Diagnosing Fashion, Psych Edition: Control Issues, Fear of Imperfection

Though she’s become a controversial figure in the fashion world over the past few years, I’ve remained a big fan of Cathy Horyn (a famed NYT fashion critic, for the uninitiated). I find it pretty silly for designers to get their panties so twisted over a negative review that they resort to banning these critics from attending their future shows. It’s a critic’s job to critique, after all, and, though it may hold more weight than others, the critic’s viewpoint is still one opinion in a sea of many. Rather than making the critic look bad, these fascist (or should I say, fash-ist?) gestures ultimately just make the designer look insecure and unsure of his work. This habit is representative of a disturbing control-freak tendency that has become central to the industry, and which Horyn alludes to in a recent piece.

Famed fashion critics doing their thang (Horyn is second from left).

Famed fashion critics doing their thang (Horyn is second from left).

Exploring everyone’s favorite topic of late, the circus that is fashion week, she compares it to the simpler times of yore—i.e. when she first began attending the shows. Obviously I was not around or not paying attention to fashion throughout that time (80s, early 90s) but I’ve been able to see a drastic change in the ambiance of fashion week in just the last 5-8 years alone. Fashion as a whole has blown up into a steroidal pie that everyone and their mother wants a piece of, and for those of us who have followed it voraciously since we could purchase our own magazines, it’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for a time when it was an interest still on the periphery of society.

As it has pervaded mainstream interests, fashion has been transformed into an oft-overbearing spectacle—with many of Horyn’s fellow fashion industry veterans complaining about fashion week itself, and the myriad activities and events that now come with it. She reflects on her early experiences at the shows, which come off as charming and quaint in comparison to the current M-O:

 At the start of my fashion-writing career, when in Paris, I used to send photos from The Associated Press, then near the top of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and afterward walk down the street. It was generally midnight. Sometimes you would see models going into Thierry Mugler’s place or hanging out in the little cafe nearby. But the street was pretty empty. I was never scared, as I might be a little today. I used the time to give myself a little pep talk, along the lines of “there are good days and bad days,” and, undoubtedly, to reconnect with normal things, which in Paris were always around you.

Now, almost everyone uses a car and driver, a convenience that gradually became a necessity. As for pictures, it takes about 30 minutes to move a day’s worth of images. I like the speed of things nowadays — it has a merciless appeal — but when you are a little more footloose you can’t help but believe that decisions are more in your own hands. I think many people crave that power.

The excessive transportation requirements and a surplus of online imagery is definitely crucial to fashion’s sea change, but it’s this last paragraph of hers that references what gets me the most:

Take, for example, this business of commanding guests at shows to tuck in their legs and handbags, so the photographers can get a tidy shot of the clothes. It’s pretty embarrassing, like sitting in study hall. One of the great things about pictures of shows in the ’60s, or ’90s is that the scene is messy. The models seem at the center of a respectable orgy. Some of this realistic quality still exists. But the goal today is branding, and that expectation, that everyone will be doing it during FW, can really put the starch in your collar.

Speedy uploads and swarms of bloggers aside, I find myself more interested in whether fashion has become too polished? Too predictable? Or, perhaps, just too uptight? There seems to be a heightened emphasis on control—controlling every image and all perception, rather than allowing people to perceive along their own lines. There’s a lack of authenticity, of spontaneity. Everything now has to be just so. And it’s not just the designers and the labels that are working towards this end, but all of the personalities—the bloggers, the editors, the tastemakers—too. Fashion has become much less about fun and whimsy, and more about the perfect façade.

Snapshot from a less uptight fashion period.

Snapshot from a less uptight fashion period.

I’m not sure the current iteration is the fashion world I fell in love with as a young girl. That was a world that seemed to welcome me—and everyone else, too—in all my weirdness. Conversely, attending fashion-related events today often gives me anxiety and makes me feel as if I’m not living up to some measure of perfection. I can’t attribute this change to every designer, every blogger, and every editor—many of them are still kicking ass the old school way. Which is to say…less cookie-cutter, more eccentric. But the vibe gleaned from the majority of the fashion sphere is one that signifies a leap in the wrong direction, reeking of high school crowd following and a severe lack of imagination.

But, in honor of individuality, don’t take my word for it—tell me what you think!

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