July 11, 2014
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fashion choices bespeak who you are

Thom Browne: fashion industry’s top power force?
By Ryan Gallagher
This was more evident than ever in 2013, when you had to monitor the new trends

The fashion industry began 2013 full of creative bravado, financial swagger and fizzy good times. It ended the year trying to navigate through a self-created morass of moral turpitude.
Back in January, when the year was fresh and promising, the fashion industry was coming off a holiday season during which retail sales were up by 3 percent. It wasn’t as significant a bump as the National Retail Federation had projected, but considering the country’s streak of economic bad times, it was news to savour. Adding to the good mood, designers could look forward to four more years of first lady Michelle Obama serving as the de facto champion of US style on the world stage. And during the inaugural festivities, she certainly did not disappoint the fashion community with her wardrobe choices. She spoke their language with her selection of a tailoured coat and dress in silk jacquard by Thom Browne for the January 21 swearing-in.
From the White House to Hollywood to Paris, fashion talk was happy talk. In February, there were compliments for the young US designer Alexander Wang when he presented his first collection for the great French fashion house Balenciaga. And at the Academy Awards, there was the sweetly awkward tumble that actress Jennifer Lawrence took in Christian Dior couture on her way to accept the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence handled the fall with wit and grace, and that moment of human goofiness made the overwrought meringue of a dress all the more memorable — even relatable.
But by springtime, the tenor of the fashion conversation began to turn dark. What began as a product malfunction at the yoga-gear company Lululemon turned into a full-throated insult of women’s bodies by the brand’s chief executive — a kind of unforced error that marked a demi-trend among male fashion honchos.
The cost of cheap fashion became painfully, brutally obvious with this year’s factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 workers. Once again, US retailers, manufacturers and consumers scrambled to assess their culpability and responsibility for substandard work sites, impossibly low prices and community obligation in an interconnected global marketplace. The industry also struggled mightily with diversity. At times, fashion appeared to fully understand and reflect the changing demographics of luxury consumers. Some black models, such as Joan Smalls, seemed to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory, and designers such as Rick Owens — with his ode to African- American step teams — enthusiastically celebrated a broad definition of beauty on the runway. At other moments, when runway model line-ups were homogeneously white, the industry seemed not all that far removed from segregationist thinking.


Outstanding gifts of 2013

At long last, one of fashion’s leading designers officially recognized the senselessness of referring to a single shade of pale beige as “nude.” Shoe designer Christian Louboutin created a demi-line of classic pumps in shades ranging from chocolate brown to ivory and declared it his “nudes collection.” Mostly, it was savvy marketing — especially the app to help women find just the right shade. After all, there have always been shoes in brown, tan and beige. But luxury fashion is all about selling desire, fantasy, status, the dream of belonging. Louboutin noticed that women of colour were already participants in the lux fashion party; he just gave them a hearty, formal welcome.
Thom Browne is the most stubborn, inventive and eccentric designer the US fashion industry has produced in generations — perhaps ever.
He started in menswear but has since shifted into women’s, and this year he began to put that collection on the runway. He refuses to adhere to the dictates of trend forecasters; he ignores the theories about lifestyle dressing; he has conviction. And his work is blissfully fascinating, literary, weird, incomprehensible, and yet tucked away in all that crazy cacophony are lovely, tailored clothes.
This fall, after much lobbying, particularly from the members of the Model Alliance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation classifying models under the age of 18 as child performers.
To encourage more local manufacturing, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) partnered with Theory’s Andrew Rosen and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to create the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative. The project aims to provide financial grants to companies looking to grow, innovate and sustain clothing production facilities in New York.


Lumps of coal

Every recent step forward in creating a more diverse fashion community felt negated thanks to multiple accusations of racial profiling of customers at Macy’s and Barneys New York.
The bulk of the outrage landed at the doorstep of Barneys, thanks to its focus on luxury goods and all the insecurity, egotism, status and sense of privilege that stirs up. But Macy’s has stores across the country, and the very ubiquity of the retailer meant that its actions had the potential to affect a much broader swath of consumers.
The New York attorney general launched an investigation. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton climbed into the bully pulpit. And the Twitter-verse erupted with demands that Jay Z cancel his collaboration with Barneys — a product line to benefit his charity. Ultimately, Macy’s and Barneys denied their culpability.
And Jay Z asked for a seat at the table as retailers debated how to move forward. So far, Macy’s and Barneys — as well as New York retailers in general — have created a consumer bill of rights. At least that’s a start, yes? Not really. They haven’t even stepped out of the dugout.
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