The Conversation on the Art of Fashion Manufacturing with Strath Shepard and Anna Telcs raised questions about how we both wear and consume fashion. Shepard, a creative director at Nordstrom and Land Management, with experience working at Martha Stewart Living, Visionaire, V Magazine and his own publication Pacific Standard has a unique insight into the psychology of consumers and fashionistas. The talk is one of three as Telcs gears up towards her work The Dowsing, which will be performed three times this Friday, March 22 in the University of Washington Red Square. Her art is focused on the process of creating—the slow and methodical craft of making clothing. Each pleat, each stitch is done with acute attention to detail. Through this process she explores the experience of making things by hand, taking pride in what one makes, and especially in what one puts on their body. However, by inviting Shepard, and therefore his posse of Nordstrolites, Telcs created an interesting juxtaposition in the conversation between her slow process and the fast-paced industry of the fashion world. The phrase “fast fashion” is something that is very popular right now—the large production of on-trend garments made in China or other manufacturing countries for the masses—for those who expect to be able to wear something as soon as they see it the in the latest street photographer’s blog or fashion magazine.
Telcs raised the question on every clothing designer’s mind: What makes us want a particular garment? Is it an emotional response? Does it have to do with the quality of craftsmanship? At one point in the talk between Telcs and Shepard, Shepard described the art of bookbinding where something like the color of the stitching becomes part of the art of the book itself; and reminisced over being in long discourses over what color of black ink to use in the print of a magazine. Having spent their careers on the creative side and business side of fashion, Telcs and Shepard acknowledge that the industry is reflective of many of the issues we wrestle with in this era of sustainability, creativity, quality and mass production.
Fashion and art have shared characteristics. Both are creative expressions making strong statements about where we stand on issues of beauty, gender, politics, economics and the devotion to varying degrees of craftsmanship. The main difference is that fashion is much more fleeting. As soon as one feels on top of a trend it is no longer cool. The in-crowd is now wearing wide-legged pants again instead of skinny-legged pants, or ombre hair is being replaced by bangs, and those sky-high platforms are taken over by thick androgynous flats. It moves so fast that a person can often feel that if they hadn’t tried to change, to keep up, then he or she would now be the “cool” person. If this is the case, why do we adhere to the rules? Why are we so desperate to be on trend? It can be absolutely exhausting to keep up with the constantly expanding seasons of pre-fall, fall, winter, spring, resort and so on. Some do it to belong, to feel accepted, or even to dominate socially. But at the same time we are a society that prides itself on individualism. Is it all an act? In part, it is. One can never avoid making a choice to wear something that has been created with a target market in mind. Even those wearing unique street-style are getting their photos taken, going to fashion shows and wearing designer labels—they too are performing their role in that niche just as much someone who is wearing clothing he or she considers to be more austere. One can’t avoid defining themselves by his or her clothing choices.
In the end, we are a social beings in a market-driven economy that is interested in aesthetic, and style is the most personal aesthetic there is. Wearing a designer label can be a badge of honor reflecting the most primitive sense of social order and hierarchy—the strongest cave man got to wear the best fur. But does it matter if that designer piece is no longer handmade but instead manufactured in China? Yes and no. Modern technology has made everything more accessible and access is good isn’t it? People can see more, learn more, purchase more. Yet, often regrettably, old-world traditions are lost in the process. When fashion is moving so fast, there is nothing stopping people from buying the cheaply produced garments because they will be worn for so short a time. At the same time, we hunger for the sense of quality in the organic as demonstrated by an influx of healthy living trends, like yoga and juicing.
Perhaps to be truly sustainable , and maybe even content, we need a healthy balance of the slow and the fast. There is a reason that style icons like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are still widely celebrated today: their style was classic. In our “fast fashion” reality, slowing down to absorb that timeless, handcrafted, methodical style may actually be the most stylish thing one can do—but it doesn’t mean there can’t be a little fast fun in the mix. We simply can’t go wrong with those wardrobe staples—a great leather bag, the perfect black dress, an evening coat—and at the same time there is nothing wrong with buying a neon pair of shoes or a spike bracelet to be worn for a few months in the interest of setting oneself apart, or fitting in. Through this process of determining what is classic and what is on-trend, people are free to construct to what degree they stand out or fit in. In a sense, that process is the very definition of style.
The Dowsing will be performed in Red Square, this Friday 22, at 3pm, 4:30pm & 6pm with a following reception at the Henry Art Gallery from 7-8pm