This site is about fashion models - I often mention that hip fashion mods can best be described as mediocre, but in order to understand why the Wintours, Meisels, Testinos, Blows and their minions promote them, a discussion on the ideology behind their notion of 'chic' is necessary...
The mass media often associate high fashion creations -and models- with 'femininity', 'elegance' and other attributes that most people find appealing in women. 'Good taste' is also desirable - but do the high fashion players agree with all this? Even back in the 60s, Coco Chanel praised 'poor taste' and Vogue
editrixes commented on why 'poor taste' was preferable to 'no taste at all'. This pro-'poor taste' attitude became more prevalent in the late 90s and dominates the scene today.
Recently, biz greats such as Donatella Versace and Karl Lagerfeld refused to be associated with conventional 'good taste' and 'elegance' in interviews - trashmeister Karl now talks about a 'new elegance' that defines hip high fashion.
The problem Karl and his friends have is that they depend on the middle-class nouveau riche to buy their mass-produced kitsch, so they can't really reveal their true colors and insult their customer base. Here is what they won't tell them...
High fashion shares one thing with communism - an 'anti-bourgeois' pseudo-ideology.
Communism attacks the bourgeoisie (the 'middle classes') from below, while the high fashion crowd attacks from above, to differentiate their 'elite' from the classes who may have more disposable income but are not worthy of 'elite' status. As to who should belong to the 'elite' group - in the UK, it's primarily anyone associated with the old aristocracy, and any rich folks willing to help their causes. The aristotrash may not be as affluent as the upper middle classes anymore, but they use fashion as another means of establishing social superiority. Since the average person subscribes to notions such as 'femininity', 'elegance' and 'good taste' (typical 'bourgeois values') the elitists subscribe to the opposite - 'poor taste', 'quirkiness', 'eccentricity', etc
Kitsch is widely used in Europe as a synonym for conventional poor taste. The two main sources of kitsch are seen as the UK (Burberry plaid, the Queen's dress code, etc) and the US (the American tourist look, music subcultures, etc). As some sociologists have observed, continental European aristocracy was also associated with kitsch over the centuries - it's no accident that Vogue's A L Talley is a big Marie Antoinette fan. However, the UK is the only country in Europe which still has feudal era social class divisions and an aristocracy which is quite numerous and makes its presence felt - in France and elsewhere, the aristocrats were wiped out by revolution and social change.
The UK today can't export their traditional British elitist values by themselves - to do that, they need the help of their American cousins. Since 1999, what is known as 'high fashion' is completely in the hands of a group of people based in NYC but with a strong influence - some say even direct control - exerted by the British social elite. It's the power of the US dollar which helped mass-market high fashion kitsch become a globalized business - the NYC crowd had to expand to Milan and Paris (with Tom Ford taking over Gucci Group
) since the few local "fellow travelers" (like the Vercaces and Miuccia Prada in Milan, LVMH
in Paris) could not effectively impose Anglo-inspired kitsch on the local sensibilities.
If you want to look deeper into things - after the New World Order was proclaimed by papa Bush in the early 90s, the AngloSaxons tried to grab control of profitable markets from old-world Europeans. Fashion was seen as a good globalized business opportunity, and control was wrestled away from the French - in a similar way in which they were kicked out of most of Africa. Paris and Milan were invaded by UK designers and stylists - but more importantly, the middle and lower level design staff members are now heavily British as well. NYC got the photography and show organizing business, and most mods had to relocate there since even minor Italian mags shoot in NYC these days.
So, what is the high fashion 'ideology'?
Part of it revolves around consumerist post-modern 'neo-kitsch', also known as 'camp' (taken from a French term, in English it refers to a fun-loving homosexual lifestyle). The theory is that the oppressed homosexual develops a 'poor taste' mentality as a means of resistance against the prevailing bourgeois social aesthetic. S Meisel said pretty much the same thing in an interview he once gave to gay mag "Advocate" - that his work is characterized by a 'queer sensibility' and a 'fuck you attitude'. Exaggeration (as in paying homage to famous transvestites), excessive ornamentation (as in fur trim on everything) and a love for stereotypes are also characteristics of 'camp'.
In a few words, 'camp' is a celebration of 'poor taste' and vulgarity - but from a position of privilege, while kitsch can come from any class.
Fashion kitsch/camp does not apply to straight males, who don't usually have a 'look' - unless they are fashion victims. The concepts are mainly feminine.
Kitsch is always mass-produced (the high fashion conglomerates are mass marketing giants) and its objects are 'beautified' - but not beautiful. This explains why the models used in high fashion are not conventionally 'pretty' - their 'beauty' is grossly artificial and some sort of quirk (Julia Stegner's mouth, for example) that distracts from conventional 'beauty' is essential.
The claim that 'quirky' is better business because it attracts consumer attention is false - notice that high fashion types themselves use 'perfect' looking males in their campaigns. The alleged quirkiness marketing trick seems to apply only to females.
High fashion creations (including photography) can never be art, because art is the unique result of individual inspiration, while kitsch is just mass-produced copies of 'nostalgia', usually with heavy 'periodization' (as in 'this is so 80s'). Kitsch however can't be outright repulsive, since the merch has to be sold on a massive scale.
One of the reasons that the high fashion crowd doesn't like sensual nudity is that the bare -curvy- female body is considered 'art', while a heavily ornamented or waif body is kitsch. The high fashion 'waif' look is a combination of a kitsch body in kitsch clothes. High fashion adores Kate Moss because she is the personification of kitsch -if she was also aristotrash, she would be perfect. The high fashion photographer will usually pick 'unattractive' females for any nudes he may shoot - but will always use 'perfect' males.
'Camp' elitism needs socially lesser people to poke fun at - which is why Miuccia Prada uses the 'English housewife' look, etc. Her creations, like the overpriced nylon bags, are intended as another joke on the bourgeois consumer - Miuccia and AW subscribe to the notion that you can't have the luxury of irony when you are poor. This elitist urban tribe brings together WASP and JAP princesses, British aristotrash, NYC Warhol male groupies from the 70s and the assorted Eurotrash.
High fashion models look a certain way, because the characters who pick them make sure they conform to their own mentality.
The 'poor taste' tribe has managed to wipe out the old modeling biz, promoting some willing nobodies who used to be model contest animateurs in the 90s to 'hip agent' status, and also imposing their trashy model choices on the European markets. As long as the big fashion conglomerates continue to prop up all this crap, I see little potential for change - maybe one season with 'pretty'(?) mods following a season with 'bugs', and that's about it.
I normally couldn't care less about high fashion - the same people were around in the 80s/90s, the voguey waifs appeared in all the 'major' shows, but the fashion scene was centered around the conventionally perfect 'supermodel' image until the very late 90s. Nowdays, the rejects from the 'hip in NYC' (or A-list) charts can be seen in most campaigns, even in Euro mags - a pathetic sight.
The only good thing - the money I used to spend on the fashion mags I no longer buy stays in my pocket. Maybe I should thank AW for all the cash I am saving...