Fashion Week is upon us and this means an influx of cocky models tramping around the East Village, eager bloggers loitering outside of shows in their most “fashion” outfits, and thumping parties taking over rooftop spaces. The pessimism with which I describe it isn’t lost on me either. I recognize that I’ve had a recent falling-out with Fashion.
Yes, Fashion with a capital F, meaning the big brand conglomerates and magazines propelling this industry. Maybe my disaffection has to do with the revolving door of creative directors at heritage companies. From Raf Simon’s departure from Dior to Heidi Slimane’s exit from Saint Laurent, the game of musical chairs comes off as a lack of integrity for brands that gained their renown from decades of consistent leadership.
And then there are the clothes themselves, which have been uniformly dull. Oversized in neutral colors, shot against a plain backdrop - I’ve seen this photoshoot repeated in Vogue too many times to count. In an age when the magazine business is in crisis, I’m amazed that top publications are pouring their resources into a product that looks like what you could find on a blog - for free. Like a high-school sophomore, Fashion seems afraid to try, for fear of looking “uncool.”
Throw in the over-saturation of celebrity culture, which has existed for decades but has recently taken on new dimensions. Models used to be valued for a chameleon-like ability to look completely different depending on the photo. Now there is a premium on models looking exactly like themselves, because they are very famous people. There’s not a photo of Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner where you don’t instantly recognize them, and while I have no animosity towards the Kardashian clan, I’m kind of sick of being confronted with them everywhere.
While reflecting on my current gripes with Fashion, I’m looking to something that got me interested in this industry in the first place: Saks catalogs. I never went through the transitional phase that introduces young girls to fashion, usually by way of Teen Vogue or CosmoGirl. Instead, around age 12 I began flipping through my mother’s Saks catalogs, and went straight from browsing for Life Is Good t-shirts to examining pictures of fur-lined Chanel mules.
Saks might have had a bigger budget during this time, resulting in catalog spreads that looked like high-fashion editorials. Each shoot had a distinct story, and they brought the imaginary worlds I inhabited through books to life, whether it was a Tudor palace, a masked ball, or a fortune teller’s lair.
Fortunately I hoarded some of the catalogs, and looking at them now I realize how fundamental they were for my understanding of fashion as fantasy. The clothing itself was beautiful, but it came together with the set and styling to form a greater idea. What I saw was a story, and through clothing, I could join these stories, too. Some of these images have been imprinted in my mind, a visual reference for putting together certain outfits, even if I don’t immediately remember where it came from. Flipping through these dusty treasures reminds me of where the ideas began. Call it fashion therapy.
While twelve-year-old me was discovering Oscar de la Renta, models like Doutzen Kroes and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley were just finding their footing in the fashion industry, and would go on to be some of the most recognizable faces in the business. The Saks catalogs are also great for catching their pre-Victoria’s Secret, baby-faced images. Could you imagine them doing department store catalogs now? Even the very famous people need to start somewhere.