Fashion to the People: The Democratization of an Industry
Whether you're willing to admit it or not, fashion is everywhere. Even the man wearing mesh gym shorts on the street—who claims to have no interest in fashion—is involved without even realizing it. Fashion extends far beyond clothes and accessories. It's in the television you watch, the restaurant where you eat. Even if you choose to "ignore" it, you can't help but be surrounded by it.
But the style world wasn't always so omnipresent as it is today. The past several years have taken fashion—let's call it Fashion (the capital "F" makes a difference)—from a private club to a community center. We'd say there's not one event that caused this sudden rush of excitement about the industry, but here are a few moments from the past couple decades that helped.
The Celebrity As Fashion Icon
In the '90s, we saw the rise of the celebrity cover model, during which actresses briskly replaced the supermodels of the day. What prompted this shift? Much is owed to our office neighbor Vogue and their untouchable editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Long before people identified with fashion, they identified with celebrities. When Wintour fused the two worlds, it brought fashion to the silver-screen-loving masses. Tonne Goodman, Vogue's fashion director, poignantly described the shift in The September Issue: "She [Wintour] was ahead of the curve."
High-Low Designer Collaborations
With celebrities inspiring millions from newsstands all over the world, the masses began to warm to fashion. Still, though, the average person could only aspire to sartorially emulate a multimillionaire actress. Enter Target and Isaac Mizrahi. Although this was hardly the world's first fashion collaboration (ahem, Halston for JC Penney), I like to think of it as the mother of all modern collabs. The unmistakable Isaac appeared in television ads across the country and became a household name. Before that, at least in my home, we had no idea who he was. (I was young.) The booming success of the collaboration paved the way for plenty of other designers to participate, including Missoni (whose collection for Target sold out in minutes), Jason Wu and countless others.
Swedish chain H&M's journey across the Atlantic in 2000 brought high fashion styles—at crazy-low prices—stateside. It was soon followed by other European mega-chains. I remember sitting in my dorm one year, about to visit my brother in Spain, when my friend Heather freaked out on me and told me I had to go to some store called Zara. An eye roll and a flight later, I found myself inside this wonderous shop, wondering why we didn't have it in the USA. Obviously, that was soon remedied and now anybody can find fast fashion—either online or in-store—from places like Zara, H&M, Topshop, Sandro and Joe Fresh. Many of these retailers also do designer collaborations.
In the early aughts, it was all about reality television. America was either watching half-naked/mildly attractive people try and survive on an island, or housewives bicker at a country club. Luckily, the long-legged Heidi Klum and wise fashion sage Tim Gunn brought us an intelligent take on the genre with Project Runway, which first aired in 2004. For the first time, the life cycle of a garment—from design to runway—was broadcast for millions to see. Young and seasoned talent from around the country participated, and the show grew from a cult favorite to a phenomenon by the end of Season One. Like the rise of celebrity covers, this legitimized the industry for millions who were perhaps unaware of what "fashion people" really do. Throngs of teenagers set their sights on attending Parsons The New School for Design to study with Tim Gunn (who revitalized the college's fashion program) and become the next Nina Garcia or Michael Kors.
Fashion and Books...and Film...and Video
Sure, television is one thing—but what about books? How about books that turn into movies? Who could forget Meryl Streep's performance in The Devil Wears Prada, a film that has haunted every fashion magazine employee since its debut—mostly because of the inevitable question, "Is your job just like The Devil Wears Prada?" I assure you it's nothing of the sort, at least at Lucky. And I venture to say the same for other mags…except maybe Cat Fancy. Regardless of my contempt for that particular question, films like this get people interested in fashion. They get their imaginations going and suddenly...it all seems more attainable. It's akin to when I watch Karate Kid and think I can do karate. Although, if one wants a more realistic portrayal of the fashion industry, I'd counsel them to check out popular documentaries such as Unzipped, The September Issue or Valentino: The Last Emperor. And of course, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.
You may laugh, but even the gallivanting Cher Horowitz of Clueless was far more than a spoiled little rich girl. A teenager who risks death to save an Alaia dress, seeks retail therapy on Rodeo Drive, refers to not-very-old-shoes as "last season" and tools around Beverly Hills in a Wrangler? She's the perfect illustration of the conspicuous consumption mentality of the '90s. After Clueless' release, girls everywhere wanted to emulate the movie's designer clotheshorse protagonist. They also suddenly became aware of the existence of Azzedine Alaia.
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the biggest equalizer of all, the runway livestream. Fashion's catwalks continue to be one of the most exclusive aspects of the industry. However, in recent years, designers have been able to share their collections with not just editors and buyers, but the hardworking design student, the banker who splurges on an elegant handbag, or the mother who finds a spare moment between parent-teacher conferences and soccer games to immerse herself in style. Of all the small shifts over the past several years, this is the most inclusive. When Tom Ford decides to livestream his collection, I think we'll be fully there. But that might take awhile.
All of the aforementioned events are reliant on larger institutions: Hollywood, publishing, corporate retail. But one of the most important shifts came via the individual. Whether it's through Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Wordpress, everyone has a chance to voice their option. I'm talking about blogs. The blog has changed the industry in ways we still can't fully comprehend. The fact that an individual can command millions of views every month (ahem, Leandra Medine) and influence the industry as a whole (ahem, #armparty) is one of the clearest signs of the "democratization" of fashion that we can see.
What would fashion be without all these little shifts? Maybe a little more precious, but surely not as prevalent. From my perspective, I hope the movement continues—the more inclusive, the better. There are no signs of a slowdown in sight.
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