Tomorrowing in one of the many sleepless nights, the owner of Art to Design gallery, posted me an unexpected comment on the song I’m Older Now by Jay Jay Johanson sounding this way:
Listen to this track, the old Vivienne [Westwood] will appear in front of you, sprawled on a rotten sofa, in the middle of a meadow, with her tights all plucked out and haggard lipstick on, with her hair all messed up and her eyes fixing the void.
The possible links between fashion and music are many and, in my opinion, the statement above is representing perfectly the most important: the power of sound on evoking subjects, scenarios, actions, relationships, environments, metaphors, myths and tales, so basically all a fashion collection would represent and all a fashion brand should be made of. Facing the void, a song makes people imagine and dream. In front of the image of a garment, every instrument, every note or pause, a delay or echo, a rhythm, a tone and a vowel color, up to the accent of a singer, are underlining a shape, a volume, a consistence, a cut, a motive, and every single color of the garment in its tone, gradation and intensity. So, the right tracklist can make the difference in a shop, in a runaway and in every other place fashion is showing itself, because it’s the translation of a concept into sound or because it can bring into coherence what sometimes is not. So, beyond making sense, the role of sound in fashion is very often contributing to create a sense. Another link. In the past decades, music has been a central factor in the definition of what we consider a subculture: a transnational group of young people sharing common interests, idols, uniforms, behaviors and perimeters of rules, enter and exit barriers very similar to those of the primitive tribes. The subcultures gathered their strength from the want of their members to leave the depersonalizing restrictions of the mainstream in favor of the re-personalizing restrictions of a narrower organization, a process strictly involving the need for a self-definition in a context of belongingness. A similar dialectic between distinction and homologation we find in fashion. Second strength, the want of every subculture to affirm the coming of a generation bringing new values and social patterns, including the approach to the body, the gender and the dress, while criticizing the previous ones. E.g. we never could have had a Pierre Cardin or an Yves Saint Laurent like we used to know them without the Mods. Moreover, the members of the subcultures were accustomed to join concerts, singing and dancing around their totem, a rock star, easier and smarter than a movie actor to be recognized as generator of styles, tendencies and trends. The rock stars had a conscious role in redefining the use of many common objects, finally brought into fashion. E.g. the sneakers All Stars were conceived by Converse for basket playing and had a limited success up to the moment The Ramones adopted them as part of their uniform. The Aviators by Ray Ban were conceived for having a medical and technical use, for protecting one’s eyes from the sun, up to the moment many rock stars adopted them as protectors from the indiscreet sights, the photographers’ flashes, and ultimately for letting their fans reflecting on them, unifying the adorer, the adored and media of adoration. In front of so much evidence, after the world of cinema, the fashion system adopted musicians for branding actions we still use nowadays, from the most trivial to the most refined: vip, product placement, endorsement, icon, stereotype, muse and archetype. So, subcultures and their musicians made fashion shift from the laboratory and the atelier to the masses through an explosive concept for the time: lifestyle. From this point of view, the most seminal subculture has been Punk, founded right by Vivienne Westwood and her former husband Malcom McLaren. Opposed to the Mod-derived Skinhead who was creating the disorder for re-establish the order, the Punk was exploiting the existing disorder in the mainstream for creating a new order. Because of that, for someone Punk was the great rock’n’roll swindle, as actually it became soon a new standard mentality among the fashion insiders and, because of that, a new and more intimate subculture had birth, the Dark, setting once again the game of distinction and homologation in its completeness: by being the copy of Siouxsie Sioux, Dark girls turned the make up into make in and the dress up into dress in. Nowadays, Punk and Dark are used in three different ways. Some bands like the Nouvelle Vague are recording complete albums of beautiful covers, similarly some brands are making a simple re-edit of what already seen at the time of the subcultures in terms of outfits. Some others are launching single iconic elements like the perfecto or the parka, sometimes like they were originally, sometimes de-structured or re-sampled to give them a different use, occasion of purchase and client. Finally, a third category of designers like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano assumed the ethics of Punk and Dark, in the sense of irreverence and contempt, or gothic romanticism and ba-rock, without necessarily showing their aesthetics. Mr. Cosgrave remembered how the young McQueen, working at Anderson & Sheppard, used to sew bad words hidden in the interiors of the jackets ordered by the Prince Charles. From this point of view, as ended in the article of mine Eternal Life, we can say God Save the Queen, the Prince, the poor Princess Diana, and of course also God Save McQueen. At the opposite, Rose Mary Bravo adopted the gothic essence of the Dark subculture for re-launching Burberry, making a good & clean brand start to play on the thin line between bad & clean and good & dirty. Mario Testino made the rest with white and black pictures, the ambiguous locations and above all the matching of a devil Kate Moss beside an angel Stella Tennant. The same for The Primal Scream, an innocuous brit pop band become techno-punk with the cover song Some Velvet Morning featuring Kate Moss in person. Other times.
There’s no more distinction between mass and niche, the pyramid has fallen and the hourglass has raised. Maximum or minimum, emotional or functional, convergent or divergent and many other polarizations.
Lost in the supermarket of styles, some major brands in fashion are still taking actions like customizing in fur a Gibson guitar or enrolling singers like Amy Winehouse or Beth Ditto for getting a last minute sense of transgression. Too late. A part Lady Gaga, who is herself a brand, the current link between music and fashion doesn’t lie on the figure of the singer any longer. The video didn’t replace the cinema and didn’t kill the radio stars, in the Eighties some designers became divas, with the avant-garde they retired in their catacombs again and now Armani is coming back showing his own face all over a t-shirt doing the icon of him. Meanwhile the movie director Wong Kar-Wai created an interest around the Chinese fashion with the costumes of In The Mood For Love, John Malkovich has carved out a new career as fashion designer and Tom Ford showed the values of this person-brand directing A Single Man, David Lynch has produced commercials for perfumes and sung songs, Sofia Coppola’s movies are big exercises of fashion styling and music tracklisting, Karl Lagerfeld recently declared that Chanel bags are not luxury and, despite the Azzedine Alaïa’s complains, is directing his commercials and presenting his swimwear off the underwear domain, furthermore worn by a platoon of Red Cross lesbian nurse men. A thunderstorm in a beautiful summer sky, he said, a poetic approach to sexiness, he underlined. There has to be contrast, he ended. Contrast! This is the key word for defining the spirit of the time. With iTunes we select our songs from the present and the past, from the charts, the suggestions and the personal elective choices, and then we put all together. There are no more barriers between mainstream and alternative, cultural and subcultural, common and transgressive, it’s just the selection of ours. And we behave the same towards fashion: sportwear, casual and classic, day and night, xxl and xxs, underwear and outwear, precious and cheap, winter and summer, new and old, design and basic, griffe and no logo, all together. There are no more rules for the mix and match, all the kinds of player are present but none of them is leading, only what once was called client, now become person and selector, is really leading. Whether you like it or not, the new generations are gathering through a simple “I like” on the single topic of interest. People are no more following the information, they are making them directly or, maximum, they pre-select the sources and make the information chase. It’s all about taste, reputation and viral opinions on them. Can you imagine the impact of all these changes on fashion marketing? There’s no more distinction between mass and niche, the pyramid has fallen and the hourglass has raised. Maximum or minimum, emotional or functional, convergent or divergent and many other polarizations: the status quo is continuously under dispute because every person in a different moment wants to maximize an aspect or the opposite one. These reversals can be potentially turned into positive action through the analysis of the long term trends, also in luxury, but it’s always the client, person and selector, to decide for the next reversal. Therefore, got rid of the metrical patterns for marketing, we have left the two bulbs of the hourglass sharing the same grains, generating macro-minorities and micro-majorities. So, as Colin McDowell wrote on the Business of Fashion dot com, there’s something rotten in fashion if the major brands are going right the opposite the spirit of the time, which should be at this point the centrality of design for attracting positive opinions. And I add it’s dirty rotten because we have to learn it from how people listen to the music.
If both the music and the fashion industries are suffering, and if a Gibson guitar in fur is not sufficient for communicating the brand, there will be always someone making songs like Venus in Furs and someone finding solutions for making furs without killing animals (and Venus with them).
In 1999 Walter Van Beirendonck mixed a fluorescent monster pop t-shirt with a centenarian precious evening dress. Undress and overdress: at that time he indicated the long-term trend of the mix and match. In the menswear F/W 2010 he presented big colored headphones, catching a trend already running under the ground since a couple of years and giving it a knock-down visibility. The prediction now was: to decompress what previously enjoyed in a compressed format. People has been happy to download songs in a mp3 format in huge quantities, enjoying the pleasure of selecting the music they really loved without having to purchase a costly cd with only three relevant songs inside. They enjoyed to make their own playlists and to share them. This was possible only giving up the quality of the sound because, as we all know, the mp3 format is cutting relevant frequencies away. Isn’t Zara doing the same with garments? Design is similar to the one of major brands in a lossy format and, counting on a powerful and flexible supply chain, there is quantity and frequent availability, abundance. It’s fast and now, not authentic, but anyway design pushed and not market pulled. The occasion of purchase is double: functional (“I need basics to mix with the precious”) and emotional (“now I can attend fashion too”, or “there is no difference”, or “I’m passing an afternoon and I go home dressed without having done a relevant investment of which to regret after”). Like for the music download, there is no service in the point of sale, and this makes the client feel free to take time, to pick and change place to the garments like songs in a playlist, it’s a kind of public square market where to go and share opinions also with friends, exactly like the internet where the mp3s are found and shared. The person-client is feeling like the stylist of herself, the Sofia Coppola of herself, as dressing is also a kinaesthetic process. A further step is the association of iTunes to the iPod. This second instrument gave the possibility to apply to one’s complete library of music in a portable and actionable way. Portable in the Latin languages means wearable. It’s functional like the perfume Play by Givenchy, emotional because recreating one’s own habitat and habitus, and intellectually technological like a remote controlled Chalayan dress. Music is worn thanks to a portable hardware with a simple software inside, it’s therefore becoming hardwear and softwear, but also sharewear when someone is asking to have your selection because wanting to have you. Like a perfume, the condensed scent of a person, music is passing from a body to another and it’s becoming sharewear. You wear the other, the skin, not the leather in this case. It’s at the end about going in depth towards the seductive power of dresses and accessories (which were the first dresses). It’s about reproducing the duality between container and content, face and surface, vis and visage, body and dress, rejoining these elements after they have been disjoined for a long time. Now, most of the people are not aware of what’s behind the surface of their feelings, but they must have been felt the same thing in the same moment: after the inebriation of quantity, it’s time for having the same but with the quality back. The small white headphones were for hipsters in the beginning and for laggards today. The self definition is passing through a personal choice of traditional headphones, for better closing in one’s own world, for better reminding the shelves full of records of one’s room, for better being all one with the worn music and above all, even though technically a pure illusion, for trying to get back with decompressed headphones the quality of sound lost in the compressed mp3 format. Therefore, whether deciding to keep on representing the spirit of the time in the next future, Zara would increase the quality with a consequent increase in the average price that, because spread on a big quantity, would be irrelevant for the client. Or would decide to hire an important designer and to become the new fashion standard after having penetrated the market through an innovative formula and a low price. What are the major brands doing in front of this possibilities? They eliminate the designers. It’s an evident, big and late mistake, because they are going to become Zara while Zara is going to become them. If both the music and the fashion industries are suffering, and if a Gibson guitar in fur is not sufficient for communicating the brand, there will be always someone making songs like Venus in Furs and someone finding solutions for making furs without killing animals (and Venus with them). Connect brain and hands. Re-start from here, please.
It’s time for fashion to go down on the street and to rock again or to shut up forever.
People with availability of time and few money in their pockets prefer to pirate the mp3s, for those who don’t have time it’s more convenient to spend 99 cents. Time matters. Try to think to all the moments we spend for nothing because waiting for something. When we travel we wait to arrive, when we write we wait to be read, when we cover we wait to be uncovered, when we have birth we wait to die. Life is a big waiting moment containing many waiting moments. They are non-moments asking to become moments in non-places asking to become places. In the current fast life, the waiting moments are multiplied, and those really striking become much more precious, inerasable pictures of persons noticed among the crowd, immediately associated to the song we are listening to, then ritually and forever reminded by that song. It’s a ritournelle, a refrain repeating. It’s a personal movie we direct everyday, isolated by our headphones while we are in the crowd. In the recent past, lounge music has made the non-doing become something to do. It was working because centrally provided, by an airport, an elevator, a bar, a radio, a cd, a compilation. At that time, like in fashion, a decreased content produced an augmented reality. We all made it, me included, we run our software, we put the small colored bricks one after another, we pushed the button render and from the patchwork we passed to the mash up. We gave to our brands the suitable sound, we gave our private shows and we created beautiful atmospheres. Today, with the iPod, every song must touch the heart or stimulate the brain because not conceived as a background any longer, it’s rather the soundtrack of our life. So, we are tired to hear to the flat sound of the serial products and to listen to their concerts made of cacophonic commercials. It’s time for fashion to go down on the street and to rock again or to shut up forever. After all, as the Einstürzende Neubauten used to say, silence is sexy.
SOUNDS AND VISIONS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Lisa Germano, Tomorrowing, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EGMiwVQPbI
Danilo Venturi, Luxury Hackers, www.luxuryhackers.com
Jay Jay Johanson, I’m Older Now, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lZI16NtOr4&feature=related
Sex Pistols, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jWWSVqzLT4
Siuxsie & The Banshees, Hong Kong Garden/Happy House/Love In A Void, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNw7u5J1oOI
Nouvelle Vague, This Is Not A Love Song (Thievery Corporation Remix), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbMnuqX_P-g
Bronwyn Cosgrave, McQueen è Stato Qui (E Forse C’è Ancora), Vanity Fair, 24 febbraio 2010
Sex Pistols, God Save The Queen, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeP220xx7Bs
Primal Scream, Some Velvet Morning, http://vimeo.com/2493255
S.F., Giorgio Armani, Sfilata A/I 2011/12, http://moda.pourfemme.it/foto/giorgio-armani-sfilata-autunno-inverno-2011-2012/
The Clash, Lost In The Supermarket, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag6GccWDqAs
The Buggles, Video Killed The Radio Star, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwuy4hHO3YQ
Wong Kar-Wai, In The Mood For Love, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naHb5Sq6azM
Tom Ford, A Single Man, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aypyJtHzC70
Karl Lagerfeld/Imran Amed, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVqgqzTUBxY&feature=player_embedded#at=14
David Lynch, Flora By Gucci, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIUDaoYJkQE
Sofia Coppola, Somewhere, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3cPbxCBGVo
Simone Marchetti, Alaïa contro Lagerfeld e Wintour, http://d.repubblica.it/argomenti/2011/06/23/news/alaia_contro_lagerfeld_e_wintour-392967/
Colin McDowell, Something Is Rotten In The State Of Fashion, http://www.businessoffashion.com/2011/07/colins-column-something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-fashion.html
Walter Van Beirendonck, in Caroline Evans, Fashion At The Edge, http://www.amazon.com/Fashion-Edge-Spectacle-Modernity-Deathliness/dp/0300124678/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311378474&sr=1-1
Walter Van Beirendonck, A/W 2010/11, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C09INyuDEbM
Givenchy, Play, http://www.mondolusso.it/it/play_il_nuovo_profumo_maschile_di_givenchy.html
Karl Lagerfeld, A Thunderstorm In A Beautiful Summer Sky, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M2OkT_I6LM&feature=share
Velvet Underground, Venus In Furs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwzaifhSw2c
Sebastien Tellier, La Ritournelle, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsk8QQj5Nrc&ob=av3e
Danilo Venturi: La Perla Private Show, I Adore You, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPdE1jlfNI&feature=related
Iggy Pop, Down On The Street, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qannFs974gg
Einstürzende Neubauten, Silence Is Sexy, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hex6IErt9do