It’s a lonely place, realizing you very well may be the last person alive that feels a bit betrayed by the industry you’ve loved and admired since puberty. Fashion, whether its been loved or snubbed, has always been an ever-changing, evolving, accepting, rejecting, ostentatious, ironic anomaly built entirely on creative nostalgia, and it’s an important, billion-dollar industry that’s not shrinking any time soon.
By the time I entered the 8th grade my bedroom walls were covered with Cindy, Naomi, Christy, Elaine, Claudia, Helena and Niki in various editorials ripped from Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Allure and Seventeen. Supermodels were the celebrity in the 90’s. These otherworldly beauties were the talk of the town and the absolute life of any big party. What’s more is that they all appeared healthy, happy and actually arrived with real substance attached. Cindy Crawford bombed at acting and singing, but she ruled our tubes as the host of MTV’s House of Style. Christy Turlington used her good looks and massive platform to promote yoga and lung cancer prevention. When she wasn’t gracing the pages of ELLE, Elaine Irwin was far more interested in the quiet life with her sons and rock-star husband John Mellencamp than any paparazzi-filled event. Sure, Naomi Campbell threw phones and tantrums on occasion and Linda Evangelista had diva-tastic demands, but these women worked and truly earned their place on the star scale. The editorials and photographs I collected of these icons exuded so much confidence, such astonishing beauty; their bodies like fluid, trained sculptures of art. One look at their Meisel-captured portraits and you just knew it was iconic. She was special.
Fashion and the industry as a whole started to veer in opposite, erratic directions as the 21st century progressed. Clothes became smaller and far more revealing than seasons past. Red carpet events started to look like a burlesque dress rehearsal and the competition for young (or old) starlets to garner fame and recognition by baring all became increasingly steep. Elizabeth Hurley solidified super-stardom practically overnight after she donned a black Versace gown strategically held together with dozens of gold safety pins revealing almost more skin than fabric to a red carpet event with Hugh Grant in ’94. Hurley’s classic, natural beauty and British etiquette offered the perfect balance to that shocking, sexy number and we hardly saw such an avant garde look from her again despite a lengthy career. Rose McGowan basically wore a thong and a few strings to the 1998 VMA’s and while many of us looked on in horror, few of us were totally appalled. She was shock-rock musician Marilyn Manson’s date, and this was the VMA’s; probably the only major celebrity event where literally anything goes and the crazier the better. What used to be a carefully choreographed moment to garner serious buzz and attention by baring all on occasion has become an everyday activity for many female celebs today. Somehow, during the last few years we started seeing more and more nudity from youngish stars everywhere. On magazine covers to red carpets to Instagram; it’s T&A all day, every day and it seems the more desperate the celebrity is to either shed a former childhood image or just be known as more than a little reality star the greater and more frequent the reveal. The more skin, shock-and-awe we see, the farther away from the days of serious, iconic fashion we migrate. Which begs the question: Is fashion inspired anymore?
I grew up in a time when true style icons were known for their brains and charitable offerings as they were for their clothes and great genetics. America’s growing obsession with reality television, fame, money, and dramatic attention however, has steered the media to focus on just about anyone that’s willing to put in the work to garner attention—good or horribly bad. Vogue was the first major fashion magazine to replace the supermodel with celebrities on covers once Anna Wintour took over as EIC in the late 80s. What was once the place for the likes of Hilary Clinton, Princess Diana, and Iman has now practically become a free-for-all. A cover spot so attainable and open to anyone with more than 1 million followers on Instagram, despite who those followers actually are or what (if any at all) good they are doing for the world and/or society. Sure, magazines need to sell out at newsstands, but isn’t there another way? Must we all reform to the masses, strip off our clothes and IQ’s for the sake of pop culture and money? Whatever happened to the Grace Jones, the Chers, Diana Rosses, Kate Mosses, Diane Keatons, even the Madonnas of yesteryear? All of these ladies knew how to show a lot of skin or none at all and still be intelligent, talented, fierce, bitchy and giving. They were and still are true icons because they had some meat to bring to the cramped table other than just beauty or boobs. Bianca Jagger was just as sexy in a three-piece Yves Saint Laurent suit as she was in a beaded, revealing Halston gown. So many young women today could take a page from the history books of pure style and world class.
Only time will tell what route the fashion industry will venture to next. Women’s bodies are beautiful works of art and should always be celebrated and adored, but so should immaculate clothing. The dawn of supple décolleté and derrière was exciting and liberating. Now that it’s everywhere and increasingly raunchy, mystery and fabrics are surely missed. There seems to be a good bit of nostalgia resonating with top designers these days which is why menswear is probably having its time in the spotlight. It can’t be easy tapping into newly inspired collections when so many women are finding it harder to get dressed—if at all. This industry has faced its fair share of setbacks many times before, however, and still managed to make a full recovery. That’s one reason I’ve always adored fashion. What’s old can almost always be new again.
As for the fate of fashion magazines I still remain hopeful. You were my first love, and I refuse to give up on you just yet. As long as editors can evolve with the times without having to completely succumb to over-saturated pop culture, yet stay relevant, inspiring and meaty, we will have a most glorious, lengthy future together.