Into Unknown Territory: Fashion Writing, Sort-Of

Let me say at the outset that I'm no fashion savant. I know what I like, and I know what I don't, and while most days I look presentable at other times I can barely dress myself. No, I stay out of fashion affairs, instead leaving them to more discernible people than myself. But that being said, I was struck by the thought that fashion can be incredibly, ham-handedly lame.

It's fall fashion season, apparently, based on the ad catalogues masquerading as issues of Vogue, Bazaar, and other fashionable mags of note (including the New York Times' T). So it wasn't surprising to see touted on the cover of the latest issue of New York magazine that it was its fall fashion issue. Well, whose magazine isn't right now?

As I flipped through clothing ad after perfume ad after jewelry ad, and once I got beyond the normal front-of-the-book stuff, I came to The Show: the fashion advertorials. The first, titled Out and About In the City opened with this image:

It felt overly staged, true, but it felt throwback, too. It was classy without being (too) pretentious. The rest of the spread, photographed by Rodney Smith, wasn't too bad, either. The guy and gal go to a stadium for a couple snaps, then dance in an empty street, and wind up in Coney Island. As a sucker for the Coney Island of olde, I really dug this image:

By now, it should be glaringly obvious that I didn't spend a whole lot of time looking at the clothes (though the guy's suit and bowler were pretty snappy). The images as images grabbed me and kept me lingering on the pages. True, the good photos made me notice the fashion, and in that I suppose the spread was a success. Good Photography + Interesting Set-Ups + Fashionable Attire = Successful Fashion Spread.

While I was surprised that I got sucked into a fashion spread, my feelings turned to revulsion as I continued through the magazine. Each spread was tackier than the next, culminating with this:

The title of this collection of ill-conceived nonsense was Futuristic Dresses That Will Look Good For a Century. That's all fine and good, but what happens when the dresses of the future, the ones that will look good in 2018, don't even look good now? Very few items of fashion age well. There are classics like the tuxedo that have lasted ages and will last for ages more, and the little black dress that will never go out of style, but go through the history of "looks" and you'll be hard-pressed to find the decades spurting forth fashions for the next century let alone the next five years. These future dresses fall squarely into the here today, not gone soon enough category.

Is that overly simplistic? I'm sure it is. Like I said, I'm a fashion philistine. And, truth be told, I'm making fairly blind criticisms since the images are so awful that you can barely discern basic information about the clothing, like what color it is. I know photographers can be so into their own arty headspaces sometimes, but, really, someone needed to tell Burkhard Schittny to put down the Photoshop and back away.

What's the intent of the images? To presume that in the future we'll all be washed out polarization filters in the future? OK. I can get behind that -- an artist's vision is his vision, and it should be respected. But in this case there is a major editorial gaffe on display because we, the readers and the people who are supposed to be tempted to dress like the models in the spread, are being depraved of gathering knowledge about those fashions. Maybe Good Photography + Terribly Pretentious Set-Ups + Possibly Fashionable Attire = Bad, Bad, Bad Fashion Spread.

New York's fashion issue limped to a close with what would be a fairly interesting idea -- if Perry Ellis hadn't thought of it first:

It's a graphic novel fashion spread! How trendy! Because the kids love those funnybooks!

Titled Loveless! with story and art by Jim Rugg and story by Brian Maruca, New York touts it as "Like Kafka, but with better clothes." Could be. It's hard to tell when the clothes are represented by drawings that seem to have been given more attention than the non-fashion art. Are the clothes worth a closer look? Maybe. Is the comparison to Kafka superficial? Sure. Would this strip -- and all of New York's fall fashion issue -- been better with a selection of Kafka's porn collection? Absolutely. But, again, the point of the fashion spread, as I understand it, seems to be missed.

I worked at a magazine for almost two years, and in that time they did a fair amount of fashion spreads. I know the amount of work and effort goes into them, from the designers to the stores to the editors to the photographers to the art directors. With a couple exceptions, a large portion of those involved with New York's fall fashion issue seemed to have been asleep at the wheel. There is something to be said for being different and contrarian, especially when every other magazine in America is releasing a similar issue at the same time. But being different only works when there's substance behind it. There is very little substance in New York's fashion coverage. After spending more time with a fashion magazine than I have in many years, I should have come out with a better idea of what's in, what's hot, and what the trends are. I guess. Instead, all I got was the bad taste in my mouth of, as Moe from the Simpsons described post-modernism, people being weird for the sake of being weird.