Clothes & Culture

Is fashion art, a vestige of an era, documentation of a period or a commentary on the fluidity of evolving times? Is it all of this and more?

Is fashion modern?

Over the last 8 years that I’v worked in fashion, e-commerce has been the industry’s step-child. Digitally-enabled fashion often tends to be seen as creatively low-brow, an industry that the internet has made possible.

While the offline retail industry has been grappling with changing consumer behaviour in the digital (and millennial) landscape, online forces and fast fashion’s pace better suits Instagram lifestyles. Fast fashion continues to grow rapidly, while traditional fashion houses struggle to keep up with the digital pace of ever-changing demand.

High-street labels (or cheap chic) thrive with their quicker creation-to-delivery models. At the same time, luxury fashion houses are losing their momentum as creators with the speed-to-market competition and the increasing inclination to see fashion as business over art, innovation and as a commentary of its time.

This is seen in the way fashion weeks are re-aligning their calendars toward most profitable months, cutting down the number of shows and basically trying to match step with digitally-driven social media currents that propel the buying of fashion.

Identity & Inspiration
Innovation in fashion was heavily inspired by political & musical counter-cultures that held their own because they were identity-first, aesthetic next.

Fashion co-opted the visual narratives of these sub-cultures and creative depth  came from the sub-cultures themselves, as rooted movements that reflected their time aesthetically. These movements & fashion’s role within it was stamped with its political stance against mainstream ideologies and its complicated relationship with materialism.

Fashion’s complicated relationship with materialism snowballed into full-blown commerce since. What were once fresh inspirations have become cliched stereotypes. From the 60s hippie chic that’s recycled to suit the new-wave of young globetrotters; to the 70s punk popularised by Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren, that’s now a lazy, diluted throwback to an era that has no significance to those who wear its references. Think GnR & Kurt Cobain prints that are merely aesthetic, signifying nothing.

Punk rock style, courtesy Vivienne Westwood & Malcom McLaren



In the absence of strong cultural movements, the focus of inspiration since then shifted to cultures themselves, which one would imagine, would be relevant in an increasingly multi-cultural global world. Distasteful co-opting of indigenous cultural traits for profit led to the cultural appropriation debate – a fine line that few brands like Nike seem to have gotten right.




Relevance & Modernity
Whether fashion is modern becomes a pertinent question. Industry stalwarts have looked at fashion through an anthropological lens and as visual processing of sociology. Does fashion wear that hat anymore? Is that how it is perceived? Or is it far too preoccupied with the unravelling threads of its conventional structure?

Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of MoMA’s newest exhibit, Items: Is Fashion Modern?, perhaps asks this question at just the right time. True to the museum’s zeitgeist, in MoMA Live, Antonelli considered what ‘modern’ is in the context of now. Under Antonelli’s helm, design’s credibility as art flourished, and in a world where multiple mediums of visual devices and performance converge to create new perspectives, perhaps it’s time for fashion to find its relevance again.
Exhibit from Items: Is Fashion Modern?
Image from MoMA.

In their introductory salon, Kim Hastreiter (Co-founder of PAPER magazine & general curator of cool) spoke of how street-style led the way for new style inspirations over the years, and perhaps that’s where should look to now for innovation.

Case in point, is Demna Gvasalia’s explosive arrival at the scene with Vetements. Styled as a design collective, rather than a label, Vetements is heavily inspired by the ‘ordinary’, flipping the bird at conventional obsession with ‘beauty’ and placing design at its fore. It took the sentiments behind this growing iceberg of questionably ‘authentic’ street-style that’s struggled to build a unified identity because of its diversity and rampant commercialisation; stamped it with its high-street cred & a design-forward approach without losing its essence and brought a bottom-up (yet very real) conversation to global limelight.


Figure 1: VETEMENTSxREEBOK, VETEMENTSxDHL.| Collab for SS18 | SOURCE: www.
Figure 1: VETEMENTSxREEBOK, VETEMENTSxDHL.| Collab for SS18 | SOURCE: www.

Vetements’ debut collection featured over-sized hoodies, trenches and utilitarian clothes that gave the style props to narrate and elevate ‘ordinariness’ of identity through its own self-deprecatory, hyper-casual attitude and boldly contemporary stance, that made it hyper-relevant to the mood of now.

Though the industry seems to be losing touch with the currents that shape identities today, in its pursuit to stay commercially viable, all hope perhaps isn’t lost yet.

Like Vetements’ design-led revolution brought design to clothing, the world we inhabit constantly blurs lines between identities, cultures and disciplines – placing ‘fashion’ beyond merely design, inspiration, seasons, aesthetic, art or statement to a simultaneous motley of everything.





1. Fashions of the 1960s: Mods, Hippies, and the Youth Culture:
2. What Effect Did Counterculture Have on Art & Fashion?:
3. What is Vetements and Why Is Everyone Freaking Out?:
4. An Anti-Capitalist Approach to Fashion:
5. The Fashion Industry Doesn’t Even Care About Fashion Anymore:
6. Is Fashion Dead?:


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