Aimée Grant Cumberbatch wonders whether fashion is simply about making a statement
Statement fashion: it’s an overused word (statement shoes, statement bag, statement jewellery) and a marketing ploy we know well (buy these acid green stilettos and they’ll tell the world what you think about you). Fashion is an expressive form; it’s a means of communicating ideas, emotions and inspiration. But if clothes are a language, what are we stating? Once upon a time it might have been “I’m a punk” or “Two fingers to Thatcher” but these days it’s arguably more like “Look how much money I have” or “I don’t want anyone to know how much I care.”
Earlier this week at the Chanel Spring/Summer 2015 show, as good a stage to shock as any, Karl Lagerfeld made his version of a feminist statement. Stalking down the runway with quilted leather megaphones and bearing billboards which shouted slogans like ‘Ladies first’ and ‘Feminist but Feminine’, his models were styled as suffragettes for the 21st century.
With all major design houses, the showcasing of a collection is now about much more than the clothes, but this is especially true when it comes to Chanel. Set against a corner shop backdrop, last season’s show was a supermarket sweep that had the media asking all kinds of questions from “Is it a comment on consumerism?” to “Should this even be allowed?”.
Arguably the most interesting aspect of Lagerfeld’s catwalk shows is less their ability to provoke inquiry, but more their inability to answer it. Do any of us really believe that, after comments labelling Adele “too fat for fashion,” that the designer is really a feminist? Feminism is in fashion and Lagerfeld cleverly, has tapped into the zeitgeist with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
We don’t know what he really thinks, and he doesn’t want us to. His supposed statements are fairly inscrutable, neither celebration nor condemnation. This makes good economic sense and of course, keeps us guessing, which is crucial in an industry that likes to always be one step ahead.
What fashion doesn’t like is when the consumer gets too clever. We all bore witness to how the street style phenomenon, which began as a means of celebrating the statement-making power of the fashion everyman (and woman!), quickly turned into a circus of carefully calculated flamboyancy. Is it still a statement if all you’re saying is “Look at me!”?
The industry seems to have decided not. Yet Lagerfeld’s own cynical and business-like approach to statements won’t be making the history books either. So perhaps then they are a perfect symbol for the sartorial times we’re living in, what books will be written about the trends of the ’00s and ’10s, which riff endlessly on the clothing iconography of decades gone by? Who will write about university halls full of hipsters, who are only in it for the edge?
Maybe it’s time to relegate the ‘statement’ pieces to the back of the wardrobe and wear something that’s really worth talking about.