Fashion, Licentiate Columns, The Reading List

Licentiate column 23/02/12: Why can’t fashion writing be meaningful?

In the past weeks of my self-enforced writing hiatus, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. For the most part, the books are about the Bright Young Things; the witty, brittle, early novels of Evelyn Waugh, the biographies and letters of the notorious, diametrically opposed (in all senses) Mitford Sisters and the recently reissued Beaton in Vogue, which chronicles latter-day photographer and all-around renaissance man Cecil Beaton as he observes the death throes of the original party generation.

In the news, I’ve been reading an article by New York magazine journalist Amy Odell, in which she bemoans the lack of any grounded, logical or particularly insightful commentary in catwalk reportage today. If you’re into charts and graphs, the article also has an infomatic with examples of such turgid or vapid prose, all plotted on a handy-dandy axis of high to low brow, from the insightful to the ridiculous. It is well-worth looking up.

The question Odell asks is this; why is it so hard to say anything meaningful about fashion?

It is a question that I have been struggling with over the past month and one that I’m sure many people ask themselves from time to time. When external events in your life threaten to eclipse all other aspects, some of the things you used to find solace in, begin to look a little bit shallow or unimportant.

Just what is the big deal with fashion anyway? Why spend so much time thinking about it when there’s more important things going on in the world. After all, it’s only clothes. Isn’t it?

It stands to reason that it’s hard to tack on a sense of gravitas and emotion to a line of clothing. Anyone who can describe a blouse as ‘beautifully naïve’ has their work automatically cut out for them.

Flowery, dense phraseology is just as bad as its evil twin, the vacuous exclamation. Rachael Zoe has a lot more to asnwer for than popularising size sero and the bohemian hipster’ The next person who exclaims ‘I die’ within my hearing distance to describe a lusted-after top may find their final wish granted. Sometimes it’s wisest to obey the letter of the law.

On occasion, the writing verges on spoof. Who said that ‘this innocent shirt has something which isn’t innocent at all – touchability.’ Yep, this amazo shirt is ‘innocence and mayhem all at once’. If this garment was a person it would be in serious need of psychiatric examination. But it wasn’t said by a member of fashion’s elite. It’s a line from Seinfeld.

It says very little about the state of catwalk journalism that the line above could come from anywhere – maybe even the pages of New York Magazine (even if the line was spoken by personal nerd-girl style icon Elaine Benes).

I sometimes wonder what Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and Cecil Beaton would have to say about the state of catwalk reportage. All known for their powers of acute observation, sharp tongues and savage humours, I’d bet that they could have changed the way we looked at fashion writing. They had what is now missing in the descriptions of clothes; honesty, unpretrentiousness and wit. Here’s hoping that someone will pick up their long-neglected mantle.

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