London Fashion Week sashays into the capital today, so we asked Bertie Bowen to tell us why fashion is so important.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
As London Fashion Week swings around again, I am tempted to join in with the collective eye-rolling and indifference many people express towards this sartorial circus. At times in the past I’ve thought myself above the exclusive, repetitive, ridiculous fashion machine because I am interested in style, not fashion. I don’t care what the designers are telling me to wear; my clothes are individual, not trend-led. Ha! I wish. Unless you’ve got your own private seamstress stashed under the stairs, then you, me and everyone else buys their clothes from shops. And those shops are dedi-cated followers of fashion.
Yet fashion in the business sense of the word, the high fashion, couture collections shown every season on the catwalk, can seem incredibly far away from the cosy grey sweater I pulled on this morning. So I have learnt to see fashion as I do other art forms. No one can deny that art, music, film or theatre is important. Many of us enjoy going to art galleries, yet not all art is everyone’s cup of tea. Some of it is ugly, some is shocking and some, to be honest, is a total mystery to me. I may not understand art, but I know what I like – art that starts conversations, challenges conceptions or is simply too beautiful for words.
However, this art is never going to end up hanging on the walls of my home, not the real thing anyway. Instead, prints and postcards purchased from the gift shop are enough to satisfy me. I try to see high-fashion in the same way. I love to get excited by the details, the fabrics, the new cuts and colours. Sometimes I am inspired or shocked (see Rick Owens’ latest penis-flashing collection). And yes, at times, it all seems very familiar (I can guarantee boho, nautical and pastels will be ‘in’ again this spring). I know I am never going to actually wear anything from the catwalk myself. This does not affect the pleasure I get from seeing it, reading about it and anticipating the High Street ver-sions of it appearing in the shops. If it shakes things up and gets people talking, whether in a posi-tive or negative light (culottes?), it’s always a good thing in my book.
But hang on, there is one vital element that sets fashion apart from the other arts: you cannot avoid it. We all wear clothes. Not everyone owns a painting but everyone owns clothes. You may choose not to go to the theatre, but you get dressed every morning and there’s no choice there. The human body is and always has been in some way adorned; it’s a natural instinct and a necessity. Clothes represent so much more than simply getting dressed in the morning. The clothing choices we make are a silent, visual communication to the world. A suit means business; heels suggest status, and colour conveys confidence. Tiny details signify important messages to those around us constantly, without making a single sound. Clothes play a huge part in the way we present ourselves to the public sphere and how we are perceived but they are also a way of expressing oneself and, paradoxically, exerting individualism. Personally, I see clothes as a way to explore my identity. I dress up, experiment and revitalise my look, revitalising my outlook while I’m at it. We need clothes so why not make clothes fun too? Fashion can be good for the soul. And fashion is the most inclusive and important art of them all.
Not only that, fashion today, is the most important it has ever been. With the invention of the internet, the fashion world has been turned upside down. In the past we were almost entirely influenced by the rich and famous; those people thrust into the public eye – musicians, actors, royalty, the designers who created the garments and dressed the models were all in control. The internet has created a world in which anyone can put themselves into the public eye. Street Style photography and fashion blogs have opened a new door to us. We are now able to see how a normal person dresses! Seeing how average men and women with average looks, jobs and incomes wear their clothes is a completely new phenomenon. And I reckon it’s affecting the fashion industry. Of course, some high fashion will always be wild, ostentatious and more daring than we can care to be (I’m looking at you again Rick Owens). That’s fine; we can watch amused from a safe distance. But recently fashion has become so much more wearable. Flat shoes, neutral colours, looser cuts, min-imal styling, basically looking like you haven’t tried, is becoming cool. Finally it is fashionable to wear simple, comfortable and practical clothes. Hallelujah! You don’t have to look like a super-model to pull it off either. I would argue fashion is more exciting and more relevant than ever be-fore because we, the normal people, are setting the agenda. And if that agenda involves a cosy grey sweater then it’s got to be good, right?
Stylist, writer and mother living in East London. A clompy shoed, curly haired, Radio 4 enthusiast. www.mothershoppers.com