30 March 2011

The Wisdom and Disenchantment of the Style Rookie

Tavi (aka The Style Rookie) had a recent blog post that really resonated with me. In this post, titled "I feel like the photo to accompany this post should be a lot more intense and introspective-seeming but hey! mirrors are pretty introspective," Tavi wrote about, basically, becoming disenchanted with the fashion world, wondering if she'll always be interested in fashion, and where to go from here. I've kind of felt that way myself lately, mainly because a big opportunity has landed in my lap, one that I was not expecting and that has completely dumbfounded me. I have the chance to accomplish my lifelong dream, and I'm wondering if I even want to.

Like Tavi addressed in her post, something "is different" about the fashion industry now. I know exactly what she means. The fashion world has changed so much in the past five-six years that I barely recognize it. I find myself asking, "Is this what I wanted? Is this the field that I became utterly enraptured with more than a decade ago?" I just don't like the changes that I'm seeing and I'm finding that I want to distance myself from it, not become more engrossed. The fact that fashion has become so fashionable lately is really a double-edged sword.

When I first became interested in fashion back in my early high school years, opportunities in this field were beyond limited. Teen Vogue didn't exist. Ed2010.com didn't exist. I don't even think Vogue.com existed. I was the only person in my high school who read Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and W. Even in college, the only girl on my freshman hall who was remotely interested in fashion and aesthetics had never seen an issue of W (she stumbled into my room one night and wondered what the giant magazine I was holding was...um, W). But, back then, Karolina Kurkova was more likely to grace the cover than Kim Kardashian. And then along came "Project Runway," The Sartorialist, "The September Issue," "Valentino: The Last Emperor," "Sex and the City" (well, SATC existed when I was in high school, but it didn't explode in popularity until I was in college). And suddenly everyone wants a piece of the fashion pie. It's no longer unique or esoteric. There are now tons of different opportunities in the industry, but everyone is after them now.

Like I said, it's really a double-edged sword. When I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, I wrote about the democratization of high fashion, and how this is a good thing. It isn't a field that should be limited to the provenance of the elite. Fashion, as the industry has gained popularity, has recently become a field worthy of academic consideration...and it certainly wasn't before. Case-in-point: Parsons created a Masters in Fashion Studies program (the program is only in the second year of its genesis). I wrote about how this was significant and how the field was not frivolous. This is something that I have been trying to convince myself of, really, for an entire decade. Is it important? Does it merit academic exploration? Does it make a worthwhile contribution to society? In my scholarship essay, I argued that, yes, it is important and it is something to be studied. I wasn't able to convince the Fulbright Committee of this, of course, and sometimes I have trouble convincing myself.

This is only because of the changes that have come about as a result of its popularity, globalization, and democratization. Now I meet people who say they are interested in fashion but do not know who Valerie Steele is (Are you kidding me??!! That's like being interested in politics and not knowing who Hilary Clinton is.) They don't know about Edna Woolman-Chase and the early origins of Condé Nast. They're not familiar with the writings of Lisa Armstrong and Suzy Menkes or the curatorial work of Harold Koda and Hamish Bowles. I've even met fashion design majors who couldn't hold conversations on the contributions of Cristobal Balenciaga ("Who?"), Diana Vreeland, and Edward Steichen. What are people learning about fashion then? What is it about the field that they like? How can you proclaim to be concerned about this subject if you're not cognizant of the most important people to have shaped it?

All of this leads me to wonder where fashion is heading and if I really want to be a part of it. Will I wake up one day and realize that my dream was just an illusion? Like Tavi hinted at in her blog post, for many of us, the illusion already started to shatter after the recent John Galliano incident. Here is a person who I've admired for nearly ten years. I wrote about wanting to curate a fashion exhibit around his fantastical closing runway outfits. I had him listed as an inspiration in my blog bio (which I've since removed for fear that others might think I'm anti-Semitic were I to have kept it). And then he's shouting about loving Hitler and being fired by Dior and being sent off to rehab. Prior to that incident, Alexander McQueen committed suicide. Here was someone who many of us thought would revolutionize the industry and become a lifelong, household name. And even before that, Valentino was somewhat forced into retirement when his label was bought. I know that these unfortunate events could happen in any industry. People pass, retire, get fired, etc. It just makes me question my commitment to fashion on some level.

But then I look around my room and my apartment. I've been archiving issues of Vogue for so long that I must store them in three different locations (the early archives are at home with my Dad, the middle years are in storage at my Mom's, and the most recent editions along with my favorite issues are in my apartment). I've visited fashion museums and exhibits on two continents. I've collected rare editions of books on fashion (some that are valued at over $200 on amazon.com). And I have dreamed night and day about seeing my name on Vogue's masthead. It's the one thing that I've thought would make my life complete. If I could just accomplish that, I'd truly be happy. I would want nothing. And now the opportunity is before me, and, like Tavi, I'm wondering if I should "get out of it what I get out of it, ignore or laugh at the rest, and bring the enjoyable stuff back home to add to my collection of all that stuff I'm trying to absorb" (The Style Rookie).

I'm still pondering that, but I'm as disenchanted as I've ever been. I really wish I could say otherwise.

(** quotations are from The Style Rookie at http://www.thestylerookie.com/**)

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