IT’S MADE FROM POLY! — The Democratization of Dress…

Martin Margiela, who was part of the avant-garde postmodern fashion movement spearheaded by Japanese designers in the 1980s and Belgian designers in the 1990s, is now available ‘off-the-rack’ at Swedish mega-retailer H&M.

Martin Margiela was born in Belgium in 1957, and worked for Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris before showing his first collection in 1989. Margiela’s brand was acquired by Diesel in 2002, setting off a chain of events that would ultimately end with Margiela quietly leaving his own company (first in spirit and then in body) – his departure was officially announced in fall 2009.

Now H&M has acquired an exclusive line of affordable ready-to-wear from the Margiela brand (priced $50 – $400) that are recreations of Margiela’s fashions from the past – essentially brand new vintage. Obviously the intent is to create a flurry of exposure, like Jason Wu had for Target earlier this year.

Fashion in the last decade has created the limited edition designer collection for mass-market box store retailers. The democratization of fashion (aka cheap chic) is popular with consumers who camp outside box stores waiting for launch day, like their parents used to do for Rolling Stone tickets. But these short term collaborations are made for the wrong reasons. The primary goal is to get media coverage and build brand recognition. This is the mass market version perfected by designers like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano who would create unwearable fashion creations for media attention that were never intended to be sold, not even to Daphne Guiness.

Shopping for fashionable clothes used to be a semi-annual event but ‘Fashion’ is now a commodity, like groceries, with clothes shopping becoming a weekly chore.  Unlike gas or housing, clothes just keep getting cheaper and cheaper, and closets in new homes keep getting bigger and bigger to put in more and more clothing with less and less originality.

Designer clothing used to mean something because it was created by someone with years of experience and training. Their artfully finished clothes weren’t couture but they were the next best thing. But as designer clothing became luxury brands, lesser quality goods could enter the same market through exposure. The name became everything, regardless of the quality or originality of the product. What is designer clothing these days? Is a mass market copy of a dress designed 10 or 15 years ago fashion or a marketing venture? The intent has to be considered.

While I was reading up on this a few days ago I came across an article by Eugene Rabkin, editor in chief of Style Zeitgeist magazine, who thinks it might be a case of dumbing down fashion. He feels that, for example, the Margiela line being sold at H&M is fine when its about selling decent clothing at affordable prices – but is it fashion? Everything is called “fashion” to appeal to consumers, but in reality, limited edition “designer” collections are really just watered down styles made for mass consumption.

Martin Margiela was a leader in the last important movement in fashion – postmodern deconstructivism. Where is the art of fashion now? I can’t word any better what Rabkin has written, so I suggest reading his piece – and then check out the surprisingly lucid and salient comments – its worth the read.