Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times' architecture critic, has us longing for a more critical fashion press with his review of the Chanel's Zaha Hadid art and commerce extravaganza. With every new zinger your editor and creative director found themselves giggling as we wavered between shock and pleasure at the sheer volume of practically scandalous observations.
It’s not just that New York and much of the rest of the world are preoccupied by economic turmoil and a recession, although the timing could hardly be worse. It’s that the pavilion sets out to drape an aura of refinement over a cynical marketing gimmick. Surveying its self-important exhibits, you can’t help but hope that the era of exploiting the so-called intersection of architecture, art and fashion is finally over."
It is a real shame that the best piece of fashion writing we have read in ages comes from an architecture critic but then given the propensity of fashion houses for banning criticism it is no wonder that the Times had to send an architecture critic to do a fashion writer's job.
Why it is that fashion has sunk to such a level of discourse such that we cannot even critique our own internal promotions and marketing campaigns is a question that is much on our mind this morning as we ponder our own place in the style symposium.
We find breathless colorful commentary that expresses the writer's level of cool caché is what is rewarded in fashion journalism over high minded debate or serious inquiry. As a press core we give in to the worst criticism leveled at the industry by blindly pursuing the agenda of oblivious cool. As Ouroussoff points out, it is a crime for which we are rightly lambasted.
But traumatic events have a way of making you see things more clearly. When Rem Koolhaas’s Prada shop opened in SoHo three months after the World Trade Center attacks, it was immediately lampooned as a symbol of the fashion world’s clueless self-absorption. The shop was dominated by a swooping stage that was conceived as a great communal theater, a kind of melding of shopping and civic life. Instead, it conjured Champagne-swilling fashionistas parading across a stage, oblivious to the suffering around them.
And the greatest tragedy of this simpleton agenda? Fashion brings down the entire creative arena from interior design to architecture by continually playing the dim witted blithely unaware younger sister even when we have so much more to offer. Fashion more than any other industry brings together creative minds by helping us consume the best and the brightest in our daily lives. And yet we never focus on those aspects. Why? Perhaps it is that abominable behavior instantly guarantees "it" girl success much to the chagrin of our more serious sisters and indeed many players in fashion. The over the top sex appeal becomes the story to the detriment of deeper issues and wider creative evolution. Creative minds like Zaha Hadid accept commissions from the well funded in the hopes of creating better work and yet we collectively stymie the efforts by focusing on pathetic consumptive marketing efforts. It is a deeply cynical cycle, one that we never seem able to break.
The pavilion’s coiled form, in which visitors spiral ever deeper into a black hole of bad art and superficial temptations, straying farther and farther from the real world outside, is an elaborate mousetrap for consumers.
Why is it that we engage in this behavior as an industry? Is it that we are scared of discovering that underneath our slick exterior we will be found lacking? Do we really lack any kind of confidence in our own products? Ironically by never looking beneath the surface we engage in a kind of self fulfilling prophecy that damns us to ridicule. By never rewarding the inquiring minds, by overlooking or banning the gadflies, and by promoting syncophantic charades of hip we continue our reign as the attractive domineering dim wit ruler of the creatives but God help us all if our consumers outgrow our childish antics. The rest of the creative world almost certainly has if Nicolai Ouroussoff's review is any indication.