I rarely bother to look at images of stars and celebrities on the Red Carpet as I find them an annoyingly useless spectacle involving marketing, fame, devilish PR agents and other assorted evil forces.
A good example was the Red Carpet at the latest Grammy Awards, though this time it wasn't only annoying, it was also disturbingly grotesque.
I’m all in favour of religious satire especially if it's cleverly done and spot on, but a supposedly red nun’s habit by Versace that looked like a Carnival costume for Red Riding Hood donned by Nicki Minaj, accompanied for the occasion by a Pope look-alike, was not inappropriately silly, it was just ridiculous.
It remains a mystery also why Sasha Gradiva was wearing a rather horrid robotic Terminator arm to accessorise an otherwise unoffensively bland pink tulle dress (mind you, maybe it was right because the dress was unoffensively bland...).
In their defense one could point out that this is the attention seeking realm of showbiz, so it's all perfectly normal, yet there were some links between this grotesque and unnecessary display of madness and other events of a more fashionable nature during New York Fashion Week, such as Marc Jacobs and Thom Browne's catwalk shows.
Jacobs' collection was apparently spawned by manifold inspirations comprising puritans and pilgrims, Charles Dickens, Kurt Cobain, Dr Seuss' Cat in the Hat, and Anna Piaggi (anything else?).
Models walked around a spooky unfinished paper-like castle of arches and caves (sort of Alice in Wonderland in a Tim Burton key) by artist Rachel Feinstein, wearing dresses in brocade tweeds and leather over cropped pants, matched with round capes and bell-shaped coats.
All the looks - in a wide range of fabrics that displayed not knowledge but a penchant for pastiche and collage - were completed by oversized furry "Cat in the Hat Vs Mad Hatter on acid" headdresses in multi-coloured shades designed by Stephen Jones and accessorised with crystal encrusted buckled high-tongued shoes (a more tamed version of these shoes available for both men and women was the cause of much hilarity in the '70s in Italy...having witnessed it, I can assure you they were the best cure against depression at the time...).
Shimmering fabrics, glittery sequins and splashes of Lurex were employed in the knits and the socks; lamé dresses and blouses and iridescent inserts were juxtaposed to darker tones, but what struck the attention were the rather unflattering curving volumes that turned the thin bodies of the models into tilting dolls and roly-poly toys, a concept somehow strengthened by the layered structure of the various looks.
But, while Jacobs opted for overcharging looks and models in his excesses, at Thom Browne's excess was filtered through death.
In the history of fashion, death has been spotted so many times during catwalk shows that this connection doesn't scare or amazes anybody anymore.
Yet Browne, master of the bizarre and the surreal (and, for many classically trained tailors, destroyer of any sensible human proportion...) couldn't somehow resist the temptation of playing with death and resurrection in fashion.
The designer had ten models dressed in gray suits and with their heads, hands and feet covered in organza shrouds lying down in pinstripe-lined coffins arranged in a row on the floor of the New York Public Library.
Apparently, they represented ten girls who had died for fashion but were somehow revived twice a year by a fashion dream, a vision of fantasy and wonder.
The starting point and the story may have been different from Jacobs', but the emphasis was on the same points: oversized volumes, layered looks (skirts were layered one upon the other to show how "cleverly" the different fabrics were used, but the final effect was that of impairing movement), exaggerations, protrusion and extrusion, narrow waists and expanded shoulders, breasts, elbows and hips and a will to play at creating Haute Couture without having the skills to do so.
The main difference was that, while Jacobs threw into his cauldron all his styling talent, Browne pilfered Gaultier (cage skirts, conical bras), Rei Kawakubo (body morphing and padded areas) and Yohji Yamamoto (dinosaur suits/dresses from the S/S 2006 collection).
Weird? Of course.
Original and desirable? No (maybe the gray flannel foxes imitating real fox stoles were original, but they already appeared in other fashion collections/incarnations).
The more naive fashion commentators may think these displays of nonsensical fun are magnificent moments created by clever fashion designers writing with magical thread a dark and dreamy modern fairytale (fashion designers who never took part in any kind of death vigil and spent time with actual corpses, because if you did so, you also knew there is nothing glamorous and fun about it).
As a critic you may instead argue that the darkest and more disturbing aspects of Jacobs and Browne's shows could be seen as the final embodiment of that scary alternative dimension that Neil Gaiman's Coraline found on the other side of the wall.
These modern spectacles of confusing obsessions that get naively praised by most "critics" may be hiding behind them something else and there may be other issues that somehow link together unique displays of excesses such as the Grammy Awards, Marc Jacobs and Thom Browne's shows.
In Europe, every new day that passes marks another downgrade by a rating agency, and while it's undeniable that "Greece + bankruptcy" and "Italy + recession" have become inseparable concepts, the US economy hasn’t been going that well in the last few years or even in the last decades.
Things were made worse by the financial crisis of the 2000s with unexpected loss of jobs, wage cuts and unemployment rates rising.
Yet these issues aren't reflected in a coherent way by fashion as the industry seems to prefer to take refuge in odd and disturbing visions of beauty, in morphed human bodies, fashion zombies and creatures with strange and upsetting shapes, silhouettes and protuberances.
In a way, these orgies of incoherent inspirations, bad taste, assorted fabrics and garments thrown together, are symptoms of a deeper malaise, of a financial, social and psychological confusion, disturbance, decadence and decline.
It's true that fashion and excess go hand in hand, but it's also true that New York Fashion Week and its focus on quantity rather than quality and on useless excesses mirrors not the health of the country, but its decline (no matter how many times Anna Wintour & Co will desperately deny this - and please don't try to make us believe that these clothes are actually made by hand in the "garment district" respecting labour rules and human rights...).
There may be no immediate solutions for the persisting global crisis, but there is a solution to excess and that's shifting the focus from the spectacle (and the quantity...) to the quality (trying also to criticise things rather than blatantly praise them...) and to the actual manufacturing industry, but this won't happen if we don't stop feasting upon this overdressed bulimic zombie called fashion spectacle that doesn't even seem to be able to enjoy sublime consolation in death because it keeps on being resurrected by incredibly zealous and incredibly desperate fashion designers.
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