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Why Fashion Fetishises the Working Classes

Roughly 15 years ago, Burberry faced a dilemma. Its trademark check was loved and worn like a uniform by the working classes, something ‘fashionistas’ looked down upon. The heritage brand thought its kudos was quickly diminishing; they believed the fashion world could not take a brand dressing the ‘masses’ seriously.

Burberry had to make a choice between turning its back to the people who proudly invested in the brand, or embrace them and be banished by the fashion powers that be. Guess what, the working classes were abandoned by the brand, and their loyalty branded shameful and cheapening.

Gosha Rubchinskiy SS18 runway show - courtesy of the designer

Back then nothing good or creative could be associated with the ‘chav’, the ‘roadman’, the ‘gopnik’, the ‘eshay’, or whatever you want to call the poor working classes. Fashion back then was still considered ‘high-culture’, ‘wearable art’, and exclusive to the few. Yes, it was a snobbish approach, and alienating if not discriminatory, but it is important to state that this approach is now redundant.

Only recently the reference designer Gosha Rubchinskiy sent a model dressed head-to-toe in the Burberry check with the blessings of Christopher Bailey. How the wheel turns. What has changed that made the majority of young and influential designers unapologetically borrow from the working class aesthetic? How has the world, and consumption patterns changed, to allow current creatives to stop ignoring but actually ‘fetishise’ the working class?

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Inclusiveness in Fashion

Inclusiveness is one of the biggest buzz words in fashion right now. It is ridiculous that in 2017 ‘inclusiveness’ is a notion we even have to bring up. Attitudes have changed but we are not there yet. Let’s be honest, accepting is one thing, including a completely different matter. Most of us accept that there are ‘different ways’ however, not many of us are willing to include them in our decision making.

Nike Campaign- Courtesy of Nike

When it comes to race, sexual and religious orientation, age, and embracing various body shapes, fashion industry has a lot of work to do, and a lot to answer for. Yes, many designers, brands and retails have started to consider it but I still get the feeling it is more of a ticking the box situation rather than an actual change of philosophy and strategy. For a big buzz word such as this, it is strange that such little progress has been made.

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Gen Z: the rise of a new consumer group

I am not part of Gen Z, hell I am not even a millennial, but I will do my best to describe them. Just when we wrapped our heads around who millenials are and what their behaviours and spending habits are, a new wave of future consumers is rising. This is to show you how quickly things are changing; how we got from Obama to Trump comes to mind…

First things first, they have nothing to do with zombies…Gen Z is people born after 1996, so their early memories are not 9/11 and definitely not the death of Lady Di. If you remember the latter, you are, according to them, officially geriatric!

Vetements capturing the Gen Z spirit (image courtesy of Vetements)

They have been connected all their lives with fast internet and 4G (dial-up tone is a cute ringtone to them), and they have learned to see the world as borderless; global is “glocal” to them. Try explaining Brexit to them…They have been consuming social media, following and sharing as early as they developed motor skills. Being part of the vast cyberspace made them aware, early-on, of the incredible number of individuals that are out there. It is obvious to them that standing out in the crowd is difficult, but also imperative. Their never ending need to find their unique voice is admirable.

For them ambassadors of success are the millenials who disrupted everything (Uber, Spotify, AirBnB etc), and those bloggers who managed to make millions by travelling, photographing, and sharing their street food photos. Yes, they are entrepreneurial but they don’t necessarily care who Steve Jobs is. Don’t judge, do you know who discovered and commercialized the Compact Disc, or even how digital cameras work?

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Is being unabashed a sign of a revolution?

We need to talk about being unabashed. It is a word, and a concept, that has been in my mind for some time now. As per Oxford Dictionary’s definition, it describes a person who is not embarrassed, disconcerted, or ashamed. And as I have noticed recently, this is a growing attitude. This post does not try to intellectualise the term or discuss whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Actually, it is more about recognising it, and seeing how it is changing our world and more specifically the fashion world.

Tommy Ton for Vogue Japan: Shiny Projects

It is a standpoint that is currently shaping everything; from world politics to fashion. It is about saying and doing what you think, and acting on your opinion; expressing yourself! It does not matter if you are wrong or if your opinion is fact-less; simply having an opinion is enough and invaluable. This is possibly the result of years of people saying exactly what they wanted online. We have always had opinions, which we learned to share online through following, posting comments, shares, and likes. But what is happening now is major. It feels like the private has merged with the public; that the online has slipped into the offline, and started to define it. Result: the boundaries between the perceived privacy offered online, and the brutal reality of offline blur even further. People stop hiding behind their online persona. If their opinion is valued online it is only legitimate to voice it offline, however challenging or shameless it is. Non-facts become alt-facts. Sounds like a revolution…

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