So typically I don’t like to comment directly on other writers’ output. No one is trying to be Hemingway to Sherwood Anderson, on some Torrents of Spring jawn.
Yet I feel strangely compelled to respond to Liroy Choufan’s latest piece on Business of Fashion, ‘Why Rihanna’s Fenty is the End of the Star Designer’.
Because of course it’s not.
Choufan’s essential thesis – the crux of his argument – is that Fenty signifies the third ‘evolution’ (insert Rodinesque ‘thinking’ emoji writ long form here) of the world of fashion designers at the illustrious ateliers. This is fallacious. Before I continue, I should probably clarify that I think Fenty is fire. But there’s an essential distinction that was, whether consciously or unconsciously, disavowed in the piece in question. Fenty is fashion. Not fashion-cum-art. No shade, but its roughly as analogous to Yeezy Season as it is to Hussein Chalayan.
A highly fast af fashion move steered towards teenagers of all ages, with their dad’s credit cards and a latent irrational fear that they were never invited to sit at the Tumblr cool kid table.
Still. Not a bad look.
But what do these two things have to do with each other? Fashion is changing rapidly. Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was indeed a self-promoter par-excellence, but he was also an artist first, and a marketer second. His shtick worked because the work just fuxking worked. Karl, God rest his soul, is posted hard with 175 iPods on whatever Heaven’s equivalent to Pantelleria is, and Demna is trolling like fashion be 4chan and artistry be /b. The rules have changed.
In Andy Samberg’s seminal (yeah, I said it) inside joke ‘Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping’, there’s a scene where a character is concerned whether a drop strategy is too corporate and Bieber…cough cough….Samberg responds ‘There’s no such thing as selling out anymore, man. This is how big business work. I mean, nowadays, if you don’t sell out, people will wonder if nobody asked you to.’
Choufan calls the contemporary designer a ‘metaphor’. But a current designer is not a metaphor, they’re an arbiter. A curator, albeit more in the manner of Hans Ulrich Obrist than in the manner of Virgil Abloh. There’s a reason that Hedi Slimane or Tom Ford is more likely to be referred to as a Creative Director of a given house than as a Designer. Their purview has ceased to be simply making clothes and has (meta)morphed into the conjuring of a lifestyle. I was ensorcelled when Tom Ford first dropped his eponymous line but only did fragrances and accessories. It was such a ruthlessly highbrow po’mo’ statement. Like ‘clothing is a means to an end, but shoes and scents are the watering hole at which the industry whets its beak my dude’. Ruthless.
Fashion is no longer black and white. It’s black AND white. Chiaroscuro. And its the conceptual reductivism inherent in this article that I find so onerous.
Fenty will be a monstrous success. Justifiably. But it doesn’t signify the end of the designer as we know it.
This. This is something else.