Battle for survival vs consumerism: no one can deny that these opposite poles have always been the source of issues all over the world. The economic theory according to which one buys and consumes in an endless cycle has brought a revolution in the lives of most of us, even for those who are against it. We’re not even aware of dealing with the culture of consumption, since we were born with it, but stopping for a moment and thinking about it can be an eye-opening act. Artists have often harshly criticized consumerism (think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup can series or of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, for example), though perfectly aware of being part of the same mechanism they are criticizing. Mainstream fashion has never dared to use it as a theme: its central role in consumerism has served as a deterrent, because criticizing consumerism would mean criticizing fashion itself. The deceptive concept that fashion is democratic has been incredibly boosted consumerism: you may not be among the happy few who can wear haute couture, but designer bags, shoes or accessories seem more and more attainable. Fashion has turned desires into needs, thus making one of the main elements of capitalism real and tangible.
Expecting a criticism to fashion from fashion is as unrealistic as expecting approval of abortion from the Catholic Church: it simply can never happen, because this is not its role, but it’s interesting to see how these themes can influence fashion. These were my thoughts when I saw pictures from Chanel fall/winter 2014 fashion show, which took place this morning in Paris. The set design was an incredible Chanel-version of a supermarket, where each and every item on the shelves was customized.
The concept may be intriguing, but the execution was genius. The detail with which everything was planned and arranged is breath-taking. In such a setting, models walked as if they were customers, carrying carts and lining up at the check-out counters, once done with their shopping.
Was this a hymn to mass-consumption or a criticism? I think it was the former (I can’t see Karl Lagerfeld as a champion of anti-consumerism), with a touch of the latter thrown in. Building a supermarket as the setting for a fashion show emphasizes the main goal of mainstream fashion (people must buy), but at the same time highlights what fashion has turned into – a luxury supermarket, fast shopping and fast consumption, because new needs must be created.