Regular readers of this blog will know that I go back and forth when it comes to this whole fashion thing.
Some days I see it as an amazing tool for creativity and transformation, that wielded with the correct eye and skill, affords the capacity to “become” a different person each day or the week. Other days, I believe it encourages us to invest too much into appearances, peddling the myth that “if only we were beautiful enough, fashionable enough, thin enough, our lives would magically become better.” Not to mention reinforcing the idea that a woman’s value - her fabulousness - can be found in how she looks.
On this particular day, I find myself sitting somewhere in the middle. I do think that our perception of what it “fashionable” hinges as much on adherence to a narrow body type (and wealth, obvs) as it does on creativity and aesthetic nous. But I also think that some of the outfits worn on the pavements outside the major fashion weeks are incredible, and I respect the visual intelligence of the women and men who put them together. I certainly don’t have it myself!
And I am fascinated by what International Herald Tribune editor Susie Menkes calls the “peacocking” side of fashion, the degree to which what we currently and collective perceive as “stylish” is driven by what is photographable and shareable on social media. So I decided to head down to London Fashion Week a couple of weeks ago to check out the scene and write about it for Daily Life.
Here is a taster of what I came up with:
“A mix of social media, digital photography, and reality TV culture have turned fashion professionals like Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo, fashion retailer Moda Operandi’s Taylor Tomasi Hill, Wonderland Magazine’s Julia Sarr-Jamois and Vogue Australia fashion director Christine Centenera into international celebrities, whose images are sought out by photographers, sold for cash, and reproduced and emulated by fashion fans online, on websites such as Pinterest, Polyvore and Tumblr.
And while the scene at Somerset House isn’t all fringed caps and oversized cat’s heads, there is a uniformity of purpose to the pin-thin heels, oversized accessories, designer logo t-shirts, and bare legs in near-freezing temperatures. They are dressing for the camera, and for social media, where he or she with the most dramatic outfit – think Dello Russo’s fruit-shaped hats or Tomasi Hill’s cartoonishly large Comme de Garcon shorts – wins.”
And to leave you, a picture one of my favourite looks from London Fashion Week, from the outstandingly well put together Soraya De Carvalho:
Elsewhere: Street style and the attention economy (Daily Life)
“A friend of mine recently said, ‘Dude, I didn’t know you’re a TV presenter! I thought you were some rich b**** whose dad paid for her to stay here.’ I really I hope I don’t appear stupid…” She raises a perfect eyebrow. “Model hang-ups.”
“I feel like I’m blagging it, even now. On stage at the Fashion Awards, standing with the other winners who worked really hard to achieve their success, it was like I’d been given a prize for having a pretty face.”
That is the subject of next week’s mag article.
It’s not just Alexa, though. It’s Olivia Palermo, Daisy Lowe, Lauren Conrad, Whitney Port, Kate and Pippa Middleton, Kim Kardashian, Miranda Kerr, Lara Bingle, Edie Sedgwick and all those women have pushed down on our throats on a daily basis as interesting, aspirational, sparky and fabulous… all by virtue of the fact that they are beautiful and wear clothes well.
Don’t get me wrong - I love me some Alexa (and Olivia and Daisy…) as much as the next ladymag reader. When I first saw her photos floating around the internet back in 2008 or so, I was entranced. There’s just something about her that draws the eye. The woman oozes “cool”. Yet it is a coolness that is not consequence of what she does but of how she looks.
It’s like Caitlin Moran writes in my favourite chapter of How To Be A Woman, about her teen desire to be first a princess, then a muse:
I wanted to be a muse. I wanted to be a muse quite badly. To be so incredible that some band wrote a song about me, or some writer based a character on me, or a painter produced canvas after canvas of me, in every mood, that hung in galleries around the world. Or even a handbag. Jane Birkin inspired a handbag. By way of contrast I would happily have settled for my name on a plastic Superdrug bag.
Because that’s what most of the famous-for-being-famous women we admire are - or at least the reason they’re sold to us as being worthy of admiration. Muses, elevated for their faultless embodiment of different personas of femininity. And it makes me profoundly uncomfortable, in the same way that the businesswomen who are so often promoted to us are promoted on the basis that they produce products that will help us look, dress and smell like these women (here in the UK, you will often read about how “fragrant” the Middletons are).
And yet, I also feel somewhat conflicted about my discomfort. I’m not against aesthetics, after all - I once moved into a house based primarily on the fact that I liked my future housemates’ decor (which turned out to be a fairly decent indicator of broader compatability), and I recoil every time I have dress in a manner that doesn’t feel “like me”.
I’m open to the idea that the ability to put together a “look” is a form of self-expression worth celebrating, like music, literature, or fashion design. And I’m also conscious that - in some of the above cases, at least - the problem isn’t that the women themselves aren’t worth celebrating, so much as it is the things we celebrate about them.
And yet, it still makes me uncomfortable. I’m going to chat to a whole bunch of folks about this next week to get my thoughts in better order (and hopefully to a place of greater insight), but to help me along that journey, I’d like to first throw it out to you.
Does “it girl lust” make you uncomfortable? Do you wish we had more substantial role models, or that we celebrated more substantial things about our role models? What do you think is the appeal of these ladymag staples?