fashion design is boring - a small dose of pontification

I recently came across a feature on a new fashion label that unintentionally encapsulated precisely what is wrong with fashion design as a profession today. Without naming names, the revelation comes by way of one of the label’s founders: “With women we are exploring many more categories, more of an emphasis on style and being relevant to what’s happening in fashion, whereas with men it’s extremely timeless.” And this, after the article describes the men’s collection as “t-shirts, woven shirts, knits, jackets and chinos in muted, low-key colours” that, according to the same founder, men “won’t get called out on.”

Heavens to Betsy, we wouldn’t want men to get called out for what they’re wearing.

The problem is the concept of timelessness. In some contexts, the concept of timelessness represents a universal quality, a consistent solution to a persistent design problem, an aesthetic that transcends cultural identification, an idea whose relevance endures over long periods of time. Yet timelessness can also be a manifestation of the status quo, a conceptual frost that favours the static over the dynamic. “Timeless” becomes more excuse than rationale, an apology (without acknowledging it as such) for failing, not to innovate, but to even attempt innovation.

This isn’t to say that women’s fashion is the product of innovative design in and of itself while men’s fashion is fundamentally stagnant. Although there’s no question that the most fun in fashion design is to be found in products for women –see Mohop shoes, or early United Nude designs, for example – fashion designers, as the quote above reveals, nevertheless tend to deploy a conservative hybrid of recycled imagination and reactivity. The relevance to what’s happening in fashion, what’s trending for women, is essentially an example of cyclical cannibalism. Designers resurrect and reinvent past trends in women’s fashion over and over again, with variations marketed as more than they are. Once in a while, they fly their freak flag with wild and admittedly imaginative designs, but so what? They’re typically too impractical and artsy for daily wear. Men don’t get trends, but quality craftsmanship for “timeless” styles, aka lazy design.

For fashion design to be innovative, let alone revolutionary, it should purposefully upset the established order of gendered stereotypes, reject the homogenizing effects of mass production in favor of bespoke artisanship, and genuinely challenge the tension between individuality and social identity manifested in how we choose to appear. It’s not enough for fashion design to question design objects. It must also question the process and reasoning of design itself.

Anything else is just the same old pursuit of commoditized novelty, gendered to favour women with imagination and men with timelessness.

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