Where does luxury fashion stand in a culture of abundance?

As the wild ride of the year 2016 draws to a close, reflection is unavoidable. What has happened? What does this mean? What have we learnt? It seems impossible to surmount the egregious events of a colossally game changing twelve months into just a few paragraphs. Maybe this is because I am yet still baffled by the nuances between right and wrong and good and bad, but I would say, more accurately, that it is because 2016 has faced us with a culture of abundance.

Unlike past years where similar cataclysmic events have too taken place, our most recent turn of the sun appears characteristically intense not because the news headlines have effected us any more deeply, but because the news headlines have been thrown at us with such velocity that we have been left dumbfounded in suspended animation.

Headlines are now inescapable. They are no longer restricted to your T.V. or your news apps. They appear in masses on your Facebook feed, scatter along your Twitter dashboard, and lurk in the depths of Instagram. Events are not explicitly restricted to news stories, they are curated by brands and social media syndicates to put forward a fashioned and deliberate piece of content. And with so much shaped content floating around the web, how are we ever going to be able to take on the mammoth task of identifying what anything truly means anymore?

This all got very deep very quickly. What I mean to say is what Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist, puts rather more succinctly in his book Future Shock:

Value turnover is now faster than ever before in history. While in the past a man growing up in a society could expect that its value system would remain largely unchanged in his lifetime, no such assumption is warranted today, except perhaps in the most isolated of pre-technological communities.

This implies temporariness in the structure of both public and personal value systems, and it suggests that whatever the content of values that arise to replace those of the industrial age, they will be shorter-lived, more ephemeral than the values of the past.

Future Shock was written back in 1970 but I believe its ideas are evermore prevalent today. The speed at which society now develops has created a certain transience that social media only acts to perpetuate. Not only are we rendered unsure at what is politically correct or educationally accurate, the ephemerality of society has placed LINE’s much beloved sector of fashion in an awkward contingency.

This new social media dominated society has done wonders in that it has seemingly blended the margins between high and low culture. Couture fashion has become accessible to all through Instagram, Polyvore and Snapchat; collage artist Ernesto Artillo has blended classical art with high fashion in a simple ‘copy-and-paste’ method that chooses to ignore boundaries; and Vetements’ CEO Guram Gvasalia has given a literal middle finger to traditional couture with his fall/winter 16 shows in Paris.

vetementsvogue
Source: Vetements, Vogue Runway

This blending of high and low culture and the new found accessibility it brings with it is a good thing for fashion, right? For us, the consumers, maybe. But for high fashion designers? Surely it makes luxury obsolete? Is it worth buying a luxury item if it has been paraded across Instagram for months before its release? Are people going to buy something that, on the surface, looks like it could have been made by a high street brand? It is curious that luxury – a sector previously defined by its exclusivity – has now confused the very essence of high fashion in its widening availability. Luxury no longer determines a person’s prodigious sense of fashion, as the late Vogue editor Franca Sozzani states, “Luxury is possible to buy. Good taste is not.” And when you ask different people for their definitions of luxury, you get incredibly diverse answers.

So where is luxury’s place in fashion in 2016? I would argue that it is in the very articulation of the ‘fashionable’. Fashion has seen a loss of isolated styles. Big brands collaborating with artists, musicians, and street wear brands has become a much sought after trend. Thus, I would say that luxury is not defined by how many zeros you find on the price tag, but how deeply it displays the ephemeral postmodern culture that we all try so desperately to understand.

Luxury is now a blend of styles, a statement that boldly claims: “I am alive and living in a time of great change. I am absorbing as much transient culture as the internet age allows me to, and I am displaying this culture in its rawest form.”

In my mind, luxury is Ava Nirui’s mash-up of high fashion brands, such as Prada, with the essence of 21st century technology culture:

 

 

Luxury is Gucci taming their ready-to-wear to actual wearable pieces:

 

 

And luxury is the highly sought after collaborations between brands and figureheads. Because these items represent more than just fashion. They represent a following of a certain type of culture.

01-fenty-x-puma-2017-rtw
Source: Fenty x Puma, Vogue Runway

Luxury is anything that is new and exciting and adapted to our time. Fashion develops even quicker than it ever had before and designers seem to be in a race to see who can excite the modern subject…even if just for a moment.

But don’t take it from me. In a time where ‘value systems’ are changing so rapidly, luxury is whatever you bloody want it to be.

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