Art is a pretentious business and those of us who had the pleasure of going to certain press previews and receiving a release trying to explain the main themes behind a particular exhibition perfectly know that at times the description didn't make any sense, but just featured a jumble of complicated words forming sentences without any proper meaning (a good idea if you're bilingual is trying to translate certain documents into another language...ah, the fun!)
The same can be said about fashion: I quite often deleted from my email box or tore to bits the press releases of certain fashion shows, but I can assure you that collecting these rare pieces of nonsense can give much more pleasure and provide endless hours of fun on a boring day.
Prompted by this passion for nonsense that the fashion industry has been displaying for quite a few years now, I decided to work on a glossary of the most abused terms and concepts in fashion (and one day I will put together a list of bits and pieces selected from the most hilarious press releases...). What follows is just an extract. Enjoy.
Archive: This magic term indicated up until a few years ago the Sancta Sanctorum of a fashion house or a particular museum. A prestigious archive was usually preserved in a dungeon-like location, dedicated space or even a bank vault and accessing it was a long and laborious process in which you were usually accompanied by an archivist who made sure you were wearing white gloves and who was authorised to shoot you if you ever sneezed on a precious piece or tried to take pictures and notes. In modern language an archive can even consist of a pile of dusty cardboard boxes stacked in the corner or a PR office. Besides, in our times creative directors are authorised to visit the archives of the fashion house they work for and pilfer - pardon - take inspiration from the drawings, illustrations, pictures and garments they find there.
(The) Bauhaus: Originally the German school that, operating between 1919 and 1933, became known for its refreshing approach to design that combined crafts and the fine arts, now widely used by clueless fashion designers with a limited art and craft knowledge to silence journalists and convince them they are not only tremendously hip but also tremendously knowledgeable. Example of a dialogue mentioning The Bauhaus: "Journalist: What inspired your collection? Designer: The Bauhaus; Journalist: How delightful!" Riccardo Tisci has by now referred to The Bauhaus as an inspiration in interviews so many times that it's amazing we still believe him without ever asking him which works/artists he has been referencing.
Building a sustainable future: Exploiting Africa. Having exploited most of Asia, the fashion industry is currently diverting its deadly gaze somewhere else.
Capsule Collection: Incoherent selection of 6 garments or accessories by a specific fashion designer for a high street retailer or a brand. It is usually driven by the unquenchable desire of generating money and pollution, masked as a fun "collaboration" (see also collaboration).
Catwalk/Collection Press Release: Don't touch it, don't try to decipher it, you have just come across the Da Vinci Code of fashion, in a nutshell, a pile of utter nonsense. Don't even try to read it because your surprised face will automatically mean that the PR officer in charge will smell your fear and confusion and take advantage of the situation. In doubt, call a linguist who will explain you that casually assembled sentences/descriptions like "The designer delved into the dark recesses of his childhood investigating the inaccessible fragmented shards of memory and of an oppressively obscure Catholic education, traversed by the metaphisical notions of philosophy. The result is a collection conceived as a multi-sensory experience" do not mean anything at all.
Collaboration: Once upon a time in a galaxy far away collaborating meant working with somebody else onto the same project or developing something together. This word has now mutated becoming a genetically modified octopus with multiple meanings at different levels: it can hint at a fashion house doing a product/a collection for a specific high street brand; a celebrity endorsing a product; a high profile blogger doing some kind of projects such as illustrations, photo shoots, styling and so on for a brand, and the list of collaborations goes on and on. In most cases it is an umbrella term that may mean "anything you do with or for a specific client" and it usually involves the client paying you. Sounds like prostitution you say? Then you got it, it can be a form of legalised glamorous prostitution with no sex involved. Most collaborations are actually endorsements: if you're collaborating with a brand to organise an exhibition, the PR officer of the brand may have already chosen what they want you to exhibit, and you will just to have to nod and say yes. Then you have "collaborated" together.
Costume Designer: A serious profession before a wide range of designers and labels infiltrated cinema, theatre, opera and ballet and turned these fields into a product placement game. Luchino Visconti used to joke about using Louis Vuitton trunks in his films because they carried his initials, but Louis Vuitton never designed the cases appearing in his films. Do you really want to be a costume designer? Then be ready to compete with Prada, Givenchy, Valentino, Rodarte, Altuzarra, Stella McCartney, Gaultier, and many more. Cheer up, though: most of them don't have the sensibility to do your job and think that designing a tutu consists in piling up a lot of tulle layers one after the other. Repeat the mantra: Prada is not Danilo Donati; Prada is not Piero Tosi.
Curator/To Curate: Definitely the most abused term in the creative arts world. A curator used to be a highly educated person who took care of cataloguing a collection or who put together an exhibition. Now everybody can be a curator and everybody can curate everything, from an exhibition to a window shop, from a film festival to a magazine, a photo shoot or an advertising campaign. One of the most popular fun T-shirts seen at assorted art events all over the world just spells "CURATOR" and I'm sure that, if Ikea did toilet signs with the words "Curated by..." and some space left to add the name you want, they would sell millions. A very obnoxious example of how this word has been abused: the press releases to some fashion shows include the section "Music curated by" and quite often the musical selection ends up being a pile of vile tracks (Burberry shows anybody?).
Customisation: A word with the potential of killing the fashion industry and the mass marketed economy used by big brands to convince consumers they can be the "curators" (see curator) of their own wardrobes. With this aim in mind they offer customisation services on expensive branded items. Remember that you are already the "curator" of our own wardrobe and that you don't need a powerful brand to brainwash you.
Democratising fashion: The vague impression that many young people have (reinforced by a bunch of lying fashion editors à la Franca Sozzani) that fashion has bene democratised since they can buy at an affordable price a piece produced by a high street brand but pilfered from the collection of an expensive fashion house. Now, there would be a genuine democratisation when everybody could afford high quality garments produced respecting certain labour and manufacturing standards, rules and regulations. There is nothing democratic in producing cheap garments in sweatshops and making them pass as a collaboration between a famous fashion house and a high street retailer. There is nothing democratic when only a fraction of the society can afford certain items, while all the others can only buy cheap copies.
Heritage: Usually employed in conjunction with historical (at least 50 years old) fashion houses and institutions, now often used together with the term "archive" to define the "signature style" of extremely young brands (including Victoria Beckham, ah, the hilarity...).
Icon of style: In the past an actor or actress, but also artists who effortlessly represented style even when/if dressed in rags. Think about Marcello Mastroianni or Audrey Hepburn and you get an idea. In most cases these icons were also gifted with other talents (actors and actresses could actually act!), now this definition can be applied to pompous bastards (Karl Lagerfeld), obnoxious dead politicians (Margaret Thatcher), useless celebrities (Kim Kardashian) and assorted actors/actresses/models etc. In most cases, the title "icon of style" refers to the fact that the icon in question just dresses well or as a good stylist. Quite often modern icons of style do not relate well to other fellow human beings and display aggressively non-iconic behaviour towards those who do not admire them or who do not fit their own canons of beauty (see for example Lagerfeld's comments on people he may not like à la Adele).
Empowering: Usually followed by the words "women", "silhouettes" and "collection", but the next step is "empowering imagination", at least according to former PPR, from mid-June this year Kering. Imagination is something naturally empowering, right because it's called "imagination", if you need to empower it, you must be really desperate.
Ethical: Guilt-free label often used by high street retailers. Fashion is not ethical, in fact there is nothing ethical in fashion and when this word is used, it usually implies that something is highly immoral. H&M's "ethical" evening wear range "Conscious Exclusive" automatically implies all their other lines are, well, simply unethical.
Eco-conscious/eco-friendly: Another guilt-free label overemployed in fashion. If fashion were eco-conscious or eco-friendly we wouldn't be depending on fast trends and companies producing more items than they can sell. Wouldn't producing fewer T-shirts with vapid slogans about saving our planet (or not producing them at all) be less damaging to our planet than actually proving with a toxic T-shirt that you love trees?
See you tomorrow for the second part of "A Brief Glossary of the Most Abused Terms, Expressions and Concepts in Fashion".