High Fashion, Low Taste
By Richard Carreño
Junto Staff Writer
Surely it comes as no surprise that we live in a branded society -- from aspirational names like 'Ralph Lauren' for the middle middle class to 'State Property' for an up-and-coming urban gangsta getting on his street cred. Even the J. Crew brand seems a bit ambivalent about its association with Michelle Obama and the girls. (The company doesn't want to ruin a good thing).
For a fashion critic, then, untangling such a disparate web of societal coda requires the tenacity of an investigative reporter and the observational skill set of an anthropologist.
TV hokum like 'Access Hollywood' doesn't count. Because designer gowns don't come with labels the size of licence plates (hey, why not?), the so-called reporters on such LA-based television shows as Insider and such get to ask the luminaries what designer was responsible for clothing their slinky backs. That works.
It's a symbiotic relationship that satisfies all the stake-holders -- the designers get free publicity, the luminaries get to wear, on loan, stunning attire for while, and the hacks get to pander to their salivating audiences. (Incidentally, why do these hacks just quiz female luminaries about their clothes? Is there a sexist thing going on? Don't enquiring minds also want to know what their fav male rapper is wearing? 'Fubo', peut etre?).
Anyway, as I was saying.... There's nothing new about this.
What is new is that main-stream media is now also getting into the game -- at least, my home-town screed, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
There was once a time when fashion reporters, the best of them, were that curious combination of sceptical reporter and scientific sociologist. I'm thinking Kennedy Fraser, Allison Lurie, Caterine Milinaire, Alan Flusser, Anne Hollander, Paul Fussell, James Laver, Thomas Carlyle -- yes, that Thomas Carlyle. The idea that these writers wanted to impart was how fashion figured in social and societal standing -- their subjects swished in a microscope lens. Marylin Bender in he New York Times established the new-era genre. The Washington Post's 'Style' section evolved it to a cheeky art form.
So, what's up at The Inquirer. Access Hollywood, anyone?
In fact, The Inquirer has created a similar form of self-serving fashion reporting -- thanks to the pen of its, ahem, fashion columnist Elizabeth Wellington.
In Hollywood, it's all business. In Philadelphia, it's all silliness -- complicit suck-up silliness.
What's the deal with Wellington? Week-in, week-out (actually every Wednesday in the paper's Social Circuits page), Wellington chronicles the activities of Philly's 400. Never mind how pathetic their activities are -- the usual tred-mill of charity balls and free-will offerings. What's worse, Wellington, getting her you-go-girl Access Hollywood on, has begun asking these Society minions to identify the maker/designer of their clothing.
Curious about this is that there's no business payback in such questioning -- just a dizzgusting display of poor taste. In these times, a if you've-got-it-flaunt-it way-to-go seems unbecoming, to say the the least. For The Inquirer and Wellington to be the driver of such nonsense is even more shameful.
So, thanks to Wellington, we learn that matrons (most on the south side of middle age) are wearing gowns by Oscar de la Renta, by Versace, by Marchesa, and the like. We also learn -- Wellington's investigative skills know no bounds -- that one skinny minnie is shod by Manolo Blahnik. Elizabeth, this is newspaper you're working for. Pluuze! For Sex in the City, head north! what's next? A knickers report?
In my years as a fashion writer for The Hartford Courant (Henry McNulty, where you be at now?), two of my favourite sources always stressed non-branding.
One was a old geezer whose suits came from Anderson Sheppard, his shoes from Lobb, and his hats from Lock. If you asked him where he got any of this stuff, his standard response was 'Oh, I had it made,' or, 'Oh, I don't remember.' 'People who ask about clothing are just trying to ingratiate themselves,' he said.
Elizabeth Wellington, meet old geezer.
My second source went even further. She ripped out all labels. Any identifying mark was scrubbed. 'It's nobody's business where I buy!' she's declared.
Yo! Elizabeth. Yo! The Inqurier