Fashion’s Theater of the Absurd

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cigarettepin1New York City’s Fashion Week shows feel noticeably somber this season as the nation’s plummeting economy casts a gloomy shadow over the catwalks. The grim mood grows tiresome, and clothes junkies are trekking to small pop-up venues around the city for wearable offerings far more delightful than anything happening under Bryant Park’s familiar white tents. Absurd fashion, which first poked its refreshing little head up during the 1930s, turns up this week in the form of cigarette-shaped lapel pins, complete with a long burned-down ash, designed by Theodoric Bland Willoughby. Ridiculous, lighthearted accessories are as startling as smelling salts, small affordable talismans to revive us from our collective financial swoon.

Bland also creates kitschy, one of a kind hats from found fabrics (including NASCAR flags) very much in the spirit of Elsa Schiaparelli’s infamous hat shaped like an inverted shoe. Bland’s collection is featured at a weeklong event at the downtown Asia Song Society along with the work of other independent designers.

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During the last century’s Great Depression, Schiaparelli protested life’s uncertainties (and rebelled against the sleek, chic designs of her rival Coco Chanel) by introducing a desk suit with drawers for pockets, silk dresses painted with flies or a picture of a large lobster, and that aforementioned hat. Her friendships with Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali inspired her to produce trompe l’loeil knitwear, severely architectural suit jackets, and inventive closures like mermaid-shaped buttons. The era’s terrible economy allowed fashion to embrace the nonsensical, and couture customers flocked to Schiaparelli’s atelier. When the entire world economy feels surreal, might as well wear a shoe on your head.

Absurdity of a different sort can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue. In a stroke of stunningly bad timing, next month the store plans to open a boutique, Kiton, to sell one of the world’s most exclusive Italian menswear lines. The shop has a floor of Carrara marble and stunning views of the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Off the rack suits cost $7000, and custom made will ring up into five figures. The clothes are conservatively cut from luxurious fabrics and boast the finest tailoring details, like suit jacket sleeves that unbutton at the wrists. Saks executives insist that value isn’t only about price, it’s relative to the quality, fit, and prestige of the suit. It remains to be seen if consumers feel able to indulge in this particular definition of value at the moment. Wearing a giant lobster on your dress seems to make more sense right now.

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One Response to “Fashion’s Theater of the Absurd”

  1. Nascar » Fashion’s Theater of the Absurd Says:

    […] Material Index wrote an interesting post today on Fashion’s Theater of the AbsurdHere’s a quick excerptBland also creates kitschy, one of a kind hats from found fabrics (including NASCAR flags)… […]

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