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.
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…
Something similar is happening in the fashion industry. It seems like opinion is driving strategy, and that many companies are trying to keep-up with demand by concentrating on the short-term and ignoring long-term planning. The rise of unabashed attitudes defines today fashion consumption and creation, changing simultaneously both the structure and the creative process.
To say that social media is changing the world, and especially fashion, is like admitting the sun rises from the East. No alt-facts in the world can dispute that. But how many will dare to admit that social media might be damaging fashion creativity by following a more democratic road; offering people exactly what they want and ask for on social media? Why not I hear you shout. Valid argument I reply, but think how it would have been trying to sell this democratic model to Steve Jobs…
Take Instagram for example, fashion’s preferred social media app. With its 1,650,000,000 likes a day, brands see this as the ultimate tool to promote themselves inexpensively, and communicate directly with their consumers, or get new, younger consumers. Many believe the latter was the reason behind the controversial collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Superfine. But there is a darker site to such endeavours; an “Insta-cold-war”, a competition of which brand will be shared or be liked the most. And there is a price to pay in the struggle to become number one.
Everyday users are participants in the same war, fighting each other for those likes. And we all know that your chances are much higher if you shed a couple of layers of clothing, or if you sport the latest, most recognisable branded garments. Instant recognition means instant gratification, which leads to “Insta-success”. What can be more helpful than a logoed t-shirt, or a loud printed dress? Fashion companies believe that to stay relevant, they need to provide consumers with such garments. However, is it presumptuous to say that listening too closely to the end-consumer can be potentially damaging? Especially when designers stop competing who will push fashion forward, and change perceptions through creating wearable art, and concentrate on being social media-relevant?
Of course, fashion is a business, and without sales you better close-up shop, it is naïve to think otherwise, right? But chasing social media relevance, and therefore what people choose to want has already claimed its first victims. Design directors change design houses every few seasons. It used to shock us, but not anymore. It has now become the norm, shamelessly expecting it now. Just like another version of the reality show “Survivor”, we tune in to find out who is in and who is out. If they are ‘hot’ today, brands will capitalise on their current attraction, but quickly discard them when the next best thing comes along…
There is another side to this story; people who see this new democratic approach to fashion (the online guiding the offline) as promising. An opportunity to rebel against fashion’s establishment. This can be seen for example, in the way new brands challenge the concept of taste by offering an unapologetic new version of ‘style’.
Let us talk about logomania for a bit. For a few people, logos epitomise bad taste; a “vulgar” need to advertise how much money one has spent. For others, is a confirmation of a cool choice; choosing to wear an “in” brand is a proof of cunningness and knowledgeability. Brands such as Vetement’s and Christopher Shannon, used other brand’s logos to create confusion, to alert, to challenge. They rebel against the fashion establishment by shamelessly borrowing the logos of mundane non-cool brands, and by using them on the runway. By elevating what people describe as crude capitalist kitsch symbols to high-fashion, they aim at a revolution. The latter born out of being unabashed about what inspires, what is art and what is not. Look no further than Jeremy Scott’s Moschino’s and the golden arches blasted all over his designs. Think of Vetement’s DHL t-shirt costing £185, and selling out in weeks. Is it a shameless bad-taste attack on the idea of fashion as art, or is it a brilliant proof of anti-establishment entrepreneurship?
It is absolutely fine to be unabashed about what you believe in, and treasure your freedom to say, wear, and do whatever you want. But it is strange to believe revolutions cancel things and create new; believe that things will simply stop to exist and that new things will appear out of parthenogenesis. Things, ideas, concepts, design, all are informed by the past, they are reassessed and adjusted so they can progress. The question is simple; if you believe that rejection creates a vacuum, then what will fill this vacuum? The one who is looking for a replacement to the establishment should look to the past for an answer. Anti-establishment messages will replace the establishment, and become the new establishment themselves. Until they are replaced with new anti-establishment ideas masquerading as the new shinny toy.