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THOMPSON: Why the fashion industry leaves me puzzled

 


OPINION


Fashion Week is a big deal. Designers and “houses” - think Christian Dior - display their latest collections on runways to fellow designers, buyers and media, who influence and document the latest fashion trends.

In fact, it’s such a big deal...it never really ends. Fashion Week in Paris, New York, London and Milan - The Big Four - are most famous…but there’s a week regardless of where you might be on the planet.

It’s a fashion industry variation of what New Orleans does…why settle for visitors during a few weeks of Mardi Gras when you can throw parties for jazz, music, art, barbecue, voodoo, oysters…and 124 other unique events or festivals throughout the year…every year.

That’s why the world serves up Fashion Week in Madrid, Sao Paolo, Monte-Carlo, Los Angeles, Sydney, Bogotá, Barcelona, Tokyo, Seoul, Dubai, Lisboa, Miami, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Taipei, Dominican Republic, Guatemala…wait, just Google “nations around the globe” and you’ll pretty well have everywhere Fashion Week happens.

Of course, can you really jam all fashion has to display into a single week? That’s mostly rhetorical…but apparently…you cannot. That’s why many of those cities - including The Big Four - have a separate Fashion Week for men, women and brides. Of course, there’s also ready-to-wear, haute couture and specialty shows, like Tokyo’s “urban streetwear meets iconic Japanese heritage”.

I’m still trying to get my head around that one…Kimono hoodies?

Don’t get me wrong, I like fashion…and have been known to drop some serious folding money for just the right suit, shoes, shirt and tie…what the industry calls an “ensemble” and a word I’ve rarely used to describe my clothes.

There are a few, no, a lot of things about the fashion industry that leave me scratching my head. Take, for example, the fact that we - meaning the world’s population - spend somewhere north of US$2.5 Trillion on clothes each year, that’s considerably more than Canada’s National Debt of CAN$2.3 Trillion.

Some countries are much bigger spenders…U.S., France, Switzerland, Germany and Canada, among others. Other countries - like Ghana - are huge importers of our second-hand clothing…with about 40 percent ending up in landfills because the quality is so poor they’re unfit to wear. Imagine, that’s about six million articles of clothing…every day…buried days after arriving in port.

And that’s not even my aforementioned head-scratching point. If we spend so much on clothing every year, why do so many of the folks we see look so, well, unfashionable? Now, lift hand…scratch head.

Don’t scratch too much yet though…there’s more. Why don’t we ever see the clothes models wear on fashion show runways on the street? We don’t even see that many cheap knock-offs of those fashions…which a New York City buyer once told me are meant to impress fellow designers with creativity rather than actually end up in anyone’s closet.

There is, of course, the stark reality that the stuff we see on models would look positively hideous on most of us…think 95 percent. I like Tommy Bahama’s camp shirts and the last time I ordered one online…I also saw these mid-calf pants teamed with a tight-fitting T-shirt.

The male model weighed about what my left leg weighs. I tried to imagine myself in that outfit…excuse me, ensemble, and short of getting blind-drunk and accepting a dare that promised a lot of money…I just couldn’t see it.

Another head-scratcher…the models - men and women, boys and girls - all seem to wear the same pouty face. Is there a pouty-face school…or do they all just remember being 13? Surely they’re not sad about their weight…Greyhounds look fat alongside most of them.

I’ve heard all kinds of reasons…excuses…why fashion runways are “no-smile zones”…and they sound more like what horses leave in pastures than serious explanations.

“A smile would take away from the focus on fashion,” one style maven said. So the pouty…did you fart look doesn’t? Really?

My favourite explanation comes recently from The New York Times Fashion Critic, who in two long-winded sentences said:

“The truth is, it’s awfully hard to maintain a believable expression of great joy when you are walking in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers, all there to render their judgment on what you are wearing. When your shoes probably don’t fit, since they are samples, and you are concentrating very hard to avoid slipping or falling, and you are modelling chiffon in winter or leather in September, when it’s still 80 degrees, and you are partially blinded by the flashes of a zillion photographers.”

Crap, I never realized life could be so miserable. Of course, maybe the models are thinking about the restaurants where they won’t be able to eat anything on the menu later that night?

Like I said, I love the look and feel of an expensive suit with a perfect drape, a finely tailored shirt, a silk tie that knots exquisitely and hand-made Italian shoes. I used to go to work like that every day. Now, that “ensemble” comes together just a few times a year…an occasional dinner out, weddings and funerals.

But I notice that when I dress up, I smile…and people smile back. Honestly, I don’t think I’d make it as a model walking the runways in New York, London, Paris and Milan. But I’m a big hit in Vernon.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.


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