"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 October 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Luxe Populi


[best halloween costumes i've seen to date:]

The eruption of specialized

fashion terms into everyday

speech is now nearly as

pronounced as the seepage of

terms like "deconstruction" from

the leaking jarheads of academe.

Think about it: Where, except

maybe in the pages of an

off-color X-Files fanzine, would

you ever have expected to run

across the phrase "fox chubby"?


That most folks can now sling

the lingo of Women's Wear Daily

with as much ease as they

supersize their lunchtime lard

intake speaks to a curious

disconnect in the current state

of our sartorial savvy. In the

words of one writer at Detour -

last season's most conspicuous

purveyor of the so-called heroin

chic - "fashion encompasses the

courage and the determination to

make sense of one's life through

the act of dressing." Ah, but of

course! It's so simple when you

think about it: Peppering one's

speech with "Prada" this and

"bias cut" that makes clear the

wildly abstract synecdochic

relationship of fashion to man's

search for meaning, love,

security, really good

crispy-crust pizza, yadda yadda



Still, one expects such

inanities from the downtown

glossies. After all, the hip and

trendy youngsters on the front

lines of fashion probably don't

get enough sleep to write or

think cogently, what with all

the clubbing, cool-hunting,

horse-sniffing, and so on. It

was at least mildly surprising,

though, when the New York Times

simpered at length about "what

it is we love most about

clothes: namely, their direct

access to the realm of



There you have the industry's

fall strategy in a nutshell. Not

that it takes a genius to figure

this out - though it clearly

takes someone smarter than your

average Salon columnist. The

heart of the matter is simply

that this season, more than the

ones before, is less about a

particular style of dressing

appropriated from mass culture

(remember the exquisitely

tailored plaid shirts of "grunge

chic"?) than about a more

emotive attitude toward

consumption itself. To encourage

us to spend cash (and credit)

for clothes this season, the

approved tropes are "happiness,"

"optimism," and "luxury." As one

wag put it, more is the new



[not a sailor, but a soon to be very inebriated sailor]

This exuberant turn is apparent

even in the layouts of the ads

themselves. There seems to be,

for example, an inordinate

number of pull-out gimcracks and

two-page, landscape-oriented ads

this season, including spreads

for Jil Sander, Missoni, and

Calvin Klein. Such spreads

obviously require one to turn

the magazine and view the image

like a pin-up, but aside from

their cost (which must make both

publishers and account execs

happy, indeed), what is the

message here?


Lest we meander off on a snit

about the pornography of

consumption, however, it's worth

remembering that it was ever

thus. Eighteenth-century Paris

saw a stunning explosion in

working-class and bourgeois

consumer spending on what

historian Cissie Fairchilds has

dubbed "populuxe" items, the

contemporary equivalent of fake

Rolexes and Armani knockoffs

that allowed hoi polloi to ape

the aristocracy. This was a

hundred years before the

supposedly insidious development

of the modern window display

documented by William Leach in

Land of Desire, which just goes

to show that the boom in

wannabes wasn't all Wanamaker's



[why not be a bowling trophy?]

The weird part is that the

current uptick in luxe-lust

comes during a time when the

dominant cultural narrative is

one of biting the bullet, doing

more with less, and adjusting

one's expectations to the

demands of a global economy. In

an era of social and cultural

instability marked chiefly by

concern for "family values," one

would think the hypocrisy might

be a tad less blatant. Nazi

propaganda chief Goebbels,

f'r-instance, kept mum about his

enormous wardrobe and fetish for

silk, even as he enforced a

Social Realist dress code. But

in a curious inversion of media

manipulation in previous eras,

the spectral availability of

haute couture - through the n+1

fashion programs afforded by a

subscription to basic cable -

actually feeds the appetite for



In a recent New Yorker, punk

raconteur Malcolm McLaren

remembered himself in the '70s

as a laborer in his own "Luddite

factory, battling the

consumerist fashions of the High

Street." And yet he was making

couture clothing -

one-of-a-kinds, things with as

much aura as anything made in

the ateliers of Paris or Rome.

It's no wonder McLaren and his

ex, Viv Westwood, are enjoying

such a renaissance. For her

part, Westwood has now shown her

first couture collection, and

has inked a fragrance deal with

the muskmonging behemoth



[for those of you from the bay area, none other than 3 young men dressed to the nines as

McLaren's intended political

message - a sort of muddled

parody of consumption cobbled

together out of his

well-documented affection for

Situationism and other

recreational mindstates - was

absorbed in due time by the

market. Eventually, fashion

moguls realized that a huge

windfall was waiting if only

they could bring couture to the

street and vice-versa.


Does everyone really want to put

their nose to the grindstone

solely for their forty acres and

a pair of mules? If so, why?

Maybe because we know that a

thimble-sized taste of the luxe

life is as much as we're ever

going to get. So doff those

cheerless weeds, my friends.

Neither Gianni nor Diana (nor

poor little Agnes, for that

matter) can appreciate them

anyway. In the words of the come-

on: Get happy.

courtesy of LeTeXan

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