The first half of the year was all about excess. But now, we are entering a new era of minimal style. Renata Espinosa looks back at chic in '08. Plus: The Daily Beast celebrates the best (and worst) of the rest of the year.
It’s been a chaotic year for fashion. Or maybe it just seems that way—with all the pessimism in the air recently, the now-humdrum talk of stock market plunges, and the panic about the recession. We’re all now on the edge of our seats wondering if honest-to-god fashion will even have a fighting chance next year.
Given the current state of panic, it seems a little frivolous to look back at the year in fashion as a series of trends like “day-glo” or “high-waisted pants” or “military jackets.” More than anything else, fashion in 2008 could be characterized as an out-of-control tailspin of indecision and extremes. We didn’t know what we wanted, but we knew we wanted it all. We wanted two of everything and baby, we wanted it now.
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Everyone, from designers to retailers to styling gurus, were more than happy to indulge consumers in their every whim—2008 was all about customization, content-driven fashion and multi-channel shopping experiences—you could learn about a designer’s personality by watching them on TV, you would read their story online and the parse the reviews of other users and then, wholly convinced of their extraordinary value, you could conveniently buy their products.
“[Shopping] has to be entertaining,” Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN told The Daily Beast. “There are so many distractions and negativity that exists elsewhere, so we’re a place where people can come to be educated and entertained.”
Fashion in 2008 dutifully complied with the call to entertain, and in the process, solidified brands. Increased visibility online and on television—reality shows like Project Runway and “Stylista” gave viewers a gander inside the workings of the industry. They served to demystify the formerly rarefied world of fashion design and publishing (even the clandestine world of Anna Wintour will be on display in a documentary premiering at Sundance in January).
“The once unspoken rules that said fashion insiders—i.e. magazine editors—couldn’t appear on TV have changed,” Mary Alice Stephenson, Harper’s Bazaar contributing editor and style expert, told The Daily Beast. Now if you’re a fashion expert, you dole out information with the cameras rolling. And with the rising costs of publishing magazines and the dwindling state of ad revenues, a magazine editor who wants to stay in the game has roll with the times. “Consumers are saying they don’t need the bibles anymore,” said Stephenson.
Fashion week also transformed from an exclusive event into a sales opportunity—what was once referred to as a show “invite” has been renamed as a “ticket” that can be bought. American Express started selling balcony seats to some of the bigger tent shows at Bryant Park, the nexus of New York’s fashion week. Fashion Week transformed into a spectacle that you could pay to see, the way you would pay to see the Rockettes or a football game.
For those who couldn’t experience a runway show in the flesh, fashion moved off the catwalk at a dizzying pace onto Web sites like Style.com and into the palms of iPhone users. Net-a-Porter.com offered a way to buy next season’s collection as soon as the show was over, a full six months in advance, giving people the same instant access to the new clothes that previously only celebrities had enjoyed. This was an exception, launching resort, pre-fall and holiday collections shown with as much fanfare as the regular seasons.
With all the right tools in place—information, access and choice—style supposedly became something anyone could possess this year. But what to do in an age of fashion that suffers from a multiple personality disorder? Maybe all the choices we’ve been given is just compensation for not knowing what we want or who we are.
In the commercial world, this dysfunction gets spun as a positive—the “you can have it all” mantra—but really, it’s just symptomatic of our inability to make a decision. Witness all the self-help style books and TV shows necessary to direct us on what to buy and how to wear it. Now, yes, there is “design for all” and plenty of road signs on the highway, but how many people have the time to actually read them while speeding past at 90 mph? With this information onslaught, aren’t consumers more confused than ever on how to achieve style?
Maybe, then, the forced slamming of the brakes this fall—and the ensuing Dow Jones-induced whiplash—was a godsend. Not for retailers, of course—traditional department store purveyors of luxury goods such as Saks Fifth Avenue have reported third quarter losses of $42.8 million and face possible store closures—but it’s possibly a relief for the overstuffed consumers. “After years of gluttonous shopping, forgoing our wants feels virtuous, like using up leftovers,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley on Nov. 6.
The times call for a more measured and rational approach to consumption. We can take the time to slow down, collect our thoughts and if we decide to consume, only seek out the best, most meaningful things, not just the within-reach things. Designers were on to something when they showed their Spring 2009 collections—“minimalism” is a word I heard them use often—but this need not mean boring. Just more streamlined and refined.
“We’ve been in a state of aggregation,” said HSN’s Grossman. “Now we’re moving to a state of curation.”
Renata Espinosa is the New York Editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."