Fashion is about creating a dream, and luxury fashion epitomises the most aspirational version of this perfect life whilst enforcing socioeconomic status and desire for social mobility. As one Georg Simmel wrote in 1904, ‘the fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical with those of the lower; in fact they are abandoned by the former as soon as the latter prepares to appropriate them.’ This held true for the most part, until recently. Moving away from ideas of sophistication, elegance and glamour, fashion is disassociating itself with these traditional notions. These garments, from the likes of J.W. Anderson, Vetements, and Koché, to name a few, are still made with the highest quality fabrics by specialised artisans, (and a price-point to match) though the style is embedded in ‘real life,’ pulling influence from underground culture as much as they are haute couture.
But these brands are not exactly ‘after’ luxury, as the prefix ‘post’ might imply. Of course ‘post’ is often used to indicate something that comes later, like ‘postgraduate’ or ‘post-operative’ but in art, and also in this context of fashion, it often signifies something more complex. One of the most recent and interesting discussions on this is related to digital art, as Michael Connor explains in his essay, POST-INTERNET: What It Is and What It Was. Even in the relatively short cannon of internet-influenced art there’s changing meaning attached to this attachment. The term ‘post’ does imply ‘after’ or ‘outside,’ but can also simply suggest a boundary whilst recognising an inability to maintain this boundary when Wi-Fi, ‘smartphones and the growing pressures of an attention-based economy’ show that offline is never.
As digital artists are observers, they are also ‘fully vested participant[s] in internet culture.’ Likewise designers of post-luxury present their garments somewhere between commentary and cynicism of the dream, whilst also merchandising and selling them at luxury prices in luxury stores. It’s the ultimate rebellion from within, whilst maintaining outsider an status.
And this unpolished reality is working; appealing to consumers, press and luxury conglomerates alike. Vestoj pointed out that it seems like everyone has been photographed in the latest Vetements dress and more and more designers who belong to this outsiders-in club are being granted a stamp of approval. Lutz Huelle, whose first collection in F/W 2000, was declared in October last year as the Unsung King of the Fashion Hybrid by Tim Blanks – a human gauge for who has ‘made it’, or by omission, has not. And the success of Glenn Martins’ Y/Project has echoed the jubilant energy around the four Koché collections to date.
Now is the moment for post-luxury, but is it a passing trend or a movement with longevity?
Looking at this year’s finalists in the LVMH prize, the validation for post-luxury from within was also clear where almost every nominated designer adhered in one way or another to this aesthetic. Now is the moment for post-luxury, but is it a passing trend or a movement with longevity? Beyond their annual prize, LVMH’s stake in J.W. Anderson and Demna Gvasaila’s appointment at Balenciaga show a long-term investment.
Georg Simmel sees it similarly, and as part of a natural and constant state of rebellion. ‘If obedience to fashion consists in imitation of such an example, conscious neglect of fashion represents similar imitation, but under inverse sign.’ He continues, ‘… the fundamental forms of human character are to accept the total antithesis of contents and to show their strength and their attraction in the negation of the very thing to whose acceptance they seemed a moment before irrevocably committed.’
Post-luxury is much more than an afterthought.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Georg Simmel, Fashion in International Quarterly 10 (1904), p130-155, available here: http://modetheorie.de/Simmel-Georg.861.0.html
Michael Connor, POST-INTERNET: What It Is and What It Was, published in You Are Here: Art After the Internet edited by Omar Kholeif (Cornerhouse Books, 2014)
Title image by Guglielmo Profeti, for the editorial Chromophobia shot exclusively for Polimodamag