“NORTHew is every designer’s nightmare ”, lamented Miuccia Prada in a recent interview. And in the year of Covid’s lockdown on the fashion world, the new nightmare meant turning the generally organized catwalks in Paris, Milan, or New York to an almost entirely online format for the rest of us, at home, scrolling through. of small content on pocket screens. .
Lookbook photos, which used to be the budget option of fashion week, are now part of the course, while some brands opted for videos to spark excitement for clothes that no one has to wear. For this month’s fashion week, JW Anderson and Stefano Pilati took video tours of their collections. Prada and Raf Simons hosted a question and answer session broadcast live against a green screen backdrop. We got a Balenciaga video game that everyone cared about and a Ralph Lauren video game that nobody cared about. Celine and Dior organized catwalk videos in interchangeable European palaces. If this excess theatricality suggests overcompensation for the looks themselves, it’s because the Covid fashion experience has expanded into something weirder beyond actual clothing.
The digitization of fashion has been a trend for a decade, which Covid relentlessly accelerated. Nobody is happy with this. The screen has devalued centuries-old traditions in craftsmanship in favor of oversaturated colors, bold sans-serif text, and goofy silhouettes. Nobody cares about Savile Row anymore. You just can’t see it on your phone. This has led luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, and Moncler, to turn to streetwear, which has always shown a localized genius for repurposing sportswear and mass-produced technical uniforms for cultural expression.
As a middle-class suburban kid, shut out for luxury, I’m not nostalgic for crafts. Protect the taste regimes of a wealthy class. My interests in fashion are mainly on the iconographic level: how it arises and how it communicates with creative networks and communities. This is also an extremely online way of looking at it. I discovered the style by scanning the fashion week shows on YouTube and then searching for knock-off looks in thrift stores. When Gosha Rubchinskiy walked the Vetements runway in a yellow DHL shirt, I bought a fake one on eBay. The jacket I wore to my sister’s wedding was from Goodwill.
When I became a fashion editor, I discovered that fashion criticism is like music criticism: no one thinks you should read it. This makes fashion both stupid and edgy. Because fashion design can reflect the emerging aesthetics of networked technologies without seemingly being “on the Internet,” it is at once more relevant, useful, and contemporary than even contemporary art.
Today, people use fashion as emoticons – pre-made avatars that perform emotions so you don’t have to. Even when you try on clothes in the dressing room, you may not remember exactly what you looked like, but you do remember how it felt. In a technological age in which the intensity of affect is more relevant than the quality of ideas, fashion is more viral on an emotional level. Brands design their entire identity around affection. Prada: intellectual and romantic. Rick Owens: alien glamor.
In a condition where all content is flattened into a single feed column, trendy images are created to compete with reaction gifs and memes. Brands like Balenciaga and Off-White, consistently among the most profitable brands year after year, have demonstrated a viral ability to circulate clothes as a meme by stumbling down to the lowest common denominator of what is lol or cringe.
Fashion critic Taylore Scarabelli has a word for this: “cringecore“Defined as” memetic, almost satirical style that simultaneously repels and attracts viewers. ” Here’s how you get a Balenciaga cat montage t-shirt, a Louis Vuitton jacket that looks like a 3D puzzle of Notre Dame, Birkenstocks made with cut-out Birkin bags, or Burberry’s “unintentional” hoodie.
Who is driving this aesthetic? This points to a broader identity crisis in fashion, where taste creation (and control of the front door) has moved from elite fashion editors in legacy fashion magazines to amateur influencers, bloggers, or anonymous accounts on Discord servers. The center of gravity has shifted to people who may not even buy this fashion, but like and follow the aesthetic that reinforces algorithms to promote the most extravagant and emotional styles. And that’s the thing: despite what you might see on TikTok, no one these days actually wears these clothes. Fashion is not lived in the streets, but in the public imagination of popular entertainment, with the ghost in the machine driving algorithms to support certain styles over others.
As in politics, we must end the discourse against populism: the people are not the problem. The theme is the memification of the public sphere, where fashion trends compete side by side with political trends. The more extreme the better. It’s just a jump, jump, and implosion into our happy new world. Except we’re here already.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism