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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 16/06/11: What makes a style icon?

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There are certain phrases that get bandied about by fashion magazines, usually when a writer is bored or an editor is lacking in imagination.  These phrases include classic offenders like ‘the new black’ or ‘bang on trend’.  Here’s an example.  ‘Lazy journalism and sad, trotted-out cliches are the new black; in fact, one might say that this bloated, terminally sluggish way of writing is bang on trend.’
These are words that are overdone, outmoded and obsolete.  They’ve been published so many times they no longer make sense.  It’s not unlike repeating the word ‘spoon’ to yourself over and over until the word eventually loses all meaning.
Words like ‘fashionista’.  Words like ‘key pieces’ and ‘must haves’.  Words like ‘covetable’ or  (and I unashamedly shudder as this is typed) ‘funky’.  Words that jump completely from their actual dictionary meaning to garbled fashion Esperanto.
Let’s not forget the Big Momma of fashion cliches.  The perennial ‘style icon’.
I’ve been (rightfully) accused of using the word ‘icon’ far too often.  Every writer does.  It’s just far too easy to pick stylish people whose personal taste in clothing has outlasted the vicious six-monthly cycle of fashion and lump them in the category of immortal stylishness once they became difficult to categorise.
In the fashion publishing world ‘style icon’ means ‘I want her wardrobe.  She’s either old enough to have lots of vintage or thin enough to get lots of couture freebies’.
But that’s not what an icon is.  In it’s strictest definition, an icon is a religious work of art.  If an icon can mass millions of copycat followers who draw personal guidance from it’s every move, provoke international hysteria, veneration and an unhealthy public obsession with the sacred thing’s appearance, then Kate Moss is definitely a style icon.
An icon can also be used in the language of symbols.  An icon can be a person, place or thing that can represent something else of a greater significance.  Audrey Hepburn dressed in a Cecil Beaton monochrome costume for My Fair Lady = Style Icon.  Cate Blanchett in Givenchy Couture at the Oscars = Style Icon.  Kim Kardashian in a stretchy satin bandage dress at an  inredibly anonymous product launch with a gigantic American Football player on her arm = Style Icon (of a sort).
As an aside, I find it very interesting that a person is never a style icon, it’s the way that they’re represented.  It’s the clothing that makes the person an icon.  Maybe Polonius was right after all.
The problem is that, as the world gets smaller technologically, it gets more and more crowded.  Our ability (some might say suicidal need) to instantly share information means that more and more of these ‘icons’ are being shoved into a small space.  There just isn’t enough room to go around.
Not all style icons are created equal.  For every Marilyn Monroe there’s a thousand Paris Hiltons.  They really should be split into leagues in descending order of stylishness, like British football.    Do you think that Manchester United versus Yeovil Town would be a fair match?  No, me neither.
Instead of style icons, we should have style gods, style heroes, style deities, style inamoratas, style simulacrums, style mediocrities and style ‘marks for effort’.
The only trouble is who is going to go to all that effort and categorise all these clotheshorses.  Not me, that’s for sure.  Because I am a fashion journalist, and I am far too lazy.

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One thought on “Licentiate Column 16/06/11: What makes a style icon?

  1. Pingback: Related #6: What makes a style icon? « The Licentiate

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