Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How to Like Fashion Without Being A Twit

fashion illustration

If we have to blame anyone, it's the woman who blankets herself in labels every day. She leaves the house in her Tory Burch flats while carrying a bag covered in Gucci G's. She commits multi-label violations and expects people to take her seriously. It's part conspicuous consumption, part status symbol, and for good measure, throw in a dash of insecurity. She makes liking fashion unfashionable, a silly hobby for dilettantes and dim wits.

It's a shame because when it comes to work and raw creativity, the fashion industry demands high amounts of both. Those runway shows don't put themselves together, and each must be created around a solid theme. In 2008 I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post, explaining why Fashion week mattered not just for the buyers who had to be there, but for the creative community as a whole.

And there is nothing like a true luxury item to mark a special occasion. If you got a new job or big promotion, girl, get yourself something nice. Even I asked for baubles from Baccarat after having a baby a few years ago. But wearing too many at one time can cause suspicion. Why so flashy?

I'm a firm believer that if you're going to be into something, be into it. Be nerdy and know it on a molecular level. If men can be dorks about their fantasy football leagues then there is no reason why someone who likes the artistry and creativity of fashion can't have an intelligent relationship with it.

Here is how you do it:

1. Watch some movies: The best place to start is with The September Issue, the 2010 documentary that followed Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington as they put together the mega issue. Wintour comes across exceptionally well, as a smart but firm editor, not to mention a mother.

Along those lines, Valentino, The Last Emporer is a fascinating look at a year in the life of Valentino, as he puts together his last collection before his retirement. His legacy is miles wider than I think most people realize, and his creative process -- not to mention his middle aged seamstresses -- are a delight.

Since everyone seems obsessed with the 1970s lately, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, is an amazing documentary about the rise and fall of the fashion giant. Since Halston's reign was only 30 years ago, the producers were able to track down many of his associates, including models, who give very candid interviews.

2. Read some books: In light of the recent Bangladesh garment factory disaster, a lot of attention has been paid to the book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price Of Cheap Fashion. As a consumer, it's important to know certain stores keep prices low and what conditions are like in the factories where they are made. You can then decide if you want to be part of it.

Another important book to read, which is now in paperback, is Dana Thomas' genius look at the luxury industry, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She goes through the history of many of the brands and how they function in our modern world. I've always found it to be a great gift.

3. Those fashion magazines have words in them: Fashion mags are great for flipping through while getting a pedicure, but in between all those shiny pages are actual articles, and 90% of the time they are very good. Conde Nast and Hearst can afford to hire good writers, and those writers deliver. This month Vogue has a memoir by Molly Ringwald and Elle is known for their pro-female articles and columnists. E. Jean, anyone?

4. There are a lot of inspiring stories: Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx as Ralph Lifshitz. His father painted houses for a living. In a 2006 interview with New York magazine, Vera Wang admitted she was living off her parents well into her mid-30s, until she reluctantly put together a bridal line. No matter where you are in your career, fashion is full of success stories that will give you a swift kick in the pants to get you to level up in life.

5. Get some culture: Creativity begets more creatvity, and it's easier to understand collections and runway shows, even as a casual consumer, if one understands the larger world of the arts. Theater, ballet, dance and books all heavily influence the designers whose shows we want so desperately to see. Where one person sees just a blouse, a more enlightened one will see a chemise that references costumes of Madame Butterfly.

6. Accept that fashion is a business: We all want to have nice things, but where you are, economically, will dictate what kinds of products you are exposed to. Brands make a lot of money marketing to the aspirational shopper -- the woman who wants something designer but can't afford anything from the current collection. So she buys the perfume, the handbag covered in logos or maybe some sunglasses. These are entry level items that are easy to obtain and hopefully will lead to larger purchases down the road.

Understand that the Calvin Klein dress you buy at TJ Maxx or Marshalls is a vastly different product than what you would buy in the store on Madison Avenue. Designers create different lines for different stores. I am always shocked when people do not realize this. So even after you buy that dress at the discount shop, you still own 0% Calvin Klein.