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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Licentiate column 09/09/10

I was determined to get that bag. It was black and tan satchel (such a now combo, horrible historical implications notwithstanding) with a briefcase handle and boxy detailing. It lived in the front window of the charity shop I would often pass from my home on the walk to and from town. It taunted me from the window from it’s vintage covetability.

“Buy me”, it said. “I’m such a tart. I’ll go with all your outfits”. Totally ignoring the fact that a talking handbag was an unusual occurrence, I took its word for granted and went to the charity shop early, in order to be the first to get my mitts on it. Only to find a queue of like-minded women who had also been on speaking terms with my bag. Apparently it was a tart, after all.

There’s a common misconception that fashion obsession is some kind of fabulous disorder for people with impossibly glamourous lifestyles. In fact, fashion fans are as fanatical, cultish and partial to nerdish scrutiny and discussion as hardcore Star Wars fans or members of the Bieber Army and, with the popularisation of fashion blogs, spend more time in front of a computer screen than the average World of Warcraft gamer.

Take, for example, the recent announcement that revered fashion house Lanvin would be doing a collaboration with high street giant, H&M.

The lead up to this announcement included several teaser videos of a man and a woman, their faces hidden in shade like anonymous guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, talking about the implications of style, a tactic which whipped fashion fans all over the world into a frenzy of hype. When it was finally revealed than the man and the women were not collaborators but red herrings, thrown into the mix to add to the mystique, H&M’s tactics were applauded (and rightly so) as genius.

Designer and high street stores alike have tapped into the love of fashion and social networking. if you generate enough hype with inventive advertising, exclusive collaborations and exciting design, then bloggers will do much of the online legwork by advertising through positive posting and public declarations on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Networked Blogs or any other of the ocean of sharing sites that currently exists in the ether.

In a way the internet has not only democratised fashion and opened up a whole new world of information for those who see fashion as a serious interest and not just a way to get into debt. It has forced retailers to up their game. The high street must produce better designs for cheaper prices, or the consumer will go elsewhere. The cachet to clothing is its exclusivity, which is why vintage sellers are making out like bandits with overpriced goods, just because they might not be available anywhere else.

Likewise, high-street/designer collaborations inspire all night camp-outs and riot re-enactments that imagine what Altamont would have been like if populated entirely by post-pubescent girls and young women clubbing away with their clutch purses.

I bought the bag, by the way. The women in front of me baulked at the price tag and left. That's the problem with fashion obsession; you might get the bag that no-one else has, but there's a distinct possibility that you might end up living out of it.