fashion desire

N°34 SS20 , Angelo Cirimele

There are countless qualifiers today to which no meaning is attached: eco-responsible, ethical, organic, recycled, sustainable... What if fashion wasn’t just a matter of reason and morality? What is changing in our desire for fashion today? Interview with an anonymous fashion lover facing the aesthetic and ecological stakes.

Angelo Cirimele You’re a fashion lover. You combine a dose of high fashion, young designers and vintage pieces. As a consumer, what is your relationship with fashion?

Madame X I only buy vintage. Ah no, except last week when I went to a private Celine sale and dropped 500 euros, like anyone who can’t afford it… But it’s been a long time since I’ve done that!

AC Why haven’t you done that in a long time?

MX Because I don’t love the pieces or else they’re too expensive. These are the fashion houses that produce in very small quantities. Crista Seya, for example, only makes about ten pieces each time, so it costs a fortune–I don’t have 800 euros to put in a sweater. Anything I can’t find in the brands current collections I’ll find on eBay, Etsy, Vinted…

AC And you spend time thinking about it?

MX Yes! I’m spending a little too much time looking, that’s the only thing.

AC You’re a Parisian, which makes your curiosity for novelty harder to satisfy. Are you discovering new brands on social media?

MX Absolutely. Often, when I’m looking for photographers, I’ll come across Instagram accounts that I like, which will take me to designer accounts. And you realize that a lot of designers support young brands, and that’s one of the exciting things!

it’s strange because I prefer to see a piece of clothing and touch it before I buy it, but in reality that’s not at all how I consume

AC The way you talk about it makes you think of a parallel universe: there would be these physical places and then a parallel network, a sort of second world.

MX It’s a bit like that. It’s strange because I prefer to see a piece of clothing and touch it before I buy it, but in reality that’s not at all how I consume. I very rarely see things in person before I buy them.

AC And there are bad surprises?

MX Plenty! Pants that are too small, or the material is not as described, a sweater that’s pilling... But this [she shows her sweater], I always get compliments on. It’s something I found for 30 bucks on eBay, and it was a great buy.

AC How do you recognize a great buy on eBay ?

MX I’d say it’s pretty obvious. It’s silly, but the quality of clothing from the 70s is always of better quality than today’s clothing. And you can see it in pictures, a knit that’s very tight, very dense, not muffled. But in spite of everything, it often happens that I fail.

I think it’s crazy to put that much money into [a piece of fast fashion] you’re going to find on 500 other girls

AC And how would you define consumers’ desire for fashion today?

MX Unfortunately, I realize that a lot of people still buy fast fashion. I don’t hang out with fashion people, but at work a lot of girls come in and say, “Check out my new coat from & Other stories... my new Zara coat...” et cetera. I think it’s crazy that today, girls who have access to culture, who are interested in what’s going on in the world and have the means to buy consciously, who spend their money eating organic food, continue to go and buy coats at H&M.

AC Why are you shocked that these young women go to H&M?

MX For ethical and ecological reasons. I haven’t bought anything there for years, apart from the fact that it’s not what I like in terms of clothes. Today, I think it makes no sense spend 150 euros there. It’s still expensive. And I think it’s crazy to put that much money into something you’re going to find on 500 other girls!

AC And you, don’t you have any impulse buys? Or is it always done through a screen?

MX Yeah, it’s really through a screen. But I’ve got plenty of impulse buys! I’m a sweater collector, I bought another one yesterday when I don’t need it at all. But let’s just say that I feel less guilty buying a sweater in second hand online, even if it comes from the US and flies like everyone else.

AC Because it already exists?

MX Yes, and it’s already been worn.

AC Luxury has somehow become mass production. What are the consequences for you?

MX I’m a bit of a Nazi about this, but for me luxury is really not that. The brand I was telling you about earlier, Crista Seya, it costs a fortune but they have this mini shop/showroom. And when you go there, there’s usually no one there, only the girls who design the clothing because they also do sales. And that’s what luxury is for me. [...] Nowadays, in big luxury houses, shops are torn down and new ones are built for hundreds of millions of euros and I find this way of consuming a bit outdated. We Europeans have been a little bit ahead of China or other countries that are now gaining in power, and it seems to us a little passé.

today, in any showroom, the same dress exists in 5 colours, in 5 different materials. There is no vision

AC What is passé about it? The boutique side?

MX The impersonal side. When you arrive in a shop where everything is immaculate, everything is mass-produced; it’s cold, the light is white. It doesn’t put you in any kind mood to shop at all.

AC At the same time, the little Crista Seya shop you were talking about is a bit of an alternative to all those major luxury shops.

MX But I don’t think we need an alternative! Luxury for me is small. We wanted to make people believe that luxury was for everyone... With these big fashion houses, a person can buy an €80 perfume and they feel like they’re buying a little piece of the brand. But no, luxury isn’t for everyone!

AC Let’s face it, but when you walk into a shop that’s cold and uninviting with inordinate prices, it might feel like a strange experience and you leave feeling somewhat disturbed. There are armchairs where no one sits, books that no one opens, a bookcase that no one has organized... only artificial things that are a shell of the real thing, but you come out of it as if it had a real existence. And that justifies the prices. Maybe that’s the new project: selling an experiment or a fiction.

MX When you see how much shopping costs and how much it pollutes... If it’s just so that customers have a feeling, a sense of access, I still find it’s a big price to pay.

AC It’s nevertheless a sophisticated discourse; apart from contemporary art, few places offer this kind of experience.

MX Yes, and you leave with an impression, something that remains, a feeling... But luxury boutiques aren’t made for that. […] Every time a new designer arrives in a big house, the same thing happens: they break everything, redo everything. And the more I think about it, the more I think it’s absurd. I find that today, people are wanting a different approach with new considerations.

luxury for me is small. We wanted to make people believe that luxury was for everyone… With these big fashion houses, a person can buy an €80 perfume and they feel like they’re buying a little piece of the brand. But no, luxury isn’t for everyone

AC Maybe it’s also a need for the brands to renew themselves, to be in tune with clients’ desire to have new things...

MX Of course, but I think that luxury is supposed to offer things that last. We don’t need constant renewal anymore [...] If a designer’s strength is to say: “This is my vision,” it’s a bit hypocritical because at the same time today, when you walk into any showroom, the same dress exists in 5 colours, in 5 different materials. There is no vision! Your pea jacket as you imagined it, it should exist in two colours max; that’s what you want to show people!

AC At the risk of being boring...

MX Maybe, but what a J.W. Anderson is doing at Loewe shows that it is possible to offer luxury with a twist, to produce in small quantities, in surprising colours. Or Chanel, for example, where the numbers are obviously good with the arrival of Virginie Viard, that doesn’t surprise me! At Chanel today, a lot of things make me want it. It’s beautifully produced, the quality and textiles are beautiful... I think they’re shifting toward on something that’s both classic and fresh at the same time.

AC The entire fashion industry is showing its concern for eco-responsibility, but at the same time continues its unbridled production. Do you see this as a contradiction?

MX Of course, it’s completely crazy and at the same time, I’m still optimistic. It can’t go on producing like that, selling like that. The quantities of production and unsold products are appalling! And a lot of brands are destroying these unsold sproducts because they feel that it doesn’t correspond to their image to put them on sale... Typically, the idea of luxury is to make expensive products that will last over time. So it’s anti-consumerism and certainly not about renewal.

AC You said you were optimistic...

MX I’m thinking of that guy who created his brand with a survey system for his newsletter subscribers. He would ask: what’s the ideal piece for you? What would you like to wear? What price range? What material? Etc. In short, he decided to make a sweater, which is warm, which doesn’t pill and which doesn’t cost a fortune. He didn’t start production until he knew exactly how many pieces he was going to sell.

AC I understand that the Internet makes that possible. But this is a rational purchase, not an impulsive desire with sense of irrationality about it. Someone who would want a piece of clothing because they feel more beautiful or more attractive wearing it. I have the impression that this part, which for me is the heart of fashion desire, is being lost.

MX That’s true, but if you ask me what brands are exciting me in my life right now... I don’t see any! Same for all the people around me in fashion–we’re bored, there’s nothing exciting. I’d love to see a brand that I could identify with, but which at the same time wouldn’t be for everyone. But nowadays, unfortunately, fashion has to be for everyone because you have to get the numbers. We need a drastic change!

AC There were proposals a few years ago, like Vetements.

MX Yes, but that was a long time ago! With Vetements, we’ve come to the end of something. Everything cost a fortune and everything was a joke. It’s a point of no return. What does a brand do after that?

AC If you had to sketch out a scenario for the future of fashion, what would you say? Are we still going to be going to stores in 10 years?

MX Yes, but much less. I think that the big luxury brands don’t need to have a network of so many boutiques per city. It took a long time to get there, but we’re almost at a stage where the photos are very good and so shopping online is much less of a problem than it was two or three years ago. Shops can become a support for this change via click and collect for example.

AC What about vintage?

MX The vintage clothes I buy go all the way back to the 70s and 80s, and there are fewer and fewer of them. The flea markets in the 1990s and 2000s were incredible. We bought stuff for 10 francs! Today, there are fewer and fewer things and the quality is going down. I’m not talking about luxury, I’m talking about Harrods sweaters, mid-range pieces. Today, I don’t see how our mid-range products could become vintage one day. It’s a race against time. Soon, girls won’t be able to buy vintage anymore, and at the same time they won’t be able to identify with the brands we offer them... And now it’s up to the fast fashion brands to find the solution. And even for luxury, too. It’s up to these people to figure out how we’re going to consume in five years. Even a year from now. Because it’s going so fast, we can’t go on like this anymore.