Once, luxury items were reserved for the rich and powerful – they were things that most of us could only aspire to owning. In her memoir, fashion editor Diana Vreeland said that no-one could afford to replicate the looks in the pages of Vogue when she was young. Nowadays, in order to reel in more customers – and revenue – luxury brands have ‘democratised’ their offerings.
Warming to this more inclusive market outlook, many high-end fashion brands also diversified from their initial expertise to embrace cosmetics, fragrances, homeware, leather goods, eyewear and even dining concepts. Specialist clothing lines were also created to appeal to different price points, lifestyles, genders, ages and cultures. While some can only dream of buying a Chanel bag, surely they might stretch to a bottle of the fashion house’s perfume?
But creative directors are still seeking new ‘crossovers’ to spark new trends (click to read our story on fashion collaborations). The recent ‘mash-ups’ are a good example of this. For example, Louis Vuitton’s SS16 line drew inspiration from bohemian Parisian girls and Japanese Harajuku girls for a chic East-meets-West collection. There was also 2014’s craze of ‘streetstyle’ Normcore, which really wasn’t at all ‘street’, but instead required wearing high-end clothing as a a high street look.
Celine took this on board too. Remember SS13’s Birkenstock-inspired sandals? Coach, after its rebrand, matched furs with sandals for its ready-to-wear SS15. The hoodie stepped up from the street to appear on almost every haute couture runway; even the understated Bottega Veneta featured them in a preview for SS16, while trainers were also prominent at the Chanel show. The emergence of these trends and the inclusion of everyday products are clearly meant to narrow the gap between the luxury market and the general public.
With this move to the mass market, the fashion media had to play catch up too with a new lexicon to promote the product. As such, a vocabulary was invented, with terms such as sport-luxe, hippie-luxe, kitsch-luxe and boho-luxe, to promote global fashion, allowing luxury brands to permeate multiple social strata and to infiltrate buyers’ minds. But they also want to influence our attitudes.
19th century French sensualist philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy suggested that ‘human thought’ was derived from the sensations that surround us, so that the formation of thought is a physical action, and ideology, a term he coined, is the study of the thought formation process.
Fashion continues to shift ideologies through the creation of new trends, and in so doing with their wider audience they aim to change attitudes. As a liberal Tracy would have approved of androgynous concepts made to promote gender equality and to ‘protect’ homosexual culture. Designers such as Raf Simons and Jonathan Anderson are the leaders of embracing this ‘liberal’ ideology into their designs. Other brands have taken this as a cue for their rebranding and have come up with visually stunning, unforgettable designs and images that play with our attitudes.
In 2015, Gucci’s autumn/winter campaign video featured a bewildered looking girl wearing a lush fur coat caught in a choppy sea, thus promoting a ‘romantic’ ideology.
What this means is that when we make a purchase, we are, essentially, also paying for an ideal. How different this is from the exclusivity first fostered by fashion.
Christian Dior once said: ‘Fashion is the last refuge to uniqueness in human personality.’ And perhaps a ‘one-of-a-kind’ experience was still possible during his generation, a time where there was no industrial mass production, no brand derivatives, no global expansion and no media so that we can see what we’re all wearing. But nowadays, when we are all carrying the same prized possession, say fashion’s latest ‘it bag’, who really is truly unique from everyone else?