“The Vulgar Draws Something to our Attention.”
I love to have a Sunday funday; whether that’s just going for breakfast or lunch with a friend, going shopping or doing something that really interests and excites. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time, my Sundays involve being lazy, doing nothing and feeling super accomplished if I tidy my room or complete a box set (hey, a girl and her bed on Sundays are an endless love affair). But this Sunday, I spent it more productively by seeing the last day of The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined exhibition at The Barbican.
This exhibition explores how fashion uses, twists and turns the idea of taste throughout history up to the present day. Exhibition creator Judith Clark worked with psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips who used his definitions of ‘the vulgar’ to start, understand and help us discover fashion throughout this exhibition.
“The vulgar draws something to our attention.”
This definition that Phillips provided stuck with more than any other, particularly when looking at ‘The Shopping Centre’ section which applies the ‘vulgar’ theme to Chanel’s A/W 2014 show. Which I’m sure we can all remember; set within the Grand Palais in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld created a shopping centre which worked in contradiction of how high fashion is bias towards the elite.
Fashion Weeks for Autumn/Winter’14 all together proved to actually be fun; no more sitting silently behind the pouts and sunglasses (except for Anna Wintour of course); that year showed us how pleased the audiences were to watch more exciting shows filled with high fashion Moschino ‘Mcdonalds workers’, Spongebob look-a-likes and a Chanel super market sweep in trainers. The year that there was a Chanel themed supermarket (or supermarché should I say), was the year Paris Fashion Week showed us how much the fashion industry has grown; it revolves around the pleasure of the look to create a consumerist dream.
We spend much of our time watching; whether it be the TV, computer/phone screens, or other people, and the purpose of many things is to entertain it’s audience; from films to art, and architecture to catwalk shows. Our brain responds to the attractive visual that we see, and so we aim to please our audiences through what they see to be successful.
Fashion is an outlet for creativity, emotions and identity; it’s often used as a form of expression, as well as this, we use it as a way of representing our status. Fashion is one of our favourite forms of representation in our society as clothes and accessories are easy to notice and be seen by others; first a fashion is approved by others (showcased to us through designers showing trends on a catwalk), then it is copied because of the competition (a trend becomes popular and so high street brands copy styles to compete and make trends more available), finally, it is replaced as it becomes too common, meaning that trends change as they become ‘too popular culture’ which then brings the status of the trend down. This cycle tells us of our relationship with our look and consumerism as the industry constantly changes trends that we feel we need to keep up with as our individual identity turns into a collective identity, and we want to be seen as an individual whilst still showing status.
So as we understand this cycle, we understand the need for fashion week and new trends. Okay not everyone will see this as a need, but I have always loved all aspects of the fashion industry and learning about how our society keeps it going whether willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly is fascinating. With the fashion industry being worth a whopping $1.5trilion globally, it’s clearly big business. But as Karl Lagerfeld and his impressive Chanel supermarket showed us, it’s a business that’s getting even bigger.
Fashion Week allows fashion designers, brands or houses to display their latest collections in runway shows where buyers and the media look and analyse the latest trends to show to the public. In recent years, as well as fashion week shows broadcasting latest trends and garments, they have now also been a creative outlet to showcase the designer and the brand and what they’re about, not just the clothes; making it more of a spectacle for its audiences rather than for the industry.
Chanel’s A/W’14 collection proves to us that catwalks are now becoming much more of an event instead of just being a showcase for clothes. It was presented to us in the most extravagant way; the Grand Palais in Paris was converted into the ‘Chanel Shopping Centre’, with Chanel branded everything; from frozen peas and meat, to cotton buds and washing powder, even a hard ware aisle with Chanel branded hard hats and hi-vis vests, aisles filled with Chanel everything which the Chanel-clad models strutted through with shopping trolleys and of course, Chanel bags.
The fact that so much time, effort and money has been put into just one show from Paris Fashion Week tells us that the way the fashion industry is presented is valued by designers because of the effort that has been put into pleasing the audience as they have a spectacular show to watch. Fashion is big business indeed, turning a whole made up supermarket into a branded show shows us that the identity of these designer brands, fashion week and the fashion industry all together is important and is very much concerned with its appearance.
Chanel’s catwalk represents its audience’s need to be part of consumerism by actually creating a show around a consumerist super market; a place where the vast majority of people shop to get their food from the lowest to the highest incomes. Combining this with the high fashion and elite brand name of Chanel shows that Karl Lagerfeld has created an almost intertextual show as he combined two different aspects of our consumerist world, telling us fashion is a commodity, like any supermarket good.
This intertextuality can then be seen as ironic as Chanel is not a supermarket product; it’s a high fashion designer brand of clothing and accessories; but Chanel’s self-consciousness that the whole concept of their show is very ironic makes it post-modern, and therefore extremely current and fitting with the post-modern society we live in.
Holding a high fashion runway show in the setting of an everyday (yet covered in Chanel) supermarket is a great indicator of how the fashion industry has combined itself with our consumer society to create something that has very much pleased its audiences, as well as showing how influential this industry is to us as we feel the need to constantly buy into it to prove to others that we have wealth or status; in turn this then proves how important status and expressing our individual identities is to our culture as we spend billions and billions on how we look, dress and accessorise.
This particular fashi0n show, along with many other shows before and after Chanel, definitely draws our attention. And rightly so, they’re incredible.
Now I have finally stopped waffling on, you can still enjoy the Vulgar exhibition, although it has finished, by buying the catalogue (just click the image above) and you can enj0y this stunningly illustrated book which shows you a collection of pieces spanning over five hundred years of fashion over and over again, it’s already on my wish list.