Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Harry Peers Through The Looking Glass

There has been something of a debate recently on these pages about unwearable designs and the fashion writers role in promoting them.

The problem , it seems to me, lies with the fashion pundits
or style arbiters and what they say about these clothes, rather than with the designers.
It’s not only ok for the designers to produce clothes that are impractical and perhaps even unwearable: we want them to. We want to have glimpses of a fantastic world where fabulous people wear fabulous creations. It plays to our innate child like sense of wonder. We like to imaginatively believe that there is a wonder land somewhere out there . And, just as we did as children, we get to this land by reading about it , and, very importantly, by looking at pictures. The higher reaches of fashion and style have become , for many, the enchanted land that is populated by princesses , and princes, where real life is suspended and all sorts of things may , or may not , happen, just by dreaming of them. For many, of course, the door to this land can be found in the metaphorical wardrobe.

Most of us would maintain that we left fairy tales behind us years ago. We’re wrong . The fables that nurture us have just taken on a different guise. Hollywood once understood better the adult appetite for enchantment. Fred and Ginger didn’t just live in a world where people danced at the drop of a top hat. They lived in a world where people wore immaculate clothes, in houses with drawing rooms as big as a hangar, and rooms furnished in sleek cream leather. It may have been monochrome , but we were transported to a world of otherwise unimagined glamour.
Hollywood doesn’t seem to deliver this anymore ( perhaps it is Bollywood that has taken up the fabulist role)

So what are we left with? Fashion and style. And celebrity and gossip. And these volumes of fairy tales are published monthly, or weekly, and the newsstands are like carnival kiosks forever hawking new instalments.

Of course, some readers have a more refined taste . But for many a quick cheap fix will often do. I am referring to the acres of photographs devoted to second rate celebrities, and the spreads of the tacky lifestyles and bad taste mansions inhabited by the rich and famous. These celebrities don’t really pass muster as the princesses and prince charmings that we are looking for.
But in the more rarified reaches of fantasy inhabited by the likes of Vogue we do see a fabulous world. And it’s been designed by Prada or Galliano. And it’s been art-directed. And beautifully lit. And dramatically photographed. And populated by exotic and beautiful creatures. And they are wearing fabulous clothes. That we have never seen before. Or imagined.

That’s when the fashion writers step in and ruin it all. There is no point in telling people that this is what they must buy and wear. That’s actually got nothing to do with it. It should be about feeding the imagination , not laying down rules.

Not all fables appeal to all people. My advice is simply to devour and cherish the fables that you like. And ignore the commentator.

Occasionally the real world has palpitations when it seems that someone has managed to inhabit both the real and the fabulous world. Step forward Ms Paltrow, recently to be seen in just about every newspaper in the UK. The allure of Gwynneth in the highest of heels is surely because she plays to a sense of this fabulousness. She doesn’t need to run for a bus. Heavens, she doesn’t actually need to walk if she doesn’t want to. She has untold riches. Almost like living in a movie . And this is her way of communicating it. And we lap it up.


fran martini said...

As Gwynneth attempts to get down the stairs, she is tightly gripping the arm of the man. Obviously so she doesn't stack it. Her awkwardness adds to the dismal reality of blindingly stupid shoes. On the other hand, yes Harry, we do love the other worldliness, the glorious and disturbing fantasies (blimey, is that Merlin I see on the runway?).

Duchesse said...

"We want to have glimpses of a fantastic world where fabulous people wear fabulous creations." I'm not mad about this, Harry- I'm just annoyed and feel like a mark. I would much rather see Tilda Swinton in a simple, rather severe dress than Gwyneth's distorted feet. What some editors consider "aspirational" is that only for a very small minority of their audience.

Phyllis said...

But who is old duffer in the yellow housecoat? He's awesome...

lagatta à montréal said...

It is odd - Ms Paltrow is a lovely, svelte, still young woman and I would think that a lot of her animal appeal is the fact that she can bound weightlessly across a room. It seems very bizarre for her to be reduced to looking like an elderly invalid.

I certainly don't mean I want to see her attending ceremonies in sexless sacks of lycra-lout fitness gear. But when I observe exceptionally attractive young people, men or women, the way they move has as much to do with it as their facial features or even their particular body shape.

I certainly agree with you about imagination, though. I don't think that is the problem with contemporary fashion. Will have to ponder that some more.

By the way, how was your trip to Paris? Any other great expos or finds? Paris me manque beaucoup.

Isabelle said...

It's one thing to teeter around in fabulously impractical shoes. It's another to teeter around in fabulously impractical shoes that, against all odds, make one's legs look chunky.

Nadine said...

Awesome article. I completely agree.