I have been thinking this week about how much black and white thinking is becoming the hallmark of many of our current conversations, including those occurring in the world of fashion, the wrist I touch to take the pulse of society. I decided to post a photo of me wearing some blurry, soft and faded color as I write this post. If I currently had an all grey outfit I would be wearing that.
I have been rather fascinated by the discourse surrounding the transition from the old brand Céline to a version imagined by a new creative director. For me it is telling a bigger story. I myself adore the clothing as actualized by the previous creative director, Phoebe Philo. I confess I began to love it when Philo decided to use Joan Didion as the face of the brand for a season. Didion’s unsmiling, sunglass wearing demeanor mimicked the one I was putting out at the time and some people actually posted our two photos together as below. At that time I was only posting black and white photos which paradoxically made me stand out in the colorful blogosphere. I think we were both conveying that being intelligent, transgressive and cool is not going to go away if you do not use the right beauty products, have the right job, have the right wardrobe, be on the right side and if you do not do something right now. I liked that I had some company. I like that someone else thought that being cool comes from a life of thinking, learning, daydreaming and thoughtfully acting with an occasional dose of impulsivity thrown in to make life a little exciting. Being cool means that you can hang out on the fence a little until you collect information that can help you determine what is right for you.
The new director of Celine (without the accent at his directive), Hedi Slimane, formerly of YSL, who favors inky black, skinny, leather clothes seems the polar opposite of the neutral favoring, structural and minimalist design of Philo. A kind of black and white, and I don’t mean color, in fashion. The response to his Paris debut has been in parts vicious, sad, accusatory and framed almost exclusively through the lens of identity. The evaluation of his debut has become one of us against them instead of two dramatically different views of what women want and what kind of woman they see themselves being. The brand under Philo clearly spoke to a certain kind of woman and that women realized and recognized themselves in her clothes. There are reports of almost a panic as these devotees are rushing to buy any and all remaining artifacts of the Philo era. Consignment shops are raising prices on all things Céline. It is almost as if women fear the loss of themselves and who they are if they can no longer have these these particular clothes. This shows how much power fashion as a system has but more importantly how much power we give it. As someone with a performative approach to choosing my clothing I confess to empowering my clothes to help me realize certain aspects of my identity but at the end of the day I am clear it is always my choice, and in that realization I move from the stance of fashion victim into empowered consumer.
I have to confess there were and are some things I have liked about Hedi Slimane’s work at YSL and yes his particular vision of a woman (I guess I have to wonder why I feel almost guilty to say so?). He has an affinity for musicians and black and white photography as do I. Though accused in the current critiques of his work for Celine, of obsessively favoring the ‘young”, past campaigns produced and photographed by him for YSL have featured haunting and current portraits of Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithfull, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Slimane included and took portraits of these people because he appreciated what they did, they are cool in that way that is ageless and It is the sensibility he seems to be trying to capture. He is a lover of rock and roll and the transgressive, reckless, heady lifestyle you had or have when you are really into the music. He wants to evoke and re-capture that moment for himself in his clothes and for those who might want to have that moment too. His invitation to the Celine show was a bound book of photos of Paris nightlife haunts. I am not trying to be his cheerleader here but I think I want to hang out on the fence before jumping into the fray.
Certain days when I wake up and remember how much I wanted to be Gracie Slick from the Jefferson Airplane, how going out meant leaving the house at midnight and how I hung out out the Fillmore East, I might want to wear one of his garments. Much like when I go to an academic symposium of brilliant women scholars of fashion studies, I might want to wear my Celine with the accent. As someone whose identity is fluid and open to accidental occurrences what I want are choices and not prescriptions or dictates. The world is not black and white, all women are not the same. We will have better answers, be more strategic and ultimately more successful in our desires if we are open to hearing and seeing multiple perspectives. In a climate of very emotional black and white thinking this may be the new radical move.
So I am going to reserve judgement, sit on the fence awhile and think about this as well as other more important things going on in this world right now and see what feels right for me, like my dirty worn sneakers. Care to join me on the fence in some critical reflection?