciate all forms of this spectacular art. Sometimes, it truly feels that people are more enraptured by the glittery, glamorous and famed aspect of fashion e.g. attending Fashion Weeks, being photographed by gifted photography mavens and rubbing shoulders with some of the most flawless luminaries in the business, than with actual fashion. I honestly hope that I'm able to guide myself in the right path and avoid succumbing that.

A very thought-provoking blogpost, dear. I'm so in love with your writing and I am especially in love with how you choose to don unique yet highly affordable pieces - that's something I don't see often by fashion bloggers, and it's something I wholly respect of you.

Love, Fatima (fashionpilgrim)
Twitter: @fashpilgrim
Instagram: @fashionpilgrim

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