mayakotomoriforever: like it's 2009
mayakotomoriforever is a monthly fashion column by yours truly, self-reported and researched to the 9s.
Happy January, I’m unemployed! Only sharing that so I can look back on this and laugh. Anyways.
I’ve been re-watching The City (2008-2010) and remembering a time when the things I wanted more than anything felt within reach. See, I used to think I was a Whitney Port sun, Kelly Cutrone moon, Olivia Palermo rising: aka a young ingenue who moved to the big city to chase her dreams in fashion, self-titled power bitch, and Elle Magazine Upper East Side socialite. I bought into the very careful narrative OCCU (Orange County Cinematic Universe) architect Adam Divello created for all of them – I loved Whit’s friends and loathed her foes, which was complicated because best frenemy Olivia Palermo lived in my big three. I knew it was all a reality docu-soap farce, but the people: their flaws and struggles felt real. That aspect alone, the one of personality, felt like enough emotional gas to get me all the way to New York City myself, where I would do the same damn thing as all of these women: be great in the fashion industry. I wanted Olivia’s job at Elle, Whitney’s swag, and Kelly’s impeccable ability to demand respect in fashion. All of this felt within reach, until it didn’t.
The one thing I thought true of The City was its depiction of the strength of fashion magazines in the late aughts, however, at the time the show was filming in the Elle offices, fashion magazines were starting to fail. In 2009, the major fashion monthlies were reported to have lost ad pages in double digit percentages, signifying a very palpable loss in ad revenue. Given the recession, magazine circulation numbers had tanked across the nation, yet ad spot rates remained the same. To those brands who’d previously housed their ads in these magazines, why would they pay the same amount for a magazine that sold less copies? This rang very true for Elle US, a magazine who lost 16% of their ad revenue and 20% of their ad pages that same year, according to Forbes.
Elle is also a unique case. In 2010, Elle put the adage of “you gotta spend money to make money” in action when brand owner Lagardère Group subsidiary Hachette Filipacchi Media brought on former VP of Microsoft US Ad sales Robin Domeniconi to turn Elle US into a lifestyle brand. This was all a part of Hachette’s idea to meet consumers where they’re at: give them a spa, an app, an experience, and they will come. The funniest thing is that Domeniconi was brought on in the middle of filming the last season of The City, and was additionally tasked with expanding the brand on the show’s coattails.
Did any of this even work? Unfortunately, no: by the end January 2011, Lagardère Group sold all of its international titles (including Elle’s 15 international editions at the time) to Hearst Magazines for about $886 million, that is with the exception of Elle France, and the ownership of the Elle trademark. WWD reported that even after the deal closed, Lagardère still sought control of the Elle brand editorially, which we know today didn’t end up happening. This very second, Elle magazine lives at Hearst and maintains good circulation, even placed beside fashion monthly giant Harper’s Bazaar, a concern from WWD and the like during this acquisition.
The City did what it was supposed to do for Elle US: it maintained the image of the sought-after print fashion magazine job in the face of the industry’s own .com boom. Olivia Palermo represented the turn towards the new, she was the face of elle.com while the magazine still printed, still influenced. This is what felt within reach, and now is dead for me.
I love magazines, specifically fashion magazines. I grew up on them. When you’re from a place like Riverside, California, that one issue of Elle or NYLON at the drug store (you had to go to the Barnes & Noble to find any other major fashion magazine) can change things for you, that one issue can give you perspective. I had rejected this idea a really long time ago, aka when I first started applying to entry-level positions at Vogue. Almost 7 years and two degrees later, I’m going to resurrect just a bit of that hope in the form of perspective. Fashion media has changed in a very necessary way, yet with an affect that I find insufferable in many ways.
On fashion: fashion and style are two different things, traditionally. We know fashion to address industry, and we know style to address “dress,” or the way normal people wear clothes to accommodate their lifestyles (ie: a fisherman wears a particular knit to better do his job, and then that knit becomes its own item, like a fisherman’s pullover). In the past 15ish years, we’ve decided that fashion actually makes us uncomfortable: it’s vain, no one can afford the clothes that they see on the runway, the fantasy is actually just disguised corporate greed. All of these things are very true, because that is how industry works. However, once audiences get some type of ethic gnawing away at their decision-making brain, it shows in decreased revenue for fashion, decreased interest, and now, the infamous Twitter call out. How did fashion shut everyone up? It started selling style.
At the same time though, the aspirational quality of fashion that we decided was elitist didn’t disappear, it marketed itself more effectively. Instead of fashion presenting a message of “here’s this very well made skirt suit from Dior, here’s why it’s special and why you should want one,” fashion presents a stylistic message of “here’s this Balenciaga collection inspired by normal people wearing jeans and puffer jackets, so we made our own jeans and hoodies with interesting details that you’ll only notice if you buy our specific pieces, but also the styling is attainable via your nearest Goodwill.” No longer do we aspire to own a piece of clothing that’s actually made well, we aspire to be able to achieve a point of view by our own means and, no matter how meager or robust those means, everyone can be fashion. Not everyone can be fashion, because it’s an industry. This fake democratic idea of style is just fashion wearing a stronger ennui of choice, and it smells bad.
Magazines have followed suit. We don’t talk about clothing anymore, because we don’t care about garmentation, we care about style. In reading reviews from fashion shows, it is now more commonplace to read longform sentences about the feeling of the runway and how the styling reminds the author of x literary reference from an obscure nineteenth century European novel than it is to actually read about the clothing. See, our sensibility now considers the kind of fashion reporting that actually reports on fashion as too on the nose, so instead of actually selling a brand through reviewing its fashion show, we sell a brand by reviewing its less tangible taste, its style, its relationship to all other artforms that aren’t relevant at all. This is the most advanced stage of post capitalism, the kind that hides so clearly in plain sight. Ironically, this type of fashion writing comes from the same people who spent their undergraduate years at liberal arts universities learning how to detest this same flavor of capitalism, one day, dreaming of dismantling it with their writing or their indie film. I can say this because I used to aspire to be this writer, until I made the active choice to both look at the fashion landscape around me with neutral glasses, and remember that NYU Gallatin is not a small liberal arts college.
Rant aside: the best way I can describe fashion media today is by looking at the Dsquared2 FW23 show. I’m not going to pretend like stylist Haley Wollens didn’t absolutely freak every single one of those looks because she did, but I am going to point out how this particular show represents the degradation of everything I think we should be trying to preserve with fashion.
This show does that Balenciaga thing where it sells the styling of the garments more than it sells the actual garments, but one step further: it sells nostalgia in this really disingenuous way that just feels cheap. The collection is, essentially, an amalgam of both spring and fall 2004 DSquared2 done 19 years later.
Granted, the general brand aesthetic of DSquared2 was always meant to look a bit tacky, but tacky and cheap are two very different things in fashion: one is inspired, and one is lazy. Don’t get me wrong, this collection did what any industry is supposed to do to turn a profit, which is to give the people what they want. However, in addition to such a black-and-white supply-demand framework, fashion is about taste making, it’s about giving the people an aspect of what they want in the form of something completely different that will sell all the same. DSquared2 FW23 gave those teenagers on the Internet who are obsessed with the early aughts exactly what they want, by essentially re-making their 2004 collections under the guise of somehow presenting that same look in an “updated” way. Really, the only thing that was updated was the styling, which perfectly skated the line between absurd/wearable and queerbaiting/queer but good styling does not a new point of view make. Nostalgia is undoubtedly a point in fashion, but this collection only serves as a touchpoint for how much of a sped up, self-referential mess fashion is right now. Just my take.
When I put all of this together, I just want to watch The City and pretend I live in a place where fashion magazines are still important and still talk about clothes, a place where we can actually critique the fashion industry without trying to absolve it from being…an industry (you have to laugh at this point). In reality, the personalities I loved and still love from that show aren't enough. An analogy: fashion is to detailed writing as style is to personality. You can't write about fashion with only a strong voice and a grip of references to art, books, celebrities, etc - you've got to mobilize that voice, and actually talk about fashion. This place I imagine, a place with beautiful, shiny fashion magazines that focus on all of the elements I love about fashion can't exist anymore, and I have to accept that. However, we can change our perspective if we really want to, if we seek it out, just like I did as a child perusing the grocery store magazine aisles.
A minor call to action: if fashion interests/has ever interested you, begin to think about collections in the most tangible terms possible, the designer, the garments, the history of the brand, and then personalize all that you’ve learned into a couple fun references, like, a Kippenberger sculpture or an Outkast album. Please. It’s called research and analysis, and I think what we’re missing. We're missing the raw desperado of 2009.
Complaining is one thing and action is another, so I will be putting said research and analysis into action via these columns. Lead by example, right?
Sweating at my dining table, this is Maya Kotomori. Forever.