Bigger thinking about fashion

Even if it’s not your thing, “fashion” is fascinating.

Think of it less about the hype or the eye candy or the details (what’s in what’s out). Consider it as a lens through which to examine aspects of our culture whether it be consumer or material. The advertising (and what advertisers and ad agencies want to portray) is always telling. Fashion at higher levels is about quality and technique and – possibly – preserving craft skills that would otherwise die off. At mid and low levels it’s about global supply chains and the perennial search for the lowest cost production and what that means. Fashion’s about class and tribes and identity and dreams. It’s about waste and economics and environment. It’s about beauty. And it’s about death.

Sewing at Babette

Mixing hand and machine at Babette

These ideas are universal and thus one of the most instructive ways to look at what’s going on in material culture (oh hell, any kind of culture) today. We’ve covered “fashion” here too, with an eye to materials, technique, and process. See, for example, Marcella Echeveria’s thoughtful piece on Carla Fernandez or our piece on Babette.

Clothing by Carla Fernandez.

Fusing art, fashion and activism: Carla Fernandez Image by Edgar Avila.

Our set of finds from around the web this week focus on fashion: the good, the bad, and the ugly. From provocative reads to videos, the grit and the glory of fashion has a lot to say about us.

Let’s start with the gritty: Start with a bracing read (and video on) the true costs of cheap fashion. The True Cost is a new Kickstarter-funded documentary. Inspired by the Rana Plaza tragedy, it’s a passionate and sobering polemic. Think twice before you hit those summer sales. Read all about it at Ecouterre here and buy the just-released video.

You could also read this sobering read (and the accompanying comments) on chrome tanning of leather and its prevalence in allegedly “high quality” designer leatherwoods. The challenge is, as you buy things…how do you know who uses what technique? Ask a shop assistant, and you’ll probably get a blank stare.

Thought provoking: In the middle of things, there’s the recent Environmental Profit and Loss report by Kering, the company that owns Alexander McQueenBalenciagaBrioniGucciPuma and the like. Cutting to the chase, “The bad news is that the research found that 93 percent of the most environmentally damaging processes happen early on in the supply chain, with more than 50 percent of damage having to do with procedures associated with raw material production—things that happen at companies that Kering does not own or have much sway over.” Well, I’d imagine that Kering just might have a bit more sway over these producers than most but it’s sobering to think of nonetheless. And if it’s this bad for a luxury goods company, imagine what it is for Zara and Forever 21.

OK let’s get to the pretty (ish). There’s a long and sometimes noble history of fashion industry videos, mostly featuring hyperventilating, fretful designers chain smoking the night before a show, surrounded by stoic, matronly craftswomen sewing on mad embellishments at the 11th hour and hollow-eyed assistants (skinnier than the models) trying to guess what the designer really had in mind with that cryptic, muttered comment.

Despite the general sameness in the characters and story (calm, then panic, then success) I find them fascinating, less because of what the output is, and more about the process (and yes the drama.) The amount of work that goes into it; the design “process” such as it is; and, the leadership style. But most of all, it’s those matronly ladies with their crazy wonderful craft skills: they are the heroines and the heart of each film, which is as it should be.

The latest (but from all reviews) and one of the best of this is Dior and I, in theaters now, and on video soon. which chronicles designer Raf Simons’ first couture collection for Dior. Also highly recommended is Sundance series called The Day Before, which chronicles the 36 hours before a fashion show, through the eyes of designers at very different stages of their careers.

Fashion: it’s more than meets the eye.





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