A very nice person called Claire made a very good point on comments about my recent consumerism horror post – that it was a bit ironic to see those sentiments coming from a fashion writer…
I couldn’t agree more (and she said it nicely…) and it did cross my mind when I decided to venture into such radical territory that people might think it was an odd bunch of ideas to come from a clothes pusher.
Because that is what fashion writers and fashion magazines have become. Pushers for the false highs of consumerism. Must haves! New season essentials! Buy this now! What you need for this season!
But I’m from a different generation. When I started working on magazines and going to fashion shows in the early 1980s it was all very different.
For one thing, we couldn’t feature clothes from chain stores because the printing deadlines were too long and the shops just weren’t set up to provide samples in advance. Most of them didn’t even have proper press offices.
Now they all have oiled machines constantly supplying product to the magazines which have become little more than catalogues of what to go out and buy.
In my day fashion was more about ideas. Obviously the designers supplying samples to be photographed by Vogue were keen to promote their wares, but very few of the readers actually went out and bought specific items – it was more about giving hints about the kind of thing you might like to buy.
I was once sent on a mission to buy a lovely shirt a (wealthy) friend of my mum’s had seen in Harpers. I was living in London, they were in the provinces and the ideas was I’d pop over to South Molton Street and pick it up from Browns for her.
After the utter thrill of having a valid excuse to enter the high fashion emporium I revered above all others, I was bewildered to find they didn’t have any of the shirts left, not understanding that they would only ever have had about four of them in the first place.
The women who bought serious designer clothes back then had a personal relationship with the assistants in the shops they frequented and would shop at the beginning of each season. They were outfitting a life, not feeding an addiction.
The rest of us used fashion mags for inspiration. With Friday night approaching, the teenage me would sit down and analyse the latest issues of Vogue and Honey magazine (which I eventually worked on… oh joy), to choose which look I would then interpret using items from the dressing up box, the army surplus store, charity shops, my sewing machine etc.
If I wanted, for example, something resembling a pair of leggings, I would dye long johns, or go to a dance wear store. It was a creative process, not a breathless shopathon.
Later on when I started covering the serious fashion shows in Paris and Milan, as well as London, it was still always the ideas that interested me. The context of new trends in relation to current socioeconomic shifts and political events; within fashion history; and the artistic development of individual designers.
I didn’t go to look at a walking shopping list.
That’s still how I see fashion. I’m fascinated by it for those reasons most of all. Of course, I love clothes for themselves and choosing a few key pieces which will update my wardrobe when new styles come in each year is always great fun (it’s all about my necklace with fluoro details for this summer…), but it’s still the ideas – and how they can be interpreted for real life and real bodies – that interest me the most.
So I was very interested, on Monday, to see the following words on an invitation to a book launch from my old friend and colleague, stylist and fashion historian Iain R Webb: ‘We’re not here to sell clothes.’
The book (picture above taken by Mark Lewis) is about his days as fashion director of iconic Blitz magazine in the early 1980s (when I first met him) and it sounds very much like he is making the same point as I am here.
I’ll see him on Friday, at the launch, so I can ask him about it and report back.
Read more about the book and the associated events at London’s ICA here: