Left: Jil Sander, right: Dolce & Gabbana
By Mao Shan Wang
I admit defeat; I’m not putting up a fight. I’ll be drown out by the din; my quiet no match for the scream. I have been told that fashion is not for those who are scared of being thought as weird. But not desiring Gucci (world’s second most popular brand, according to the 1997 Lyst Index) is making me sense that people think I’m totally strange, out of whack. It was explained to me that fashion is shrill in its tone because people need to express themselves and to stand out. It’s the “cultural Zeitgeist”, they say. But I am expressing myself even when I choose noiseless white cotton tops and opaque pants. Ironically, and to my dismay, I am the one now as conspicuous as the proverbial sore thumb. You bet I’m sore!
Ignore at my own peril? I’ll take the risk. Truth is, I understand the brashness of brands such as Gucci, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, but I don’t really care about their ploughing through common aesthetic decency. I know it is not about making a fine-looking dress or about something exceedingly well-made. It’s about designs—actually looks—that reflect the times. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “I never care about quality. Even if it was roughly made or badly sewn, I’d still wear it if it spoke to me about how the designer felt about fashion or the world today.”
Understandable. The thing about the Zeitgeist is that it is fleeting. You catch it now, or you won’t. And that is the point, and the thrill, and the reason to consume. Some people don’t want to miss the boat. You’re either sailing or you’re sinking; there’s no treading water. And you either recognise it, or you don’t; there’s no maybe. Some people don’t want to be thought ignorant. Or, slow or, worse, obtuse.
What they say about time and tide—it’s true of the Zeitgeist. Together with much of fashion, the Zeitgeist waits for no one. It does not have the patience of a saint. It is also increasingly confrontational. It does not manifest slowly; it appears with a bang, like a bird on a windscreen. If you don’t accept it, that’s too bad. It goes to someone else who is willing to embrace it with wide open arms. The Zeitgeist does not care about you.
I am not knocking showiness per se. This is the way people communicate now, the way they brand themselves, or how they see the world. It’s just that most ostentation is devoid of pith and idea. I look at Versace’s SS 2018 homage collection and I see a meretricious display—little else, even when it is supposed to be a salute to “powerful women”, the very same women Gianni Versace himself was thought to have supported, even if they were really models. I look at Dolce and Gabbana’s family-friendly, grand-enough-for-the-whole-village gaudiness, and I think of retreating to a cave. Okay, maybe up a remote mountain.
Fashion—what it has become—has turned many consumers into magpies although some would readily admit that they’re magpies to begin with. There is such an increasing dread and distaste for the quiet that if you should adopt simplicity for dress, people think you have not tried hard enough. As a friend I have known since school is wont to point out to me, “Why do you bother to wear designer clothes when nobody can tell that you are?” Does that then mean that designers such as Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander isn’t talking, or saying something about how they felt about the world, or that hush is analogous to humility?
I say turn up the quiet, quietly.