Saturday, September 20, 2014

The New Normal: The Rapid-Growing Cult of Normcore

The term "normcore" began popping up in the fashion lexicon shortly after the Fall '14 shows back in February. New York trend agency K-Hole coined it, explaining, "Normcore doesn't want the freedom to become someone. Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity that opt into sameness." That's a lot of words for something that looks so simple. Defined as "bland anti-style," it represents a charged rejection of "notice me, look at me" trends, flamboyant silhouettes, high-powered accessories (or pretty much any accessories, for that matter), and vivid-bright colors, for a conscious return to basics in the most literal and deliberate sense of the word basic. Over six months later, it's only gaining traction.

Everything allegedly ordinary, nondescript, and plain is worth coveting. This includes mom jeans, traditional New Balance and all-white Nike sneakers, white button-down shirts, monochrome tees and ribbed tanks (preferably Hanes or Fruit of the Loom), lace-free slip dresses, generic track pants, Birkenstocks and other sensible sandals, socks (because they're comfortable), peacoats, army jackets, fleece sweatshirts, plaid flannel, and plenty of cotton. The acceptable color palette consists almost strictly of navy, black, white, khaki, brown, heather gray, forest and military green, and classic denim blue. Unfussy, unadorned, borderline androgynous, sometimes vaguely preppy: consider it a palate cleanser for your wardrobe. Just don't think the look is worn without irony or intention.

It's related to the "Cool vs. Effortless" effects, as discussed by Leandra Medine on Man Repeller, but what makes normcore "cool" is its lack of coolness. It entails applying effort to look effortless, an age-old theme for many when it comes to getting dressed. It is deliberate in its anti-distinctiveness. If there's any doubt that this embracing of all things simplistic, uniform really, is a bona fide and permeating shift in the way people are dressing now, you need only look to the Gap's latest ad campaigns and slogan.

"Dress normal" they command, followed by taglines like, "Dress like no one's watching" (whatever the hell that means), "Get caught wearing the same thing," and "Let your actions speak louder than your clothes" (which at least makes sense in the context of the concept). It's almost as if the Gap had the thought: "Hey, wait a minute, we've been making the clothes that are now apparently 'trendy' all along. Let's not only hop on the bandwagon but reclaim it for ourselves."

From top left: Jil Sander 1996 campaign and Fall 1997 and Spring 1999 runway looks

Far left and far right: Calvin Klein Spring 1999 runway looks; middle: Fall 1994 runway look

One could argue this is simply nineties minimalism experiencing a renaissance (which it most certainly is; has been for awhile now). The clean, pared-down aesthetics of Jil Sander, Calvin Klein, and Helmut Lang come to mind when considering the much talked-about normcore movement, though theirs can feel almost high-brow in comparison to this purposefully pedestrian mode of dressing. Essentially, the people who were children and teens in the nineties are going back to the clothes they wore as kids.

 From top left: Helmut Lang Fall 1997 runway looks and Spring 1991 runway look

Maybe we're yet again sick of all the visual noise and clunk and junk. Maybe we've just remembered that it feels good to look clean. Maybe we're getting a little socialist in spirit, realizing that the more similarly we all dress, the more our individual personalities can shine through, which seems counter-intuitive though the notion is not without merit. But here's the thing: the rejection of trends can be a trend in itself, and when a mode of dressing becomes a "thing," even if that's the intention, it's only a matter of time before the pendulum swings in the other direction. The fact remains: by rejecting the selection of a persona defined by your clothes, you are, in fact, electing a persona, even if that persona claims, "Hey, non-fashion person, I'm just like you! Only a little better because I am dressing like this on purpose. And you're not."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

C'Mon, Barbie, Let's Go Party: Moschino's Spring '15 Collection and the Kitsch Question

Subtle he is not. That we've known about Jeremy Scott for years, he of the snuggly teddy bear-tongued Adidas, Shrek-themed tees and sweaters, leather jacket-shaped bags, and Pink Poodle collection, which happened to be his gloriously tacky breakthrough back in 1997 (enter Elle Woods four years later). Also known as the reigning king of "junk culture," when California-boy Scott started at Moschino last year, he said, "It's the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one." McDonald's-themed pieces followed, and suddenly Ronald was having a moment.

Come to think about it, we should have all seen this latest collection coming. After tackling fast food and performing a play on the concept of fast fashion, versus painstaking ready-to-wear and far more meticulous couture, in the process, Spring 2015's subject (it's impossible to correctly call it inspiration, as this is as literal as it gets) is just as commercial and just as ingrained into the all-American psyche as the Big Mac. Hello, Barbie!

Moschino has always been about elements of humor. Now with Scott at the helm, that sense of humor has been super-sized (no pun intended) and then some. Irreverence and rebellion reign supreme here, and those are some of the cornerstones of fashion, or at least what it takes to push the envelope in the fashion world. So looking at this, basically, part of you wants to say screw it and embrace this stuff with big, shiny, plastic arms and the other is saying, "Come on. Yeah, I get it, but this joke is just too easy. And too silly."

It's superficial, it's pop art (well, minus most of the "art" element), it's wearable toys for grownups. Over-the-top elements like chunky peace signs seem only natural for Scott, who at 40 years old today came of age in the nineties, when there was little ironic about wearing excessively magnified chain-link belts and matchy-matchy everything. Now anyone who ever had a Barbie doll when she was a little girl will recognize these neon squiggle prints, snap-on plastic bikini tops, and earrings so big they ought to make your head drop. Especially if your head is full of air.

He is begging us to ask the question, where does playful irony end and plain, old bad taste begin? Scott isn't a dumb guy; he knows exactly what he's doing, even if that's merely flipping an emphatic middle finger to designers who are founded and focused on craftsmanship, sobriety, and maintaining a healthy balance between high-end art and commercial desirability. Certainly what he is doing is more respectable, perhaps deceptively so, than the four-figure baby doll dresses, combat boots, and leather jackets Hedi Slimane is defiantly churning out at Saint Laurent (and who can argue with him, either? That shit's selling). At least it's good for a chuckle, even if the only girls who are going to be dressing like Barbie come spring are the top bloggers who are well-versed on the topic of how to get your picture taken. By then, either we'll be laughing at them or the joke will be on us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Everything Good About the Marc Jacobs Spring '15 Show

While everybody has already moved on to Milan, we're still in New York (literally and figuratively), letting the Marc Jacobs show marinate. It was surreal, complete with a mind-bending audio recording and a Pepto-Bismol pink set that included a Wizard of Oz-inspired house and a glowing concrete runway. It was fun, with silhouettes that ran the gamut from baggy and boyish to friskily nymphet-esque. It was at once soft and strong, playing up classic themes of juxtaposition, without so much as a hint of pushed effort. And it was quintessential, uncut, liberated Marc Jacobs.

1. He gave us reason to love a woman in uniform. 
While the foundation of fashion, as well as great style, is individuality, there is something suddenly alluring about the concept of a uniform. Marc sent a fleet of sergeants and generals down the runway, and while they looked like they were in the throes of wicked-glamorous boot camp, there was nothing that said, "Yes, sir" about them.

2. He embraced a few old trademarks and tricks. 
Remember the oversized buttons, baubles, and organic-yet-often plastic embellishments of '90s Marc? They have made their triumphant return and happily, enough time has passed so they feel cute and fresh yet again.

3. The collection is utilitarian in all the right ways. 
Sometimes totally gigantic pockets or a plethora of them in odd and unusable places look stupid. But this brand of refined utilitarianism packs just the right amounts of whimsy and practicality. And actually, some of those big cargo pockets genuinely eliminate the need for a purse.

4. Tomboys are back. But they're in touch with their femininity. 
Ah, the eternally intriguing contrast of masculine and feminine. There's something about a multi-faceted, dual-natured creature that exudes appeal, and it's high time the image-conscious tomboy made a strong showing in the collections. (Pencil skirts, be damned.) More and more chicks ought to embrace the baggy military suit. Or satin military mini-dress. Whatever you prefer.  

6. Really short, hyper-flared mini-skirts are fun. 
Is there anything as youthful as a skirt in such a silhouette? Thigh-skimming, lightly structured (so they won't lose their perkiness), and full of flounce, think of such a skirt as a little ball of euphoria that's just waiting in your closet to show you a good time.

7. He says, "Screw stilettos." Sane women say, "Hooray."

Velveteen Dr. Scholl's, anyone? If there's a designer who could make something that sounds that hideous into something that women will be clamoring for come spring, it's this guy. Besides, he's not the only one who feels the dainty heel ought to be ditched, at least for the time being. The chunky shoe is so on.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sex, Drugs, and Rockin' Raves: The Cast of Characters at Spring 2015 New York Fashion Week

Clockwise from top left: Versus Versace, Rodarte, Jeremy Scott, Marc by Marc Jacobs

Now that New York Fashion Week is officially over (mourn! rejoice! shove off to London! go take a nap!), we can take a step back and survey the eclectic cast of characters who made a showing this season. Not on the sidewalk outside Lincoln Center and Milk Studios (enough of you so-called street-style stars), but on the runways. Here's who to look out for, and possibly fear, come Spring 2015:

Versus Versace 

Who: The Sexed-Up (and Possibly Coked-Up) Rocker Babe 
Where: Versus Versace
What: The unholy union of Donatella Versace and Anthony Vaccarello is such a natural one, it's almost surprising they haven't put their eerily similar, aggressively sexual, unapologetically body-conscious aesthetics together before. This girl belongs backstage at the head-banging heavy metal concerts of a bygone era, where she gets exactly what she wants using her long legs, long hair, and highly suggestive wardrobe of power blazers (don't you dare tell her to put a blouse or even a bra underneath), medallion-topped mini-dresses with skin-flashing details, and metallic-gold separates. And what does she want? Wild nights filled with satisfaction, naturally. Everyone knows the truly sexy don't need color; hence, the mostly monochrome nature of the new Versus chick's wardrobe. Black rules the night, and so does she.

Who: The Street-Tough Urban Mermaid
Where: Rodarte
What:  Kate and Laura Mulleavy love reaping inspiration from their Southern California childhoods, and this time they reminisced on the Monterey tide pools they used to visit. Enter their mystical, hardware-loving, pavement-pounding siren. She embraces shimmer, sparkle, and sheerness, by way of tattered strips of chiffon and wide fishnet overlays, ripped-to-shreds silk and chunky sequin clusters. When dressing up, she opts for ethereal dresses with a collaged, almost haphazard breed of whimsy, but she's not a total girly-girl (some of the pieces even have custom Rodarte bottle tops and soda-can tabs hanging from them). When her mood strikes the flipside, she's got a swashbuckling alter ego, one who walks hard in her wide-lace, thigh-high boots (perfect for wearing over super-skinny pants), embellished military jackets, and enthusiastically ruffled tops. Sure, she's no Captain Hook, but that doesn't mean her metal-and-leather belt can't double as a fish-spearing weapon.

Marc by Marc Jacobs

Who: The Androgynous Club-Crawling Raver Kid 
Where: Marc by Marc Jacobs
What: Well, it's official. It's been so long since the actual '90s took place, ravers are back and they are serving as the inspiration for Luella Bartley's and Katie Hillier's second collection for MBMJ, aka Marc by Marc Jacobs. Warehouse parties, get excited. This kid adores Björk, the East London club scene, and has no desire to look sexy, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, she prefers to steal oversized skater T-shirts from the guys and mash them into her bandeau tops and bustiers for a belly-baring effect that makes you raise an eyebrow, and keep her glossy latex (the designers even enlisted fetish professionals House of Harlot to produce it) relegated to a few mere flashes, via polka-dot skirts or layered beneath tees and asymmetric kooky-girly dresses. She doesn't even need to carry a bag. Instead, the hefty supply of pockets on her flight suit and anorak jackets keeps her going-out essentials safe. Her vibe is a little dark, almost dangerous. That is, until you catch sight of the teeny pixie-ish knots of hair atop her head. No, she's not so edgy after all.

Jeremy Scott
Who: The Psychedelic Wild Child Who Was Barely Born in the '90s But Wishes She Was Alive in the '60s 
Where: Jeremy Scott 
What: Jeremy Scott is very good at applying bad taste, and with Miley Cyrus helping out with accessories (look out for "Dirty Hippie" party hats), his youthful, "screw you, fashion" aesthetic is at an all-time high. This girl pops tabs of acid and pills of ecstasy (because they didn't have molly in the '90s), dances at Burning Man, and tears up the strobe-lit after-hours club like it's no big thing. She performs her favorite activities while wearing flower-powered babydoll dresses, hyperactive Doc Martens, marble-print bike shorts, tie-dyed tees, beaded leis, and crop tops fit for a five-year-old, all in shades that complete the spectrum of the Day Glo rainbow. She is Lady Miss Kier meets your old Delia's catalog on crack meets the kid who smears glow-in-the-dark bodypaint all over your face at your next party. Oh, and she loves Shrek. As in, the cartoon ogre with Mike Meyers' voice.