Monday, 7 April 2014

It costs a lot to look this cheap

When I opened a few weeks ago to check out what had been going on at Milan fashion week, the last thing I expected to be presented with was a runway model decked out like a McDonalds server. Let's be fair for a moment, what else could we expect from Jeremy Scott, the man who brought us a coathanger dress and Adidas trainers which wouldn't look out of place on a Greek god? Yet it was still a bit of a shock to the fashion world, and instantly divided opinion. And when I say it "divided opinion", I mean that the Vogue review was tentatively appreciative of the collection's humour, whilst seemingly every commenter on their Facebook page thought it was "disgusting", "tacky" and "not something I'd buy at all".

Personally, I like Jeremy Scott's particular brand of humourous design. Not to buy (as if I could afford it) but more in the way I would enjoy looking at a Tracey Emin artwork, with a mix of amusement, bewilderment, and desire to unearth the political message hidden within. Combining the imagery of one of the most recognisable brands in the world with the silhouette of the typical Chanel-wearing high-class woman seemed, to me, a comment on capitalism and its ridiculousness. You may say that McDonalds is a dominating force which impresses its image onto the masses, but could the same not be said about iconic fashion houses?

One thing which does strike me, however, is that somebody must be buying this stuff - stuff which looks rather like it came free with happy meal. Now obviously people who keep up with their fashion will know that you've purchased a new Moschino piece and will be dutifully impressed, but what about everyone else? Surely one is just paying huge sums of money to look like you've paid nothing at all?

Like it or not, fashion is often used as a status symbol. A Chanel purse doesn't just say "I appreciate the history and quality of this brand" or "I like the size and shape of this item for practical purposes", it also says "I SPENT SEVERAL THOUSAND POUNDS ON A HANDBAG!" Perhaps it's a symbol of achievement in that one can afford to buy it, or perhaps it's just a symbol of consumerism. Either way, it's showing that you have money, so what is the point of paying the same amount for something which looks like it costs a fraction of the price?

Many designers have adopted this kitsch style in recent years. Though the items themselves can sell for the usual high prices, they can look like the kind of thing you would buy in Primark. RED Valentino springs to mind, with its Disney-inspired collection. It's not that I dislike the clothes, in fact I think they're pretty cute, but I just don't understand why you'd pay the brand's usual prices (typically in the hundreds) for something you could find a similar version of for a lower price elsewhere.

Etsy (£17.96) 
RED Valentino

Now you'll say it's about quality and longevity, but with items like these, I honestly can't see them being staples which can be worn year-in year-out like a good trenchcoat or well-fitting pair of jeans. In fact, fashion in general, even the expensive stuff, is becoming more and more disposable. I doubt many people will still be wearing their McDonalds-style shirtdresses in years to come.

So what I want to know is, why are rich people spending so much on looking like they haven't spent much at all? Is it for the same reason that middle-class people will fork out for a flat in the Barbican Estate, so as to live a fantasy of the idyllic council flat existence? It has a feel of Marie Antoinette constructing a village to pretend to be a poor woman in. But perhaps it's nothing to do with this, and is in fact more about the humour of kitsch items. I guess it all comes down to exactly how much you're willing to pay in the name of comedy.