01 January 2009

The Crisis

With apologies for the absence, I've been thrown a bit thanks to a situation that I barely understand - the financial crisis. Given my own tax bracket, I suppose it was always slightly presumptuous for me to write about style and garments when it is not a world that I am part of. An observer though I may be, a consumer I certainly am not.

And in this sense, nothing will really change for me. So, I suppose, I'll just continue to observe and record what I can, and strive for truth and authenticity in a subject matter that is fundamentally frivolous.

Whatever else was going on with housing and lending and dividends and portfolios, consumer spending did seemed destined to reach a critical mass. I wrote about the wealthy teen syndrome on television, I read Dana Thomas' Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and scoffed at the poor souls who actually thought a Gucci purse might raise their status and worth. The subject matter was not uncommon. We couldn't go on like that forever.

Since the crisis became real, and we all felt the pang of social responsibility, the glossy magazines have been making half-hearted attempts to acknowledge the dire situation of companies, advertisers and individual consumers. It's a difficult balance to strike. In one sense, I want them to make some radical shift and tell us how to maintain and repair and update all of the pieces that we already own. I want them to tell us the truth about why a handbag or jacket costs upwards of $1000, and really justify the craftsmanship, the detail, the design, so that the buyers can perhaps make an informed and rational decision.

But then again, these magazines have always been escapist for me, and most of my peers. Sure, there is the spending class who actually has cause to buy the expensive shoes, dresses and has a social need to stay "current." Though looking at the ads in these magazines, even before the crisis, and seeing Wal-Mart and Sears in Vogue, it is clear that most of their readers are not actually consumers of the high end. I never read W with a sense of practicality. I read it to look at lovely things and people.

Thus, perhaps the agenda of consumer magazines shouldn't change. Right now, though, they are hitting a particularly confusing and irresponsible blend of agendas. (In this month's Vogue, they recommend caring for your clothes and saving on tailoring bills with the help of a $975 Smythson ostrich-print calf-leather sewing kit.)

Of course the more interesting things are happening outside of the style magazine world (which, for better or worse, are forever beholden to advertisers) ranging from the weakening luxury goods industry and its implications to our own attitudes towards (not to sound too much like a grandparent here) the value of a dollar.

Style, taste and refinement won't disappear during this crisis, but will manifest in different forms. The prospect of change, a shift away from prices, status symbols and brand identity, is pretty exciting, and I hope that I do it justice through my documentation.

Happy 2009, folks.


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