fashion / opinions

“Do You Like My New Coat?,” How High Fashion Labels Outweigh The Clothes

As I’ve mentioned a few times (sometimes slyly, sometimes not), I lost my steam for fashion during this fashion season. I started out so strong, calling out what was ugly, pointing out accoutrements that would take at least eighteen hours to get out of my head, choking down bile for the good of the viewership, swooning when acceptable, et cetera. There was something that happened, though, between the end of London and the Parisian finale, and it wasn’t just me. The internet seemed to be in a collective malaise when it came to beloved designers and you could practically feel the cringing behind the typed comments of “what happened to this designer?” and “so, if I’m to correctly guess, the inspiration of this line was the pubic hair of Lady Gaga…right?” Fan favorites and big names, such as Gucci, Givenchy, Tom Ford, and (Yves) Saint Laurent produced groans and the question of “is Fall/Winter 2013.14 one of the worst seasons ever?”


In all of my years observing fashion, I’ve never seen that question posed. Sure, there’ve been seasons where things have felt somewhat stagnate, maybe a line or two had people clicking “x” on their browser, but never have I seen a season underwhelm the masses to this extent. Well, that is, if you’re only paying attention to the well-established houses; while a lot of the huge houses produced mediocre clothing, there were many smaller institutions that pumped out and proudly showed exquisite designs that seemed to cry out have faith, have faith, innovation exists! Still, because the larger houses aren’t pumping out clothes that invoke a giddy reaction of glee, there are claims left and right of there being “tents, but no circus.” Carine Roitfeld, fashion powerhouse and former editor of French Vogue, croons that “[fashion is] less light-hearted, less spontaneous. Fashion has become an industry, one that increasingly stifles creation.”


Alright, fashion is an industry. That’s absolutely nothing new. The underlying reasoning for fashion is not creative expression or whatever people who spend $40k on a fur jacket are going to spout off, but money and exclusivity—duh. That said, there was a period where things felt fresh and inventive, where you could see someone spending that much money (note: I actually can’t envision that justification, but roll with me) on an investment piece because of the exquisiteness. Yet, with the death of Alexander McQueen, the very loud fall from grace of John Galliano (though I do actually love Raf for Dior), the stale designs of Karl Lagerfeld (and his mild egomania driven insanity), Donnatella Versace’s pleather nightmares, and the actions of he-who-ruins-classic-houses Hedi Slimane, there seems to be a strange air behind the curtains of all of the houses. Why buy one of these Balmain outfits when you could buy them autographed for ten bucks from MC Hammer? Why would you buy this Versace dress when you can just wear a garbage bag? Answer: the label.


Which got me thinking, where does the label come into play and how much does it weigh into the actual worth of the clothing?


A lot, about as much as you’d expect in luxury brands. A couple of years ago I did a lot of research into what happens to the excess stock after a season is over; the answers varied between burning them, destroying them in other ways (I can recount a Coach worker [clearly taking the definition of “luxury brand” loosely] saying they delighted in ripping the seams apart in the “ugly merch”), selling them at a slightly reduced price to employees, and selling them to other boutiques—on one condition: they snip out the brand label and all other shadows of the house, e.g. buttons or linings with the insignia. It’s okay to sell the clothes at a fraction of the cost, just as long as people don’t know that you’re doing it. A label is the only difference in a white cotton t-shirt costing $10 or $150. After all, as Cathy Horyn notes, “a box of labels is worth a million.”


Maybe, I’m not fully qualified to talk about the subject, as I’ve never had desire to be that girl with the Louis Vuitton bag or the Chanel “C” belt (frivolity, taste, snobbery, and stinginess being contenders for reasoning). I’ve always gravitated to well-constructed clothes at fraction costs. I definitely will invest a few more dollars into something like a sweater or a pair of shoes if it means that it will handle more wear and tear—there is a reason I bought it, after all, and it’s the style, not because of the name, it’s because if I really dig a pair of flats and they fall apart after a week of wear, it was a poor investment and I wasted my time/money. Quality is very important, yet it doesn’t have to come at the expense of a down payment on a house. A decent brand with reasonably stylish and well-constructed clothes is just as good as a more expensive counterpart, if you’re buying for the style and not bragging rights.


But, and this is a huge, emboldened but, people do buy for bragging rights. It’s the same reasoning people buy the most exclusive cars, the latest Rolex, and basically engage in a competition of who’s wallets are more well-endowed—it’s the reasoning that leads to so many sports-related bankruptcies, only a lot of the people in fashion never hit the bottom of the bank (unless you’re the designers themselves). If they don’t have the latest label from the latest season, what will their social circle think? God, what if they think you’re poor? That’s a fate worse that a torturously slow death.


I’ve always been of the mind that you should dress for yourself and not other people. If it happens to be that the only way you feel comfortable and confident is when you’re coated in brand names and material goods that you can mention bring up in conversation, there are probably some underlying self-esteem issues lurking. The only people who will be putting up thousands of dollars for a Saint Laurent lace dress, Gucci’s bird flu gowns, or the ferociously ugly Fendi fur coats, are people who want the label to shine in their closet, because it sure as hell isn’t because the pieces are nice to look at.


I think it’s sad and a shame that the value of the label is outweighing the clothes. Scott of theFashionSpot is hopeful of a transitional period, where the conglomerate houses will have to revamp and reassess their style in order to keep up with the independent labels that are blowing them out of the water. “[…] I feel like this has been the most promising [season] I’ve witnessed for several years. […] I think we may be on the verge of another revolution.”


We can only hope he’s right.


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