Thursday, October 04, 2012

Of walking mannequins and what's 'uso'

When you see those supermodels walk down the runway in blouses unbuttoned to the waist, or in shoes looking like anything but shoes, you know that somewhere in fashion history something must have gone wrong. And as you flip through today’s women’s glossy magazines to reveal pages and pages of girls (and guys) looking stoned or sexually charged, you know that something’s definitely wrong. What’s ironic is that all the hype makes the whole thing look perfectly all right.

A bit of history
Fashion shows have been around for ages. But it was originally the designers’ salons that served as “catwalks” twice a year for the big seasons, as well as a few times in between for other collections. Designers invited buyers to these presentations where models simply wore the clothes for the guests to see before these were released in the stores (much like today’s exclusive movie premieres). Fashion then was already big business, but kept to a simple affair.

Then in the 1970s all that changed. Some guy decided to be different and presented his collection onstage. What was simply a change of venue turned into a radical alteration of the whole concept of the fashion show. For along with the stage came the pageantry, the flamboyance and the circus-like atmosphere characteristic of today’s runway presentations. These elements were inevitable for designers who wanted to show their work to full advantage, since mounted in a big stage, the clothes were too small, plain and unnoticeable. Thus emerged the outlandish hairdos, the gigantic hats and other attention-grabbing props; then later it was “deemed necessary” to unbutton buttons and unzip zippers to bare bosoms, expose derrieres—in other words, to use more flesh than fabric—in successfully presenting the clothes to the public. This is what has come to dominate the shows in every fashion capital from Milan to New York, indicating the “progress” that has taken place in the world of fashion.

Behind the scenes
This obsession with getting everybody’s attention is all about attracting the market and the media, so what better way to do it than exaggerate or go to extremes, right? If attention is what the industry is after, it’s got it, but unwittingly, it traded off much more for that. The face of fashion has evolved into something other than more spectacular. For Grace Mirabella, a Vogue editor-in-chief for 17 years and founder and director of Mirabella magazine (another monthly glossy), the shift from the salon to the runway marked the beginning of the downfall of the fashion industry. And in 1995, the downfall became apparent: sales around the world just dropped. The reason? Designers were coming out with increasingly ridiculous things (read: unwearable) and stamping these with sky-high prices. Like how ridiculous? Try aluminum pants, plastic gowns, sequined underwear or miniskirts that look more like wide belts. And how expensive? Well, you wouldn’t believe it anyway. What’s more, by 1995, trends changed too fast for people to keep up with (who would want to buy a tight-fitting killer-collared satin blouse when the ‘in’ thing after six months would be preppy loose cottons that would make you look like you’re stuck in the ‘70s in your killer collars?).

Here’s a secret that you probably knew all along but didn’t bother thinking about anyway: all this obsession with fashion is fueled basically by two things—industries that are focused on money-making, and consumers (that’s you) who are too gullible. A Claudia Schiffer, therefore, donning an elaborate 5-pound headdress on the Milan runway, or a half-naked Kate Moss in spaced-out makeup in the fall/winter collections, is part of the continuous attempt to attract the media and ensure maximum exposure.

For the jaded and sometimes unthinking press, such shocking events are the new and spectacular materials it looks for. The result: a much-publicized fashion event (where ironically, the weird outfits get the most attention) and, hopefully, whopping sales. Well, admit it. Aren’t photos of men and women in sassy clothing—especially those striking provocative poses—just a little too hard to resist and extremely easy to remember? Any normal human being’s attention is initially drawn to the out-of-the-ordinary, so that’s good news for you (you’re normal after all). The problem is that some people are using this natural tendency for their own money-making purposes at the expense of society’s sensibilities. And most of society don’t even have a clue that their whole value system is gradually being altered.

From the pages to the person’s psyche
So maybe most of us don’t care about the Paris runways or what Jil Sander or Miuccia Prada are up to halfway across the globe. Or maybe you haven’t even heard of these people which doesn’t really matter because their merchandise is way too expensive for most people anyway. However, be convinced that what many acquire are the attitudes that fashion promotion dictates on an impressionable society like ours—a society that usually accepts and imitates whatever comes from Western shores.

Sad to say, the average women’s magazine has stopped thinking about the woman and her real needs. It has instead focused on what will make her buy, at all costs. On the same line, many designers and other fashion practitioners have stopped making the woman beautiful, judging from the flamboyance and frivolity pervading the shows. Especially in the past several years when shades of androgyny and suggestions of homo-eroticism have been penetrating mainstream fashion, looks and entire concepts that affirm femininity have become sparse.

With the fashion industry and the concept of beauty in such a state, it has become harder to remember that a piece of clothing exists for the wearer—not the other way around. Fashion is created for the person and so must revolve around the person. Think about it: when a female model shows up in a flimsy dress, what do you see? A dress put on display by a walking mannequin? A dress that just happens to have a body underneath it? Or a gorgeous body wearing a dress? Whether it’s the first, second or third you choose, you’ve unfortunately fallen into the trap of putting the model on the same level as an object (a mannequin, a hanger with breasts and legs, whatever), the job of which is to make clothing look good. Well, it is easy to forget that those ‘walking mannequins’ are actually not mannequins; neither are they merely flesh and bones (gorgeous flesh and bones for some) but flesh and bones—body—and soul. Hence, those bodies with souls (gorgeous or not) are infinitely more important than the silkiest silk and the most brilliant designs draped over them.

When you see those supermodels walk down the runway in blouses unbuttoned to the waist, or those girls and guys on magazine pages looking stoned or sexually charged, you know it’s only hype. Fashion sense and attitude dictated by them can be merely products of big-time money-making. Fashion sense and attitude without the hype, on the other hand, is the real thing.

So, what’s your idea of fashion?

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Woman Today magazine
October 1998


R.O. said...

thoughtful writing! i enjoyed it. thanks.

petrufied said...

Hey I just saw this now. :) I enjoyed reading it. I wish more women's magazines came out with articles like these.

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