In starting our European trend safari, two questions were at the forefront; what would style look like in a post-hipster scene and how would trends in Paris and London differ or confirm those we had observed in Melbourne? To investigate these lines of enquiry we visited spots identified as flashpoints of local culture ― markets, galleries, cafes and the street ― to observe and chat with locals.
Uniformity & the Unseen Element
In spending time people-watching in areas such as Borough Markets and the Old Spitalfields Market, we discovered that despite a small style niche, everyone’s attire looked rather uniform and didn’t seem to present any personal style or individuality at all, leading us to believe this may be a style trend within London and Paris.
When discussing the topic of trends in London with Central Saint Martin’s student, Hannah Rogers, we discussed the lack of variety within London and the department store infrastructure. Although London streets have a great deal of department stores, unlike Melbourne they have no boutique stores and fewer emerging designer stores, therefore she says ‘it’s much more likely to find someone wearing the same garment as you because there is less variety and all the pieces are mass produced.’
‘I think compared to Australia, the UK’s high street has a lot more chains. The majority of clothes worn by my friends and I are from Topshop, Zara etc – if you haven’t got a big budget, they are really your only options. Because of this, there tends to be a bit of a uniform, and it’s not rare to come across plenty of people in the street wearing the same pieces of clothing as you. What I also found interesting about your talk was how trends in Australia and the UK do seem to be informed by the catwalk – the 80s for example – but how they are interpreted varies on our unique cultural histories. I would certainly say that climate informs trends here too – heavy, dark fabrics and clean silhouettes tend to be favoured by Londoners, which is certainly a result of how chilly it gets!’
However, from our observations in Paris and London, it is also became obvious that there is an unseen element to the fashion and the culture of these cities. In both Paris and London the people have their preferences straight and dress to to keep warm over looking fashionable. When walking through the underground train stations and along streets such as in Dalston and Brick lane in London, all the locals are dressed rather uniformly in typical jeans, boots and coats while the braver ladies wear thick stockings and long skirts. This makes us question if given the opportunity to dress freely without the likelihood of freezing to death, would there be less uniform and more individual expressions of style. When asked why locals dress the way they do, they all replied with the same answer, “to keep warm”. Similarly to the architecture in Paris, in which the buildings appear to lack a sense of individuality and appear to be rather the same, there is likewise an unseen sense of character, like they are hiding something behind their dark rooms and closed curtains.
Despite that obvious lack of individuality and identity, if you look hard enough, it would appear that the use of accessorising can be used to portray style within the colder climates of Europe. When hanging out in the trendier areas such as Montmartre or Avenue Montaigne in Paris and Brick Lane and the Old Spitalfields Market near Shoreditch in London, we spotted many street roamers who showed their individuality and style through the use of accessories such as hats, scarves, glasses and shoes.
A term coined by the upcoming exhibition at Antwerp’s MOMU, demi-couture describes a growing synergy between ‘high’ and ‘low’ fashion. Featuring ready-to-wear garments, the exhibition showcases clothing inspired by the highly skilled hand-executed techniques used to construct and embellish haute couture collections. The concept of a new demi-couture encapsulates both a revived interest in the handmade and the evolution of consumer expectations in the retail world.
In London today, couture style without the price tag is apparent both on the street and in high-street retail outlets. Browsing vintage stalls in Camden Market, Piret and Piret wear fake fur coats while describing Estonian high fashion as their style inspiration. The playful detailing in their jackets evoke time intensive techniques used by haute-couture furriers.
As a textile faux fur has a history of blurring boundaries between high and low fashion. In her Smithsonian article, Alice Hines proposes that where once faux fur was worn to display progressive ideologies, technical innovations in the production of synthetic fabrics have now diluted the potential for it to be worn in contrast to real fur (2015). Further convergence between haute-couture and ready-to-wear can be seen with labels such as Shrimps, a British brand launched in 2013 by London-based designer Hannah Weiland, which produces faux fur garments that retail for up to $2800 AUD. Offering a kitsch, youthful spirit, Shrimps transforms a textile which has historically been of little value into a higher end consumer product.
A demi-couture theme was also apparent in the heavily embellished garments on sale on High Street. The two tops pictured make use of a variety of beading and applique techniques to produce a luxe, opulent feel while the monochromatic colourways give the pieces a subtlety not always associated with mass produced apparel. Echoing the current interest in artisanal textiles, an exhibition currently housed in London’s Lethaby Gallery tracks a century of textile design by the students and lecturers of Central Saint Martins College. Titled Real Dirty Blue, the exhibition didactic material describes intricate manipulation and committed hand-authorship as ‘essential for works that are not just decorative but also meaningful,’ before conceiving of a craft future ‘opening up a dialogue between hand-made and mass-produced processes’ (2016).
The erasure of distinctions between high and mainstream culture is also taking place in the retail environment. British mainstay Burberry recently announced that it is phasing out the three tiers of labels which it presently produces, combining its Prorsum, London and Brit lines under one label by the end of 2016 (Solca 2015). Perhaps more provocatively, the Burberry’s latest 2016 Womenswear Collection was premiered simultaneously in store and on the runway, heralding a move to dispense with the usual 6 month waiting period currently experienced between presenting and stocking in retail locations. The changing retail landscape is also reflected the rise of the concept store; in the extreme, such spaces elevate consumer items to levels of contemplation usually reserved for fine art in gallery environments.
Demi-couture can be seen as symptomatic of the merging of categories once considered binary: gender is being renegotiated, divisions between fashion and art are no longer clear-cut, and consumers no longer wish to be limited to a single market. In a time where internet shopping has made purchasing just a click away, the value which we place on artisanal, time-intensive techniques must increase. The hand-crafted, or its semblance, would seem to provide a stable form of currency as the fashion industry completes a process of transition into the digital age. Whether our connection to the hand-made, and the subsequent value we place on craft, will survive a sublimation in the fashion market still remains to be seen.
As with demi-couture, the value placed on the artisanal and hand-crafted is likewise central to a theme we have designated manual labour. Following a trend presentation by Studio Edelkoort which predicted an increasing interest in the accoutrements of labour we collected primary evidence that verified the adoption of the trend on the streets of Shoreditch, Camden, Dalston and Soho. Furthermore we attempted to decode the cultural factors which could have contributed to the emergence of the theme.
Essential to this trend is a return to workwear of the past. Outfits such as worn by Melissa indicate a utilitarian self-sufficiency which draws upon the origins of denim as a worker’s fabric. The hardwearing fabrics of Melissa‘s ensemble, and of others we observed on the street, are visibly worn and weathered. In contrast to the corporate suit – the symbol of the knowledge economy – these outfits proudly display manual toil and a blue-collar work ethic. Current exhibitions in both Paris and London likewise emphasise the value of labour: in Studio Edelkoort, an exhibition of digitally printed aprons map the garment’s versatility while the TATE Modern display Citizens shows the political work of an artist-activists. Melissa describes her clothing as casual, indicating that it is a look she wears to conduct her everyday business.
Although this trend is in some ways concerned with capturing the past, its interpretation today takes on board current gender identity politics. Silhouettes such as Greg’s cinched waist and Narot’s boxy jumpsuit showcase the variety with which gender identity can be displayed. Similarly, the look indicates a breaking down of boundaries between ideas of new and old; Greg describes his shopping habits as encompassing everything vintage and new, while Narot pairs a vintage Calvin Klein jumpsuit with Princess Tam Tam lingerie.
In discussion with Hannah Rogers, we drew comparisons between the vintage shopping habits of Melburnians and those of Londoners. While we perceived the op-shop purveyor in Melbourne to be primarily motivated by style and budget, for Rogers, class differences also came into play:
‘In some cases here there tends to be a trend for wealthier kids to move towards thrift shop dressing in an attempt to rebel against their class stereotype. I also know plenty of students who do shop at thrift stores because it’s cheaper though, and they can find super cool pieces – I think it really depends what type of shopper you are. I don’t have the patience for it!’
Our current fascination with labour could be framed as a fulfilment of what Karl Marx described as a self-alienation generated in a capitalist mode of production. In his seminal work, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Marx outlines the alienation of the worker from the act of producing as detrimental to what he terms our Gattungswesen or species-essence. For Marx, our contact with raw materials, the labour involved in transforming the materials, and the resultant objects created, are integral to our very identities:
‘In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and, therefore, enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also, when looking at the object, I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses, and, hence, a power beyond all doubt.’
In this way, as a trend, manual labour can be seen as an effort to reclaim the means of production which have been lost in our globalised economy. While such efforts, if concentrated on style rather than action, may be tokenistic at best, they indicate an ongoing absorption in ideas of authenticity. In a contemporary setting, authenticity appears malleable as we work to interrogate categories which were once held to be binary and fixed.
While our trend safari in Paris and London initially appeared to present few entry points in terms of analysis or comparison with Melbourne style, in immersing ourselves in local culture we were able to identify key common concerns. Although the expiration of the hipster trend has been echoed throughout many media outlets, it appears that the driving force behind the hipster, that is the search for authenticity, still remains essential to our style. Rather than imagining authenticity as a marketing ploy that died a natural death alongside that of the hipster, we can instead frame it as a paradigm under ongoing negotiation.
In fact, Janna Michael describes the passing of the hipster as proof positive of our ongoing fascination with authenticity: ‘the meaning of hipster bashing […] lies in claiming for oneself the much valued authenticity that hipsters are so sadly lacking’ (2015). Seen in this light, the dismantling of hipster tropes indicates an incomplete rather than an abandoned attempt at authenticity. Where the hipster may have become bogged down in a pastiche of tweed and Victorian-era moustaches, new concepts of authenticity seem to offer a nod to the past coupled with more nuanced interpretation of the present.
Exhibitions: What’s on – Real Dirty Blue. University of the Arts London: Central Saint Martins [Online]. Available: < http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/about-csm/museum-and-study-collection/exhibitions/ > [Accessed 23.02.2016]
MOMU Gallery Demi-Couture 15|01|16 > 8|04|16. Mode Museum [Online]. Available: < http://www.momu.be/en/tentoonstelling/demi-couture.html > [Accessed 27.02.2016].
Hines, A. 2015. The History of Faux Fur. Smithsonian.com [Online]. Available: < http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/history-faux-fur-180953984/ > [Accessed 25.02.2016]
Marx, K. 1844. Comments on James Mill, Éléments D’économie Politique. Marxists.org [Online]. Available: <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/james-mill/ > [Accessed 27.02.2016]
Michael, J. 2015. It’s really not hip to be a hipster: Negotiating trends and authenticity in the cultural field. Journal of Consumer Culture, 15(2), pp 163-182.
Morley, JC. 2016. Burberry ready to modernise fashion without delay. Guardian [Online]. Available: < http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/feb/22/burberry-ready-modernise-fashion-without-delay?CMP=share_btn_wa > [Accessed 28.02.2016]
Shattuck, M. 50 Shades of Greige [Video]. Nowness [Online]: Available: < https://www.nowness.com/category/fashion-and-beauty/fifty-shades-of-greige-concept-store > [Accessed 24.02.2016]
Solca, L. 2015. Can Burberry and Prada Face Their Problems?. Business of Fashion [online]. Available: < http://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/opinion/can-burberry-and-prada-face-their-problems > [Accessed 28.02.2016]