Answer me this if you can: When you stock your wardrobe these days, do you buy fashion or do you buy clothes? I only ask because if you buy fashion, some people might think you look like something out of a carnival.
You might ask: So what? Aren’t we in an age when the abnormal is normal? When vulgarity reigns? When cutting-edge, hip, big and bold are all that matter?
Not in my world. To me it’s sad when a beautifully cut coat, suit or dress and a beautiful small handbag are considered passé or boring. After all, my dear mama always told me that one’s clothes shouldn’t draw attention or remark; it should be your wit, charm, intelligence and, for those lucky enough, natural beauty. That’s true style.
In the old days (not that long ago), the word “fashion” meant something that was new in shape and silhouette. Today, though, it’s almost impossible to tell what the shape or silhouette is, given all the accessories burying the clothes—cavernous bags, wide belts, oversize sunglasses and chunky jewelry—as designers scurry to pump up their sales in this Age of the Accessory. It’s almost as if the clothes don’t matter anymore; they’re the accessories to the bags and the shoes.
Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not preaching minimalism or Amish simplicity. But I remember when, as a budding journalist, I told my bosses that I wanted to be a fashion editor and they told me the most important news was always in the silhouette. The truth is, though, very few designers have changed it over the years, namely Balenciaga, Dior and Chanel. I was once so desperate to know what the new Balenciaga silhouette was that I rented an apartment across the street from the designer’s salon on Avenue Georges V and peered through the window with a pair of binoculars. What did I see? The chemise, which was dubbed the Sack Dress.
Alas, I was too young to witness the birth of the New Look at Dior, which I always regret. That was a true liberation for women, and we are unlikely to see an impact like that on fashion ever again. Now it’s all changed—some for the better, some for the worse. While shows then offered clothes that would actually be sold—or copied by American retailers for sale in their own stores—now the collections are more about marketing and hype than they are about clothes. Which celebrities are in the front row? How much TV exposure can the designer get? What kind of striking set can be built for the show? It truly is like a three-ring circus.
In the old days, the press often didn’t matter; it was the clients that designers cared about. In fact, Balenciaga loathed most of the hoi polloi press, and Yves Saint Laurent even banned them at one point. You’d think designers today would start to wise up. Don’t they see the figures and realize that, even as luxury goods boom, the bulk of sales are in bags, shoes, sunglasses and other accessories, not clothes? Aren’t they worried?