The Elitist It-Group

In a recent article, Raf Simons, ex creative director at Dior stated that “Fashion is at fever pitch, designers and brands and bloggers and Insta-famous celebrity spawn are all shouting into the virtual void”. There was also a local ed’s letter insinuating that the influx of fashion bloggers and their (our) lack of understanding of the true aesthetics of fashion, fashion history and other ideologies associated with the fashion industry, is not benefitting local designers, but rather hindering the future of fashion in South Africa.  As an Art History major, I agree with them to a large extent. I too get annoyed when I see art bloggers just posting pics of artworks without discussing it from a meaningful perspective and “insta-famous” celebs rocking up at Art Fairs who only come to spend and not appreciate. It’s difficult to not make it sound like we’re part of an elitist it-group, but maybe we are. And I’m sure, those feelings are associated with many industries where the lines between the views of an educated critic and the views of a blogger for example, is in fact dissolving.

Despite the fact that these notions are deeply rooted in modernist ideology where viewers of an artwork (in this case a fashion garment) must have some sort of academic training to make meaning of the artwork in an intellectual way, this notion is a little old-fashioned. In the 60s Pop Art challenged modernist theory of autonomous art, by claiming anyone can be an artist and that the creative genius is a myth. What Pop Art thought us, was that anyone with the right tools can not only make art, but can also relate to the art and give it meaning, without a fancy education. Art was now for the people, not for the bourgeois. Pop artists did this by using images replete in popular visual culture, like the famous Marilyn, for example. Before I continue, take a note of how fashion in essence, is a huge part of popular visual culture and doesn’t differ much from art in a post-modern world.

Having said that, I found these opinions by Simons and other fashion editors valid, but also outdated. All creatives fear the crisis of art and fashion – the moment when progress ceases and the essence of art is lost. When Photoshop launched in 1990, photographers thought it was the end of true photographic skill. I beg to differ. You still need skills to understand composition,  and guess what, Photoshop also takes skill. As Lyotard argued; because language is unstable and in constant flux, we cannot find the essence of an artwork or progress teleologically towards it. So where does it leave bloggers? We live in a society today where people are drawn to visual images. Our lives are so fast-paced, that most of us relate to images much more that we do to text. Social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest proves that. I believe there is a place for ‘fluffy’ fashion bloggers and insta-celebs in the fashion industry. They bridge the gap between couture and ready-to-wear, high fashion and street fashion. They take inspiration from the runway and they give it to the people. They challenge the idea that the fashion industry is super-elitist, and that’s pretty cool.

This also does not mean that there is no place for a critical eye that understands fashion from a point of view very different from a blogger’s. We need those watchdogs too. In fashion school, I remember a lecturer saying that the fashion critics are the ones who decide if a collection will be successful or not. Designers work hard to impress the critics, they don’t try to impress their friends or the bloggers. And is there a lack thereof in the South African fashion industry? I suppose so. I’m waiting to read one critical article or post about our recent South African Fashion Week’s Autumn/Winter 16 collections, and I doubt there will be any, because in such a tiny industry like ours you cannot dare criticise without being branded.

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