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The season it all happens
In a scene from the TV series Mad Men, the Draper family have gone out for a picnic in the Cadillac they just acquired on an instalment. The prefect nuclear family seem unusually easy-going, no tensions lurking, just the clear sky and the sun warming them in their spot in the forest.
Daddy Don is perhaps having one beer too many, but they are almost, well, happy. When it’s time to head back home, Don flings the beer can out of sight, into the bushes, as mommy Betty checks the kid’s hands: no dirt in the car please. She turns to shake the blanket so that paper napkins and litter spread across the grass in the leafy landscape. This is the last thing we see, as the Drapers drive off in their new car.
Without any large gestures, a glimpse opens to the bottomless folly that mankind blindly pursues. According to which, children must not get dirty while the world is transformed into a dump. As a viewer you realise, for a moment, that our time on earth will not end well.
These days, the existence of sprawling dumps is well established in our general consciousness – not the least since fashion and consumption has gone into exponential growth since the 1980s. Images of car scrap yards, plastic ocean islands and fashion deadstock bonfires haunt me increasingly as I move among human creativity and productivity: among designs, craft, styling, merchandising and shopping. That’s why you react so strongly to what the Draper family just cannot see in their aspirations to meet the 1960s ideal – the car and the disposable picnic ware. That’s why the heart sinks in front of the television: we have seen how it all gets worse.
That is the genius of Mad Men: to stage paradigm shifts and altered world-views, between the blinkered belief in progress from the 1960s and the state of emergency due to global warming in the 2010s, without any superfluous comments or unnecessary explanations. With a shifted worldview, nothing appears the same, every little detail takes on new meaning. You do not shake your blanket the same way anymore. There is no way to ignore what we now know and there is no way back.
Jean Piaget’s conceptual development psychology talks about experiences as interpreted perceptions. About how the interpretations become true through a comparison and construction in line with earlier experiences. As long as they fit together, new information can be assimilated with existing structures, earlier observations, thoughts or memories. We understand the new and what it means in an inner dialogue with ourselves. In relation to fashion, tailoring may be the biggest coming trend after seasons of streetwear and dad sneakers. This corresponds with the cycles of the fashion industry and how trends are followed by counter trends.
Feelings of contentment arise when concepts match. We turn off Mad Men, shake our heads, and sort out the rubbish into the correct recycling categories. However, if new information doesn’t add up with the existing structure, a conflict arises which causes discomfort. Every effort is therefore made to reduce it. So, we want to believe that clothes recycling is enough as a solution. Because the alternative is throwing away everything we believed in and with great anxiety rebuilding our world-views or our cognitive schemas, as Piaget calls them.
In fashion, in the studios, there are devices to break free from habitual perspectives. We study gaps and spaces, turn upside down, inside out, and investigate anew. Different and unexpected shapes occur. New details, signs and codes are created. But as you zoom out, the cognitive dissonance may still appear. A new collection – but why?
It is not just the endless dumps that are haunting. Sometimes, as I see the carrier bags being hauled through the shopping streets, I mostly see all the work those garments inside entail. There is something almost unhygienic about bringing home all those lifestyle items, having them collect dust, using up mental energy. The products are designed from an idea, to define a lifestyle, but sometimes it feels like they are eating life instead. I’m certainly taken by their beauty and the promise of a possible future. I believe in creativity, in the energy to change – as there must be change. But it doesn't appear that we understand how the concepts coexist. So, I’m looking for an image of the picnic we are on today.
I find it, partly, with the postmodernist Jean Baudrillard, who paints a dizzying contemporary existence where we seek objects in their capacity of being different and unique. According to Baudrillard, that capacity also makes the objects lose their relevance soon – really in no time at all. I think about how fashion is something that is about to be formulated, an idea, but as soon as it has been made into clothing, their status as fashion objects immediately start to decrease. The time and space that our objects exist within is therefore not the present, but the immediate past, or a delayed now, where they are constantly interchanged. As the exchange is accelerated, the objects become as ephemeral as words or images: ”Everything is in movement, everything shifts before our eyes, everything is continually being transformed – yet nothing really changes”, Baudrillard writes in the The System of Objects.
Nevertheless, I still believe that things can change – the postmodernists may be brilliant cultural critics but perhaps not as great as visionaries. I still hope for the capacity of fashion to imagine what is to come, to intuitively sketch the ambivalences and clashing world-views we carry. Simply, but with a certain élan, on the body, by a catwalk, during a fashion week.
So, we will sit in the front row next season, just like the last, waiting for the big shift to come. After the new look… will there be a completely novel way to dress and to carry oneself? A totally new attitude? Perhaps it will change everything. This is the season it all happens.