I have an immense amount of respect for the fashion industry. It employs millions, makes billions, gives people pleasure and ostensibly makes the world a prettier place. Fashion was still a relatively small, closed world when I first became a style correspondent for the nationals in my early twenties. The biannual collections seemed so vitally important and impressive in the 90s.
I was just in time to interview the greats Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro and Gianfranco Ferre. Though I only attended a handful of Paris couture seasons I’ll never forget the real supermodels Linda, Christie, Naomi and Tatjana pounding the Versace catwalk – built over the swimming pool at the Paris Ritz – to the soundtrack penned by Elton John in which old Wig Out belted ‘Versaaaaaaaacheah’ to a jungle beat.
Comparing the fashion industry today with the twilight of the couturiers is like comparing the Hollywood of Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Now Voyager with the era of Pixar, Ant-Man and mindless sequels. I’d have said then there were twenty star designers worldwide who could dictate the fashion.
Fashion is on my mind because, while flicking through the September issues, I was struck by the ineffable hideousness of Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection: Ugly Betty meets Ali MacGraw in a second hand store circa 1974. One poor model was put in what looked like a coat cut from a curry house loo’s curtains, a gormless South Park b0bble hat, lesbian librarian flat shoes and Deidre Barlow spectacles.
The entire collection was a study in geeky ugly chic that has earned Miuccia Prada her millions ever since she decided to make clothing designed to assault the female form. Even British Vogue didn’t both to hide their opinion that this season’s fashions are about as appealing as anthrax. So deliberately loud, coarse and weirdly shaped are these clothes that only the clinically insane could call them anything but car crash fashion.
To me fashion reached a peak in the 1950s when the masters Balenciaga, Dior and Givenchy made sublime couture shot by Avedon and Penn on goddesses such as Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker and Dovima. So when I see weaselly little Cara Delevingne touted as the beauty de nos jour sticking her tongue out and posting cross-eyed selfies I hang my head in despair.
I would pay good money to hear what Anna Wintour really thinks about the heinous clothes she has to promote this season? She, like anyone over twenty with a brain, has found the uniform that works for her and she never wavers from one season to the next: a decent dress, Manolos, fabulous necklaces, that bob and those shades.
You are not going to see Anna Wintour in one of Jeremy Scott’s Snoopy cartoon nightshirts, bobby socks and neon heels because she knows it would be an affront to age and dignity. The question is how the fashion industry manages to maintain a collective poker face when faced with fashion designs that make a mockery of style, grace and wit.
Perhaps the designers take the piss now so unashamedly because we all know nobody buys the clothes. They get loaned to Rita Ora for the night then forgotten. The big bucks are made selling the name on low-ticket items such as perfume. The fashion houses have a problem on their hands because we’re all in on the perfume con. It probably costs a penny a bottle to produce. It’s all about the marketing hence the popularity of celebrity scents by One Direction, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift et al.
Truly smart people bid a fond farewell to fashion at some point and grow out of it. I genuinely don’t want all those ‘must-have’ items just because they are branded. Brands are for cattle. The only true expression of exceptional taste for those who can afford it is the couture and bespoke tailoring. Creative people without the funds to buy couture or bespoke improvise. I remember interviewing Tom Ford and he asked if my £30 Chappell’s of Bond Street leather music case was Bottega Veneta.
At some point the world will wake-up to the fashion industry being a total con job. Presumably people buy into it to feel better about themselves and think fashion is a golden ticket to a more fabulous life. I suppose that’s a reasonable assumption but fail to see why a £10,000 Hermes Kelly bag is any more stylish or chic than one of Paxton & Whitfield’s recyclable canvas bags.
The only luxury items I would buy into wholesale given half the chance is fine jewellery. Jewellery signed by the great makers is a fabulous investment. It also becomes a part of the wearer unlike a handbag or a heel. You get bang for your buck and can always sell back at the same if not a higher price. You can’t say that about a Miu Miu muff now can you?
Rather in the spirit of Oscar Wilde talking about society, I half agree that the only people who criticise fashion are the ones who can’t get into it. Well, I did and spent the best part of fifteen years as a fashion writer. I got out of it slowly with a series of controlled explosions having never really fitted in in the first place. I wanted to work in the fashion industry I saw in Funny Face not The Devil Wears Prada.
While I remember to tell you, the lovely Brett from my Savoy days was in town and we had a Chatty Kathy at Rosewood London during which he invited me to the theatre. Ben Whishaw was appearing in something at the Almeida. Well, long story short it was a Greek tragedy. I’ll say! We had a wailing chorus and Mr Whishaw dressed as Vanessa Redgrave. It was awful. Life is to short for bad theatre.